Each to their own: Five weird (non-sexual) addictions, compulsions and obsessions

On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon and out of sheer boredom I typed in the words ‘weird addictions’ into Google. There were a large number involving various sexual acts that I will leave for another blog. Today’s article briefly overviews what I found that didn’t involve sex along with a brief commentary on the extent to which these behaviours can really be said to be an addiction, compulsion or obsession.

Tanning addiction: Addiction to tanning – typically involving the repeated daily use of sun beds by women – is something that I have commented on a number of times in the British national media and relates to an apparent unhealthy dependence on tanning as a way of raising a person’s self-esteem. Back in the 1990s, the media often referred to this condition as “tanorexia”, and this term has now been taken up by some members of the academic research community. For instance, a study carried out in 2008 on 400 students and published in the American Journal of Health Behavior reported that 27% of the students were classified as “tanning dependent”. Personally, I am not convinced that this is a real dependence and/or addiction based on the empirical evidence to date, but I will look at this issue in more depth in a future blog.

‘BlackBerry’ addiction: There are countlessmedia reports of males in management and other professional occupations who are allegedly addicted to their Blackberry (or ‘Crackberry’ as the media often likes to term it). Symptoms include such things as (i) hearing a “phantom rings” and/or experiencing phantom vibrations, (ii) constantly checking e-mails and/or texts. Apparently, the content of emails and texts makes the person feel important and (like ‘tanorexia’) helps raise a person’s self esteem. Although I have often written and researched into ‘technological addictions’ I have yet to come across a case of genuine case of Blackberry addiction myself. If such an addiction does exist, there are also issues around whether the Blackberry is just a means to fuel particular addictive behaviour (e.g., texting) or whether people are addicted to the Blackberry itself.

Cosmetic surgery addiction:Again, there are many examples in the popular media of patients who allegedly have an addiction to plastic surgery.  There are certainly well documented cases of high profile individuals who have undergone countless operations in their desire to achieve (what they perceive to be) the perfect face and/or body (Michael Jackson, Cher, Jocelyn ‘Cat Woman’ Wildenstein, David Gest, Micky Rourke). Such people appear to be initially satisfied once they have had the procedure in question but then start to think “just one more (operation)”. Again, I am unconvinced that any of these high profile cases are “addicted” to plastic surgery but like ‘tanorexia’ there is certainly the desire to look good as a way of feeling good about themselves. However, there are cases of individuals who seek out constant plastic surgery because they suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). BDD can affect sexes and typically manifests itself as a preoccupation with an imagined physical defect or an exaggerated concern about a minimal defect. This may lead the BDD sufferer to a cosmetic surgeon in an attempt to try to change or eliminate the perceived defect. The patient is never happy with the changes so it begins another cycle of surgery. The exact cause or causes of BDD is unknown, but most clinicians believe it to be a complex disorder with biopsychosocial underpinnings.

Addiction to chewing ice: On first glance, ice chewing might seem to be a completely made up behaviour yet compared to the other activities on this list, there is quite an established empirical literature. Ice eating is known in the scientific literature by the name of pagophagia and is a particular expression of the more general phenomenon of pica (an eating disorder whose name derives from the Latin word for magpie, a bird known for its peculiar eating behaviours). Pica is defined as the persistent eating of non-nutritive substances for a period of at least one month, without an association with an aversion to food. Pica more often occurs in pregnant women, children, and adults of lower socioeconomic status. Other types of pica in addition to ice chewing include the eating of clay and soil (geophagia) and starch (amylophagia). Pagophagia is also closely associated with iron deficiency anemia. Empirical reviews suggest that pagophagia (and pica more generally) is part of the obsessive-compulsive disorder spectrum of diseases. Some case studies even suggest that ice chewing compromises their ability to maintain jobs or personal relationships. Although there are some claims in the literature that pagophagia can be addictive, the more likely is that it may be a compulsion in extreme cases.

Compulsive lying: Telling lies is widespread yet there appears to be some empirical evidence that in extreme cases it can be chronic, compulsive and/or pathological. Often, compulsive lying may be an adjunct to other mental illnesses such as Munchausen’s Syndrome (where a person persistently seeks medical treatment for illnesses that do not exist) or pathological gambling (where persistent lying is needed to prevent others realizing there is a gambling problem). Other sufferers may include those with False Memory Syndrome where the person actually believes the lies that they tell. Writings relating to pathological lying first appeared in the psychiatric literature over 100 years ago and have been given names such as ‘pseudologia fantastica and ‘mythomania’. Pathological lying has been defined by Dr Charles Dike and his colleagues at Yale University as “falsification entirely disproportionate to any discernible end in view, may be extensive and very complicated, and may manifest over a period of years or even a lifetime”. It s thought to affect men and women equally with an onset in late adolescence. There are no reliable prevalence figures although one study estimated that one in a 1000 repeat juvenile offenders suffered from it.  A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry reported differences in brain structure between pathological liars and control groups. Pathological liars showed a relatively widespread increase in white matter (approximately one-quarter to one-third more than controls) and suggested that this increase may predispose some individuals to pathological lying.

These five activities were just the tip of the iceberg. I also came across alleged addictions to heavy metal music, teeth whitening, body modification (piercing and tattoos), animal hoarding, and reading. They will have to wait for another time.

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

Further reading

Chatterjee, A. (2007). Cosmetic neurology and cosmetic surgery: Parallels, predictions, and challenges.Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 16, 129-137.

Dike, C.C., Baranoski, M. & Griffith, E.E. (2005). Pathological lying revisited. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 33, 342–349.

Edwards, C.H., Johnson, A.A., Knight, E.M., Oyemadej, U.J., Cole, O.J., Westney, O.E.,  Jones, S. Laryea, H. &  Westney, L.S. (1994). Pica in an urban environment. Journal of Nutrition (Supplement), 124, 954-962.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Internet and video-game addiction. In C. Essau (Ed.), Adolescent Addiction: Epidemiology, Assessment and Treatment. pp.231-267.  San Diego: Elselvier.

Hata, T., Mandai, T., Ishida, K., Ito, S., Deguchi, H. & Hosoda, M. (2009). A rapid recovery from pagophagia following treatment for iron deficiency anemia and TMJ disorder accompanied by masked depression. Kawasaki Medical Journal, 35, 329-332.

Heckman, C.J., Egleston, B.L., Wilson, D.B. & Ingersoll, K.S. (2008). A preliminary investigation of the predictors of tanning dependence. American Journal of Health Behavior, 32, 451-464

Joshi, S. & Lalbeg, V.K. (2011). Texting mania – A social dilemma. International Journal of Research in Commerce, Economics, and Management, 1(3), 132-135.

King, B.H. & Ford, C.V. (1988). Pseudologia fantastica. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 77, 1-6

Kirchner, J.T (2001). Management of Pica: A Medical Enigma. American Family Physician, 63, 1177-1178.

Osman, Y.M., Wali, Y.A. & Osman, O.M. (2005). craving for ice and iron-deficiency anemia: a case series. Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, 22, 127-131.

Yang, Y., Raine, A., Narr, K., Lencz, T., LaCasse, L. Colleti, P., & Toga, A. (2007). Localisation of increased prefrontal white matter in pathological liars. British Journal of Psychiatry, 190, 174-175.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction 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 600 research papers, four books, over 130 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 January 17, 2012, in Addiction, Compulsion, Obsession, Psychology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hi Mark,
    May favourite research finding was a paper by Cerny and Cerny from 1992 in the British Journal of Addiction describing three cases of apparent dependece on carrots. The authors discuss what chemical in carrots might be causing the withdrawal phenomena seen, missing out on the chance to discuss an early witnessing of a behavioural-type addicton.

  2. I am relieved that you find false memory syndrome on par with compulsive lying instead of telling us the “lies” are real memories. Phew.

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