The `Other` Addictions Featured

When we think of addictions, many of us will focus on the more familiar ones that we may hear or read about or indeed be involved with. I’m thinking in particular of alcohol, nicotine, gambling, illegal or prescription drugs or pornography. These are the headline grabbers, the ones that motivate support groups and agencies that strive to help those affected. However there are many other addictions that cause misery, unhappiness and often danger that we don’t seem to hear so much about.

In my work as a counsellor I work with many clients who present with issues which have their roots in addictions. One which rears it’s head occasionally is` Thrill Seeking`. Some of us just seem to be natural thrill seekers and risk takers while others among us would rather keep our feet firmly on terra-firma and lead a more cautious existence. But what do we define as thrill seeking? After a quick peruse of the internet I was able to identify over fifty activities that we may consider exciting. These included bungee jumping, sky diving, extreme kayaking, wing walking, rock climbing, big wave surfing, cliff jumping, white water rafting, running with the bulls and cage diving with sharks.

We have all seen on TV a skydiver land back on earth and when asked by a reporter `How was it?` Reply `I just want to go back up there and do it again.` But what makes these activities so addictive? The reality is that Thrill Seekers share many of the same issues with more mainstream addicts; they get a rush from naturally occurring chemicals released into the brain like dopamine and testosterone and these are quite addictive. And so if the person wants to experience that heady and exhilarating feeling again they will repeat the event.

Research suggests that teenagers and adolescents are the age group most likely to take part in risky and dangerous behaviours and are more likely to gamble in experiments than adults. But again most of us have seen in the media a 95 year old great granny tandem skydiving or wing walking proclaiming that it was the best thing she had ever done.

Cosmetic Surgery.

In our society it appears that our appearance is becoming more and more important. Each day we are bombarded with images in magazines and on TV of the beautiful people posing, posturing and pouting in a parade of pride and vanity. So it’s no wonder that a few of us with physical things that make us unhappy about ourselves, seek cosmetic surgery to put them right. But let’s be clear, we are not talking about plastic surgery provided for people who have suffered injury, disease or birth defects where the main aim of plastic surgery is to restore the function and appearance of tissue and skin so it's as close to normal as possible. We are referring to surgery, which is carried out solely to change a person's appearance to achieve what they feel is a more attractive look. This desire to tweak what nature gave us by having procedures such as rhinoplasty, botox or fillers can be addictive and can lead to people pursuing the unattainable in the form of what they feel is the perfect body. Research has shown that the majority of people addicted to plastic surgery suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) a condition which is seen as a intrusive preoccupation with an imagined defect in one’s appearance. BDD affects only around 2% of the populace but in those seeking plastic surgery it’s 15 times higher. The disorder varies in severity but in worse case scenarios can cause severe emotional distress and can have a distressing effect on quality of life.

Grief Addiction

You might ask ‘how can I be addicted to grief?` You are right to ask but it happens. Here are two fictitious but entirely possible scenarios. Take the widow who visits the grave of her late husband. Initially the visits are regular but within acceptable limits but gradually they become more frequent as the woman becomes addicted to the feelings of sadness and sorrow she feels whilst she is there. Somehow these feelings become a tangible link, a bridge to her husband and she finds she cannot stop. We know of course that this will prevent her from moving along the transition from the shock and distress of losing a loved one to a place where she has accepted the death.

The other example of being addicted to grief is the young man whose father had died. The father was a fan of the American country singer and songwriter Don Williams and enjoyed his deep mellow voice and romantic ballads. The man’s father had vinyl LPs of the legendary singer and later when the son saw the album in CD form in a music store he bought it. In retrospect this could be seen as a mistake as every time the son played the CD he was transported back to his father’s house and the rich tones of his favourite singer filling the air. Although this might sound comforting, it upset the son and once again prevented him from progressing on from the distress of his father’s death because he was addicted to the pain of it.

Shopping

Generally here we are not talking about the weekly trudge with the trolley around the supermarket filling up with milk, eggs and Prosecco, it’s about people shopping for exciting things that they hope will make them happy. A frequently used collective title for people who have a shopping problem is shopaholics but I find that title slightly offensive so I will refer to them just as `problem shoppers`.

According to experts, there are several different types of problem shoppers, and these are:

  • Compulsive shoppers who shop when they are feeling emotional distress
  • Trophy shoppers who are always looking for the perfect item
  • Shoppers who wish to look like a big spenders and love big ticket items
  • Bargain seekers who buy things they don’t need because they are in the sale
  • Bulimic shoppers who get tangled in a vicious cycle of buying and returning
  • Collectors who need one of every colour and size to complete a set

Some people develop shopping addictions because they get addicted to how they feel while shopping. As they shop, their brain releases endorphins and dopamine, and over time, these feelings become addictive. It’s said that up to 15% of the population may lean towards these feelings.

Another unfortunate side effect of problem shopping can be debt and in particular credit card debt. I sometimes hear of people who are worried by this and so to cheer themselves up they go shopping, usually with a credit card. The thrill they get from buying something is often short lived and so when the buzz has left them they are left with an item they probably don’t need and more debt which make s them feel bad and so they go shopping to feel better. It’s an awful cycle that goes round and round and needs professional help to overcome.

Hoarding

Filling one’s house, garden and garage with things is known as `Hoarding`. Our understanding of this distressing situation has been greatly helped in recent years by excellent TV programmes such Channel 4’s `The Hoarder Next Door` where we see people who have surrounded themselves with possessions and who cannot bring themselves to part with them. In almost every case, as the story unfolds, the person is found to have suffered some form of trauma or loss in their life which is seen as the start of their hoarding behavior. A Hoarder may feel a need to surround themselves with things which gives them comfort and a sense of security in their vulnerable state. The problem of course is that the amount of possessions can get out of hand and then affects the functionality of their house. However, despite the difficulties that their hoarding creates, the client finds it extremely hard to let go of their things because doing so would cause more trauma through the loss and separation.

In severe cases we see people with so many possessions that they are unable to use rooms in their house for the purposes that they were intended. For example people that are unable to reach their bed and so they sleep in a chair amongst their hoard or they cannot use their kitchen or bathroom because of the clutter. It’s not unusual for the person’s hoard to have little or no monetary value but none the less the person will have an ultra strong attachment to it and will become extremely upset if someone tries to clear it. Therefore it’s easy to see why treating Hoarding Disorders can be quite difficult. This is partly because very often Hoarders don’t view their habit as an issue and have little appreciation of the effect it’s having on their lives. Those who do realise they have a problem may not ask for assistance because they feel ashamed or embarrassed.

Possible Signs of Addiction

Addiction shows itself differently in each person, and indications of addiction vary based on what the person is addicted to. Behavioural addiction does not exhibit the same physical symptoms as drug, alcohol or substance abuse. Some signs of addiction that aren’t physical include:

  • Considerable amount of time spent engaging in the behavior
  • Inability to stop engaging in the behavior
  • Inability to complete obligations at school, work, or home
  • Relationship issues or social problems
  • Increased tolerance to the addiction
  • Withdrawal symptoms if able to stop
  • Previously enjoyed activities abandoned

Treatment

Recognizing one has a problem is the first major step in recovery from any addiction. For the `other types` of addiction that we have examined above, counselling with a professional therapist is the next logical step. A Integrative Counsellor will draw from many of the major approaches to counseling and include them in a way which treats the person as a whole and views the nature of the person in an `inclusive` way. Integrative Counselling leans heavily on the relationship built between the client and the therapist and the trust established here will enable thoughts and feelings to be explored as to the origins of the compulsion or addiction.

Counselling sessions will almost certainly include the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is widely used in the treatment of addiction. It’s likely that a client will have their beliefs about their addiction challenged by the therapist. Are their beliefs actually true and is there evidence to support them?  The client may be asked to do `Homework` between sessions: watching for incidents and occurrences which trigger the need to feed their addiction or compulsion. A journal may well help to record these events and provide a starting point for the next session.

To summarise then; there are many `other` addictions out there that one may not immediately think of as addictions. But simply put, if any activity or thought, large or small causes a problem and we can’t stop doing it, then it’s an addiction and it is best attended to.

© 2024 David Trott

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Taunton Somerset Counselling David Trott

About the Author

To book a counselling session with David, or to request further information, please call in confidence 01823 443022. You may also contact David via email on: davidtrott747(at)btinternet.com Please replace (at) with @ in the email address.

David has a specific focus on integrative counselling, integrative counselling and psychotherapy, the integrative counselling model and the integrative counselling approach.

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David is a member of The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and works strictly within their ethical framework. As a fully qualified Integrative counsellor, he can adapt the therapy on offer, to best meet the individual needs of the client or group.

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