“Life is a series of addictions and without them we die”.
This is my favourite quote in academic addiction literature and was made back in 1990 in the British Journal of Addiction by Isaac Marks. This deliberately provocative and controversial statement was made to stimulate debate about whether excessive and potentially problematic activities such as gambling, sex and work really can be classed as genuine addictions.
Many of us might say to ourselves that we are ‘addicted’ to tea, coffee, work or chocolate, or know others who we might describe as being “hooked” on television or using pornography. But do these assumptions have any basis in fact?
The issue all comes down to how addiction is defined in the first place – as many of us in the field disagree on what the core components of addiction actually are. Many would argue that the words “addiction” and “addictive” are used so much in everyday circumstances that they have become meaningless.
For instance, saying that a book is an “addictive read” or that a specific television series is “addictive viewing” renders the word useless in a clinical setting. Here, the word “addictive” is arguably used in a positive way and as such it devalues its real meaning.
Watch: A healthy morning drink coffee-alternative. (Post continues after video.)
Healthy enthusiasm … or real problem?
The question I get asked most – particularly by the broadcast media – is what is the difference between a healthy excessive enthusiasm and an addiction?
My response is simple: a healthy excessive enthusiasm adds to life, whereas an addiction takes away from it.
I also believe that to be classed as an addiction, any such behaviour should comprise a number of key components, including overriding preoccupation with the behaviour, conflict with other activities and relationships, withdrawal symptoms when unable to engage in the activity, an increase in the behaviour over time (tolerance), and use of the behaviour to alter mood state.
Other consequences, such as feeling out of control with the behaviour and cravings for the behaviour are often present. If all these signs and symptoms are present then I would call the behaviour a true addiction. But that hasn’t stopped others accusing me of watering down the concept of addiction. (Post continues after gallery.)