This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 14 table of contents.

Non-Drug Addictions

We have discussed some of the most common and severe addictions: those involving alcohol, cocaine, tobacco, and prescription drugs. Needless to say, the list could go on. However, one insight from years of addiction research is that many addictions follow the same basic pattern outlined by Solomon years ago in his opponent-process theory. There is an initial honeymoon phase of euphoria or excitement, the development of tolerance as larger or more frequent doses of the behavior are required to get a pleasurable effect, and eventually there is dependency or harmful side-effects. This exact pattern is found in a variety of addictions not directly involving drugs.

What basic pattern is found in all addictions? In what ways is gambling a "pure addiction"?

Gambling is a "pure addiction" according to experts. It has all the classic signs (Boles, 1984). The gambler is compulsive and would rather lose than not gamble at all. Some even go through withdrawal symptoms when they are broke and cannot gamble. Gambling follows a predictable pattern. There is a "big win" early in life that starts the addiction. From then on the gambler is hooked on "the chase" and plays as much for the high emotional stakes as the high financial stakes. Tolerance sets in and the addict wagers in larger and larger amounts, trying to re-capture the thrill of earlier days.

Television can be addictive, especially when it is the main entertainment medium available to people. In one study, one of eight students reported watching 21 or more hours per least twice the average amount, which is about 10 hours a week.

When does internet addiction become a problem?

Internet addiction started receiving attention in the late 1990s, as the web became popular. Some college students spent all their time in chat rooms (the early version of instant messaging) even if it meant missing homework assignments. Psychologists Kandell and Kimberly Young of the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford said internet addiction was like any other addiction: It became a problem when it started to interfere with other parts of life, such as sleep, work, socializing, and exercise. "Some of these people even forget to eat," Kimberly Young commented (Murray, 1996).

How can eating function like an addiction?

Nowadays, skipping a meal because of interesting material on the internet sounds more like a virtue than a symptom of addiction, because obesity or food addiction is receiving much more attention. Morbidly obese people commonly confess that, for them, eating is like a drug experience. It provides comfort when they are feeling down, it stimulates an emotional high that blots out other concerns, and they feel compelled to indulge their appetities even when they know perfectly well how harmful it is to their health and appearance.

What characteristics define a sex addict?

Sex addiction is a major problem for some people. A book published in Victorian era England, My Secret Life, went on for 11 volumes about the author's single-minded pursuit of sex. The anonymous author, who called himself Walter, was compelled to have "many different women all the time." Yet he did not find happiness in his obsession. "The need for itself monotonous," he wrote. Oxford (1985) points out Walter showed all the typical signs of sex addiction, from compulsive sexuality that dominated his life, to remorse, to attempted abstinence, to bargaining with God during his numerous unsuccessful attempts to reduce the power of the addiction. Patrick Carnes , in a book titled Out of the Shadows (1983), described similar case histories of sex addicts in more recent times.

What sort of delusion is common among sex addicts?

Sex addicts commonly suffer from delusions: false beliefs based on projecting their own attitudes onto others. They interpret other people's behavior as a "sexual come-on" signal when the opposite is true.

Carnes gave this example:

Late one evening, Del pulled up next to a young woman at a stoplight. He had always had the fantasy of picking up a woman on a street. He looked at her and she smiled at him. Del became very excited. They drove side by side for several blocks. She returned his stares at each stop sign. Soon she pulled ahead of him, turned off the road, and pulled to a stop. He followed and pulled up behind her. She waved towards him and pulled out again. Del thought she wanted him to follow.

Del's mind raced ahead to where she could be leading him. She drove in the direction of a well-known local restaurant with a popular late night bar. Convinced that was where they headed, he speculated that after a drink, they might end up at her apartment. His mind filled with fantasies, he pulled up behind her when she stopped. As he was opening his door, she leaped out of her car and dashed into the building. Surprised, he looked up to see that he was not in front of the restaurant. Rather, she had stopped at the police station three blocks away.

Horrified, Del got back in his car and raced home. While driving, he was in shock at how out of touch with reality he was. She had not been encouraging him to follow her but was in fact frightened. He, on the other hand, was so caught up in his fantasy he failed to notice that she was parking at a police station. (Carnes, 1983, pp. 2-3)

What did Carnes think of President Clinton's behavior?

During President Bill Clinton's brush with impeachment in 1998, Carnes testified that Clinton fit the description of a sex addict. Clinton apparently engaged in compulsive sexual behavior repeatedly during adulthood, despite knowing it could jeopardize his marriage, family, and career. Like many addicts, he got into major trouble after several unsuccessful attempts to quit the self-destructive pattern of behavior.

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Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey