The heat is on: An unusual case of hair dryer dependence?

“I recently got a new blow dryer. I was reading the warning tag that says ‘Do not use while sleeping”’ I thought who in the heck uses the blow dryer while sleeping. Well now I know why”

This posting on an online message board was in reaction to one of the cases featured on the US television programme ‘My Strange Addiction’. The television documentary first aired over the 2010 Christmas holiday period highlighted a case of “hair dryer addiction”. The alleged  “hair dryer addict” was 31-year old female Lori Broady. Every night since she was eight years of age, Lori has gone to sleep with the hair dryer on in her bed. She claimed that she can’t get to sleep without the sound and the warmth of the hair dryer blowing, and finds it both psychologically and physiologically comforting. She claimed: “It’s a comfort thing, it’s a security thing, it’s the noise, it’s the air, it’s all-encompassing”.

Clearly, there are no operational definitions of addiction that would class this behaviour as genuinely addictive, but she was clearly engaging in a behaviour that was potentially life threatening (as she could start an electrical fire and get burned). In fact, she has suffered burns on both her chest and arms as a result of falling asleep with the hair dryer still blowing hot air. There was also an incident that led to an electrical fire when the hair dryer fell on the floor after she had fallen asleep. She also claimed that her unusual use of a hair dryer at bedtime was a factor in the breakdown of some of her romantic relationships. Despite these potential risks, Broady claimed she could not go to sleep without the use of the hair dryer (since the airing of the programme she has received professional intervention and has now stopped her hair dryer use at bedtime).

Broady admitted that she “knew it was a problem [but that] I just had a hard time sleeping at night when I was a kid. To me that is insignificant to the comfort that it gives me”. For Broady, the warmth alone was not enough as the sound the hair dryer made was also a critical factor in needing to get to sleep. Having engaged in the habit (and that is what it appears to be – a habit) since she was a young child, it was a hard habit to break as there was years of both operant and classical conditioning to overcome.

If the sound the hair dryer made was as equally as important as the warmth, then wouldn’t an electric blanket plus the sound of a fan suffice? Apparently not. As with most longstanding habits, people get used to specifics. The behaviour can become ritualized. The more someone begins to associate reward and pleasure with a very specific and ritualistic behaviour, the more they want to repeat the experience.

In this particular case, the hair dryer appeared to act as a ‘psychological soother’ and is akin to many other metaphorical ‘comfort blankets’ (such as thumb sucking or hair twirling) that people use as a way to relieve particular day-to-day stresses and strains. In this case, the behaviour certainly appeared to have similarities to addiction (e.g., self-injurious behaviour, comprising of relationships) but there was little to suggest that the behaviour was particularly salient except just before bedtime.

On one level, the need to feel warm and comfortable I bed is natural as many people sleep with the aid of electric blankets. As one commentator on this story noted:

Well, I know that there are many people who like to have something fuzzy or furry like a teddy bear to take to sleep. In Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia, many children and some adults are addicted to sleeping hugging a bolster. In fact, the Malay name for a bolster is bantal peluk, which literally means hugging pillow”

In relation to the Broady case and other “strange addictions” that featured on the show, Dr. Jason Elias (Director of psychological services and clinical research at McLean Hospital’s OCD Institute, US) said: “Nothing people do surprises me”. Following the broadcast of the programme on American national television, Broady was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly about the negative criticism against her, and the fact that the appearing on the show led to her quitting her need for a hair dryer to get to sleep. She said:

“At first, when I started seeing the things that people were saying about me, it really made me feel bad. But then I realized that a lot of people are just ignorant. Maybe they don’t want to look within and realize they might have some things that they’re dealing with as well. We kind of set ourselves up for people to say things about us and pick on us or laugh at us. I second-guessed myself a little bit along the way, but I got through it. I became successful with beating my personal addiction…I’m completely done with it. Since I’ve quit, I’m kind of on the outside looking in. It took a long time to get here, but I’m doing really well without it. That being said, I did not realize just how dangerous using the blow dryer really was. I guess that’s part of my denial process. I really, really in my heart felt like ‘what is the big deal?’ It’s just something I’ve always done. I knew it was strange. I knew it was weird. But I did not understand the severity of it”.

Following her television appearance, many people got in touch with Broady saying that they too relied on hair dryers to go to sleep. It seems as though she was not the only one. She said in her Entertainment Weekly interview that:

“I didn’t realize that there’s a whole community of blow dryer users out there. And they all surfaced after the episode aired. There are tons of them. Everywhere. The day that my episode aired [Dec. 29, 2010], there was a gentleman in Virginia whose home burnt down with him and his 15-year-old daughter inside from blow dryer misuse. It was all over national news”.

My own take on this is that in Broady’s case, the behaviour was a deeply ingrained habit that could have had catastrophic effects. It’s certainly not a behavioural addiction as defined by the addictions component model that I overviewed in a previous blog. However, that doesn’t mean that it was a behaviour that was unproblematic.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Abraham, T. (2011). The world’s strangest addictions: Meet the man who eats glass and the mother who can’t sleep without her hairdryer. Daily Mail, June 9. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2001807/The-worlds-strangest-addictions-Meet-man-eats-glass-mother-sleep-hairdryer.html

Building Bridges (2010). Can’t sleep without a hair dryer. December 24. Located at: http://buildingbridgesworld.wordpress.com/2010/12/24/cant-sleep-without-a-hair-dryer/

Brissey. B. (2011). ‘My Strange Addiction’ blow dryer addict speaks; plus footage of the season finale. Entertainment Weekly, February 15. Located at: http://insidetv.ew.com/2011/02/15/my-strange-addiction-season-finale-video/

MSN Today Health (2010). Their strange addictions: Hair dryer and ventriloquism. December 22. Located at: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/40780006/ns/today-today_health/t/their-strange-addictions-hair-dryer-ventriloquism/

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About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Gambling Studies at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 430 research papers, three books, over 120 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on May 2, 2012, in Addiction, Compulsion, Obsession, Popular Culture, Psychology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Back in the 1950’s 60’s when I was a child parents did some strange things to ‘help’ a child sleep. The wonderful tasting spoon of James Bond medicine my Dad gave me later turned out to be Whisky and to this day I explain to my wife that I cannot possibly do the hoovering since it sends me to sleep. The reason for this strange phenomenon I found out in later years is because I was such a screamy baby that my poor parents resorted to turning on the vacuum cleaner, put it in my room and it soon “white-noised” me into a nice sleep. But, honest Mark I just say no” to vacuum cleaners these days. And I actually hate whiskey.

  2. I guess the addiction was hair today and gone tomorrow. Oh dear, sorry. But you started it by talking about the airing of the programme.

  3. Hi I’m 12 years old and also sleep with a hair dryer but I downloaded the sound of a hair dryer on my phone how is a way to get rid of this habbit

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