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New addictions

Sarah Horrocks
by Sarah Horrocks Published on 13 June 2008

We are all aware of tobacco, drug and alcohol addiction but in the last few years new forms of addictions have come to the surface. Addiction to video games, the Internet, sex and shopping are said to be behavioural but equally destructive.

New addictions
- The Internet: Net addiction can manifest itself in several ways: nervousness and agressiveness when deprived of the Internet, addiction to online dating or instant messaging sites. This often reveals a deep unease (social immaturity, frustration, emotional emptiness, lack of affection, etc.)
- Mobile phones: Everyone seems addicted to phones these days, but for the people who are really ‘affected’ by addiction, their phone becomes a real extention of the hand or ear and its absence can cause panic attacks.
- Games: Betting or video games (consoles, on-line games etc.) can become pathological if the player has no other interests and their life revolves around games.
- Sex: Interpersonal instability, numerous sexual partners, compulsive masturbation, addiction to pornography...sex addiction is a serious behavioural problem. Addiction to sex toys is a more recent phenomenon.
- Shopping: Compulsive shopping, whether on the high street or online, often signifies a void that a person is seeking to fulfill and masks deep unhappiness.
- Work: The satisfaction of a job well done can turn into obsession for some people. The individual can be motivated by competition or challenge, but long-term addiction can be dangerous for a workaholic's health, their family and relationships.
- Sport: Whether you exercise for pleasure, to push your body to the limit or to attain the perfect shape or weight, exercise can become a drug because of endorphines secreted during physical exertion, that make you feel high.

What is addiction?
Certain situations or activities bring pleasure because the brain releases dopamine (the pleasure hormone) into the body, creating a feeling of wellbeing in body and mind, and relieving tension. The simple memory of this feeling can be enough to bring pleasure and push us into wanting to experience it again. When this way of thinking becomes obsessional, and when the the source of pleasure takes over life, it becomes addiction.

Can everyone become addicted?
It’s normal to seek pleasure: it's a sign of good mental health! To date, no scientific knowledge exists to make us believe that some people have naturally addictive personalities that make them more likely to develop addictive behaviour. However, depressive states or vulnerability (intense stress, difficult relationships or weak self esteem, for example) can lead to loss of control in situations and encourage the development of addiction.

Unmistakeable signs
An addict will devote more and more time to his or her addiction and end up lying about it or doing it secretly to avoid any criticism. An addict can become aggressive, shut him or herself away from the world (this becomes both a cause and consequence of the addiction) and lose all contact with the real world. Relationships with family and friends deteriorate and work can suffer if life only revolves around addiction.

Giving up: a long path
- Admitting addiction. Usually, close ones detect the first signs of addiction and deviant behaviour. The victim will prefer to deny the reality, despite signs of obvious unease. Confessing to addiction is difficult because it means recognising weakness and admitting that we need help to get out of a situation that we no longer have control of. However, it’s vital, because admitting the problem is the first step on the way back to a ‘normal’ life.
- Treatment. Behavioural addiction isn't treated in the same way as drug or alcohol addiction, for example. But whatever the addiction, first it needs analysing, and the consequences on the victim's life also need analysing. It's important to learn to live with an addiction that will always be there: the Internet and phone are an integral part of modern life, and it would seem difficult to completely banish them from our environment. Medication can be prescribed to relieve the physical loss or nervousness, but the essence of the treatment lies in deep psychological help. Therapy is essential to help the addict understand the source of their addiction, learn to control their emotions and find new ways to deal with the source of their addiction.
- Withdrawl and renewal. The addict also needs to take control of family, social and professional life, and come out of the isolation that addiction causes. This is often difficult because it's common to feel shame. The support of family and friends plays a vital role in the process of withdrawal because it allows the former addict to get their life back, and mental stability is also vital for successful therapy.

by Sarah Horrocks