Category Archives: Addiction
In the latest issue of the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, there are two papers that I co-authored on muscle dysmorphia as an addiction (see ‘Further reading’ below). The reason I mention this is because in the same issue there was a case study report by Dr. Marie Grall-Bronnec and her colleagues of a woman (Helen) that was ‘addicted’ to fortune tellers. As noted in their paper:
“Clairvoyance consulting, also known as fortune teller consulting, is a behavior that may seem harmless, but can also become excessive. Fortune telling is defined as the practice of predicting information about a person’s life, using for example…astrology, cartomancy or crystallomancy”.
As I have noted in a number of my previous blogs, I subscribe to the view that if there are clinical criteria for addiction and a behaviour fulfils the criteria, it should be classed as an addiction (irrespective of the behaviour). This has led to accusations of me “watering down the concept of addiction” because such criteria have been applied to behaviours as diverse as gardening and chewing gum. According to the authors of the ‘fortune telling addiction’ paper:
“Helen is a 45-year-old woman who declares early on suffering from ‘a clairvoyance addiction’…She has no particular medical history, except for two major depression episodes after romantic breakups, and does not take any medication. She regularly sees a psychiatrist for support psychotherapy because of negative life events (sexual abuse and death in her family). She is divorced and does not have any children. Her career as a manager seems to fully satisfy her. She decides to seek treatment on account of her excessive financial expenditures due to the consultation of fortune tellers. Another motivation that explains her decision is her age. Indeed, she says she is entering a new phase in her life, after renouncing to the idea of becoming a mother one day”.
According to the paper, Helen had been consulting fortune tellers since she was 19 years old. She started using such people for educational and career advice as she claimed that she was poor at reaching important decisions herself and thought the life choices she made would be wrong. The authors noted that her first meeting with a clairvoyant was an event that gave her a feeling of reassurance. In her mid-twenties, her visits to clairvoyants escalated significantly and ended up “losing control of her use of fortune telling”. At that particular time, she was visiting clairvoyants to get relationship advice from them (e.g., “Does he really love me?” and “How long will our relationship last?”). Her current ‘addiction to clairvoyants’ dates back to her mid- to late-30s when she got divorced after the failure of her marriage:
“She repeatedly returned to fortune telling to reassure herself about the future of her relationship, and increasingly so as it deteriorated. The breakup worsened the disorder. Since her divorce, she consults fortune tellers – not always the same person – on the phone or online, in a compulsive way, more and more often (up to every day), for longer and longer periods of time (up to 8 hours a day) and spends each time more and more money (up to 200 euros per session). As she is never satisfied with the fortune tellers’ predictions, she will consult again very soon after the latest call or connection. Every choice she has to make, from the most trivial (going to the movies) to the most important (making relationship decisions), leads her to irrationally consult a fortune teller”
Before each consultation she said he got very excited at the prospect and that the experience relieved all of her psychological discomfort (at least in the short-term). However, not long after consultations she would feel incredibly guilty. The paper also reported that during consultations with the fortune tellers, she was totally convinced that they could see her future and that their predictions would come true. He authors went on to report:
“This excessive behavior gives her some kind of reassurance and allows her to make up for her lack of self-confidence. In that sense, the excessive behavior could be considered as an attempt at self-medication or as a way to cope with negative emotions. However, Helen knows that her belief in the fortune tellers’ ability to predict the future is completely irrational. This brings major adverse consequences, particularly in financial terms: despite a comfortable income, she is indebted. She also says having low self-esteem, due to her in- ability to resist her strong urge to consult fortune tellers, and due to her being isolated from the others because of the time spent consulting fortune tellers. Helen succeeds in limiting the consultation of fortune tellers during short periods of time, when her financial situation becomes too critical”.
The authors of the report also used different sets of addiction criteria to determine whether Helen was truly addicted to consulting clairvoyants. They also used my own six criteria (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse). Here are the authors own description of the behaviour using my components model:
- Salience: “Consulting fortune tellers becomes the most important activity in Helen’s life and dominates her thinking (preoccupation and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behavior (she has progressively quit all her leisure activities, particularly going out with friends)”.
- Mood modification: “Helen says feeling excitement before each consultation, but also feels nervous tension and anxiety. This excessive behavior gives her some kind of reassurance and the excessive behavior could be considered as an attempt at self-medication or a way to cope with negative emotions”.
- Tolerance: “Over time, Helen has been feeling a growing need to consult fortune tellers, and the consultations have to last longer to obtain the same effect of relief”.
- Withdrawal: “When she attempts to resist the urge to consult or has to refrain from consulting fortune tellers (in the case of her financial situation being too critical, for example), she feels tense and nervous”.
- Conflict: “Helen knows that her use of fortune telling is problematic, and that it brings very negative consequences. However, she cannot refrain from consulting fortune tellers, leading to an intra-psychic conflict and guilt”.
- Relapse: “Over the years, Helen has made repeated efforts to reduce and stop this problematic behavior. Her clinical course is characterized by relapses and remissions”.
Based on the evidence presented, there is clear evidence that Helen’s behaviour was problematic. Whether it was genuinely addictive is debatable but the authors provided some evidence that (in this case at least) the behaviour appeared to include some addictive aspects. The authors conclude that in addition to individual risk factors, other situational and structural characteristics may have played a role in the development of problematic behaviour concerning Helen’s ‘addiction’:
“Regarding the risk factors related to the object of addiction (i.e. fortune telling use), one might mention, inter alia, the possibility to consult online, which guarantees anonymity. Furthermore, the Internet increases both accessibility and availability. Finally, the money spent during fortune telling sessions seems virtual, which makes it all the more easy to spend. Increased risks related to the Internet have already been described on gambling (Griffiths, Wardle, Orford, Sproston & Erens, 2009). Regarding socio-environmental risk factors, today’s society encourages the need for control and does not give way to uncertainty. In Helen’s case, all the conditions were met for the fortune telling use to become excessive, and we are tempted to conclude that it is an addictive-like phenomenon”.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Foster, A.C., Shorter, G.W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Muscle Dysmorphia: Could it be classified as an Addiction to Body Image? Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4, 1-5.
Grall-bronnec, M. Bulteau, S., Victorri-Vigneau, C., Bouju, G. & Sauvaget, A. (2015). Fortune telling addiction: Unfortunately a serious topic about a case report. Journal of Behavioral Addiction, 4, 27-31.
Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.
Griffiths, M. (2005). A “components” model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191–197.
Griffiths, M.D., Foster, A.C. & Shorter, G.W. (2015). Muscle dysmorphia as an addiction: A response to Nieuwoudt (2015) and Grant (2015). Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4, 11-13.
Griffiths, M., Wardle, H., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2009). Sociodemographic correlates of internet gambling: Findings from the 2007 British gambling prevalence survey. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 199–202.
Hughes, M., Behanna, R. & Signorella, M. L. (2001). Perceived ac- curacy of fortune telling and belief in the paranormal. Journal of Social Psychology, 141(1), 159–160.
Shein, P. P., Li, Y. Y. & Huang, T. C. (2014). Relationship between scientific knowledge and fortune-telling. Public Understanding of Science, 23(7), 780–796.
One of things I am very proud of in my academic career is the coining of the term ‘technological addiction’ back in 1995 (an umbrella term that I invented to describe a number of different person-machine addictions including slot machine addictions, video game addiction, television addiction, etc.). I’m also proud of coining the term ‘aca-media’ (relating to academics like myself that use the media to disseminate our research). A neologism (i.e., the name for a newly coined term) is often (according to Wikipedia) directly attributable to a specific event, person, publication, or period.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, there seemed to be a real upsurge is the naming of ‘new syndromes’ in the medical literature including many relating to excessive use of technology (such as ‘Space Invader’s Wrist’) and other leisure activities (such as ‘Cuber’s Thumb’ relating to excessive use of the Rubik’s Cube) – both of which made their appearance in 1981 issues of the New England Journal of Medicine. Other videogame medical complaints include ‘Pseudovideoma’ (in a 1984 issue of the Journal of Hand Surgery), ‘Pac-Man Phalanx’ (in a 1983 issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism) and ‘Joystick Digit’ (in a 1987 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association). Another videogame-related medical complaint (in this case an infection), was reported in a 1987 issue of the Western Journal of Medicine by Dr. G.B. Soe and colleagues:
“We wish to focus WJM readers’ attention on another complication associated with video games-one that originally presented as an “infected spider bite. A 17-year-old right-handed boy noted progressive swelling and redness of his left hand seven days before admission. Two days before admission he was given penicillin intramuscularly and oral cephalexin to take at home. The swelling did not subside and the hand became very painful, so he came to the medical center for treatment. On admission his mother reported that she had seen many spiders around the house with a violin pattern on their backs, and that her son had probably been bitten by a spider…After seven days of parenteral antibiotic therapy, the edema, erythema and fever had disappeared and the patient was discharged home. Further questioning revealed that the young man was spending almost all of his time playing his favorite video game, which involved a fighting kung fu character. The patient used his left hand in manipulating a ball-shaped joystick to move the figure up, down, left and right, and his right in operating buttons to kick and jab. Extensive use of the joystick resulted in blisters on his left palm. He rubbed the blisters off, and an infection resulted that progressed to abscess formation. Neuromuscular complications of video games (‘pseudovideoma’, ‘Pac-Man phalanx’, ‘firing-finger syndrome’ and ‘Space Invaders wrist’) have been reported, as well as video game-induced seizures, but we have not come across any reports of an infectious complication of video games. Perhaps video game players should wear gloves to protect their palms, similar to ones worn by golfers and baseball players, who also need to get a firm grip on their respective sticks”.
Another one that I’d never heard of is ‘Nurd Knuckles’ coined by Dr. J.B. Martin in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1982:
“I wish to describe a case of painful knuckles associated with the use and manipulation of a new, allegedly therapeutic product, a Nurd. A Nurd is a head 10 cm across with a smiling face and large ears, reminiscent of the character Yoda of ‘Star Wars’. It is made of malleable material that can be stretched, twisted or deformed in any direction, yet with release of tension quickly resumes its original shape without a trace of distortion. A 32-year-old public school teacher presented with painful knuckles of his right hand. His students, perhaps feeling that their teacher was under increased stress during the marking of exams, had given him a Nurd for Christmas, and during a particularly trying day he had found occasion to use it. He repeatedly stretched its ears and twisted its neck without ill effect; however, on punching it he suffered sharp pain of his fourth and fifth metacarpophalangeal joints. On examination the joints were found to be reddened, with point tenderness over the fifth metacarpal head; there was no evidence of deformity. He was advised to stop beating his Nurd, and the pain subsided. While the Nurd is very plastic, yielding to the linear tension of stretching and twisting, it is very resistant to compression. Punching a Nurd does not cause the surface to give way, and, since the force of the blow is returned to the fist, it is conceivable that a fracture might result. Therefore, although stretching and twisting Nurds does not cause any harm, users should be cautioned against punching their Nurd. The Nurd is advertised as being a ‘punchable, stretchable, pushable and likeable alternative to tension, migraine headaches, drug abuse, alcoholism and manic depression’, but these claims are unsubstantiated. A MEDLINE search of the medical literature shows that no retrospective or prospective case control studies or controlled double blind crossover studies have been undertaken. Before the clinical efficacy of the Nurd can be taken seriously in the treatment of this broad spectrum of disease, full clinical trials must be completed. Subjects entering into trials must, however, be duly informed of the hazards of punching Nurds”.
Another one that caught my attention was a new affliction (‘Breaker’s Neck’) caused by the craze of ‘break dancing’ reported by Dr. Bertha Ramirez and her colleagues in a 1984 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. (The reason why I say it caught my eye is that I am currently involved in some research on ‘dancing addiction’ with some of my Hungarian colleagues and we have just had a new paper accepted in the journal PLoS ONE concerning the development of our ‘Dancing Motives Inventory’ – see ‘Further Reading’ below).
“To be added to the rapidly growing list of socially acquired injuries, we report a case of traumatic cervical subluxation caused by a new dance technique. This technique, labeled ‘breaking’ by its devotees, involves a modified head stand, in which the dancer, using his arms and hands for balance, spins rapidly on his head, neck, or shoulders to the rhythm of disco music. He then lowers his body to the floor and performs a series of rotational motions using his arms as a fulcrum…A 15-year-old boy was seen in our pediatric emergency room complaining that, on awakening two days previously, he felt a ‘snap’ in his neck, followed by persistent neck stiffness. He reported having ‘danced on his head’ the night prior to this incident. On physical examination, his head was tilted to the left with an inability to flex”.
Engaging in excessive sporting activity has given rise to a number of medical syndromes. One such consequence is ‘Rower’s Rump’ reported by Drs. K Tomecki and J. Mikesell in a 1987 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. In a previous blog I examined addiction to cycling. In the 1980s there were many medical complaints reported as a result of excessive cycling. One such complaint (given the name of ‘Bicycling nipples’) was highlighted by Dr. B. Powell in a 1983 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association:
“Bicyclists are likely to suffer from a number of maladies, including dysuria, numb penises, and more. During cool or cold weather, another problem, bicyclist’s nipples, may occur. This condition is similar to jogger’s nipples, but it is primarily a thermal injury instead of an irritation secondary to friction, as with the jogger’s complaint. Often the rider is out in the cold weather for some time, and his or her undershirt, jersey, and jacket can become moist from perspiration. Evaporation and the chill of the wind lower the temperature of the nipples. They get downright cold, and they hurt. The pain continues after the ride is over. Indeed, it can continue for several days. The nipples are sore, sensitive to both temperature change and touch”.
After reading this I found out that Dr. Fred Levit had reported a case of ‘Jogger’s Nipples’ in a 1977 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. All of these related nipple conditions are all examples of fissure of the nipple as they are all caused by friction resulting in soreness, dryness or irritation to, or bleeding of, one or both nipples. The Wikipedia entry also notes that “the condition is also experienced by women who breastfeed, and by surfers who do not wear rash guards”. The article also noted that:
“Jogger’s nipple is caused by friction from the repeated rubbing of a t-shirt or other upper body clothing against the nipples during a prolonged period of exercise. The condition is suffered mainly by runners. Long-distance runners are especially prone, because they are exposed to the friction on the nipple for the greatest period of time. However, it is not only suffered by athletes; the inside of a badge, a logo on normal items of clothing, or breastfeeding can also cause the friction which results in this condition”.
Outside of the leisure sphere, there were two case study reports of ‘Diaper Doer’s Hand’ in a 1987 issue of the journal Clinical Rehabilitation by Dr. J.L. Cosgrove and colleagues:
“Three cases of stenosing tenosynovitis occurred three to six months postpartum. Childcare activities aggravated the symptoms of pain and swelling in both patients. In two cases, a specific method of carrying the child was implicated as the mechanism of injury. Although there was no evidence of generalized inflammatory arthritis, all patients had very low positive titres of anti-nuclear antibodies. While it is likely that tenosynovitis was caused by mechanical factors, the possibility of increased susceptibility to inflammatory disease in the postpartum period cannot be discounted. The patients were successfully treated with a low temperature plastic splint, superficial heat and gentle mobilization”.
All of these new syndromes lead to why I put this article together in the first place. I found this letter in the British Medical Journal by Dr. E.P. Hoare entitled ‘New Syndrome Syndrome’ that I found both funny and poignant:
“Your readers will be familiar with tennis elbow, brazier’s ague, and soap packer’s jig not to mention Achilles’ heel. More recently we have heard of Space Invader’s wrist, jogger’s nipples, and the ultimate futility of Cuber’s thumb. May I point out another occupational disease which I have noticed among patrons of the reading room medical journal correspondence column reader’s neck or, more succinctly, the new syndrome syndrome. Symptoms usually begin with muscular contraction of the eyebrows, hyperventilation, and involuntary utterances, which in severe cases can lead to coprolalia. These may be followed by drowsiness, disorientation, hysterical amblyopia, and double vision (of the deja vu variety). If untreated the condition can result in a chronic pain in the neck. Treatment is 200 ml of gin and tonic stat by mouth and complete rest; music can also be helpful. The long-term prognosis is poor, however, unless journal editors can be persuaded to ban further reports of occupational afflictions or at least print a health warning at the head of their correspondence columns”.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Behr, J.T. (1984). Pseudovideoma. Journal of Hand Surgery, 9(4), 613.
Cosgrove, J. L., Welch, D. A., Richardson, G. S., & Nicholas, J. J. (1987). Diaper doer’s hand: stenosing tenosynovitis in the postpartum period. Clinical Rehabilitation, 1(3), 219-223.
Gibofsky, A. (1983). Pac‐Man phalanx. Arthritis and Rheumatism, 26(1), 120.
Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.
Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Pop psychology and “aca-media”: A reply to Mitchell. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 8, 537-538.
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). A moral obligation in aca-media? The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 14, 460.
Hite, P. R., Greene, K. A., Levy, D. I., & Jackimczyk, K. (1993). Injuries resulting from bungee-cord jumping. Annals of emergency medicine, 22(6), 1060-1063.
Hoare, E.P. (1982). Points: New syndrome syndrome. British Medical Journal, 285(6352), 1429.
Levit, F. (1977). Jogger’s nipples. New England Journal of Medicine, 297(20), 1127.
Maraz, A., Király, O., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Why do you dance? Development of the Dance Motivation Inventory (DMI). PLoS ONE, in press.
Martyn, J. B. (1983). Nurd knuckles. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 129(3), 228.
McCowan, T.C. (1981). Space Invader’s wrist. New England Journal of Medicine, 304,1368.
Osterman, A. L., Weinberg, P., & Miller, G. (1987). Joystick digit. Journal of the American Medical Association, 257(6), 782.
Powell, B. (1983). Bicyclist’s nipples. Journal of the American Medical Association, 249(18), 2457-2457.
Ramirez, B., Masella, P. A., Fiscina, B., Lala, V. R., & Edwards, M. D. (1984). Breaker’s neck. Journal of the American Medical Association, 252(24), 3366-3367.
Soe, G.B., Gersten, L. M., Wilkins, J., Patzakis, M. J., & Harvey, J.P. (1987). Infection associated with joystick mimicking a spider bite. Western Journal of Medicine, 146(6), 748.
Tomecki, K. J., & Mikesell, J. F. (1987). Rower’s rump. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 16(4), 890-891.
Torre, P. R., Williams, G. G., Blackwell, T., & Davis, C. P. (1993). Bungee jumper’s foot drop peroneal nerve palsy caused by bungee cord jumping. Annals of emergency medicine, 22(11), 1766-1767.
Waugh, D. (1981). Cuber’s thumb. New England Journal of Medicine, 305, 768.
Last week I did an interview with the Daily Mail about how to cut down alcohol intake. The hook of the story was from a 2012 Finnish study published in the journal Addiction. The longitudinal study examined whether how close a person lives to a pub or bar and whether it had any effect on risky drinking behaviour (‘Living in proximity of a bar and risky alcohol behaviours: a longitudinal study’). The study was briefly summarized in Medical News Today:
“People who live close to an on-site alcohol outlet, such as a bar, are more likely to engage in risky alcohol behavior, while people who live further away have a lower chance of dangerous drinking. The researchers analyzed data consisting of the locations of licensed on-site alcohol outlets between 2000 and 2008, which was taken from the alcohol licence register, maintained by Valvira (National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health). They then reviewed data on alcohol consumption from surveys taken from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health’s (FIOH) Public Sector study from 2000 to 2009. More than 78,000 people filled out at least one survey and over 55,000 took at least two surveys. The team found that people who lived less than a kilometer away from a bar or other on-site alcohol outlet had a 13% higher chance of heavy alcohol use compared to those who lived more than a kilometer away. When a people changed the location of their house between the two study surveys, the likelihood changed. [More specifically] (i) a shorter distance raised the likelihood of risky drinking by 17%, [and] (ii) a longer distance decreased the likelihood by 17%…The authors concluded that people have a higher chance of consuming alcohol if they live close to an on-site alcohol outlet”.
This is an example of the ‘availability hypothesis’ that is well known in most areas of addictive behaviour. In my own field of gambling studies, there is a general rule of thumb that where the opportunities and access to gambling are increased, more people engage in gambling (although this is not necessarily proportional to the level of problem gambling). The relationship between accessibility and engagement in addictive behaviour is complex as many other factors come into play. However, the Finnish study on risky drinking and proximity to alcohol outlets provides empirical support for the availability hypothesis.
There are also likely to be cultural differences. A lot of my consultancy work is for Scandinavian companies and I have been fortunate to visit Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark many times. One thing that is very noticeable in these countries is that alcohol is highly taxed and it is very expensive to drink alcohol in bars. On one of my first visits to Norway in the mid-1990s, I insisted on buying a round of drinks for the six people I was with (even though they were pleading with me not to). When I was charged 350 Krone (about £35) I began to understand why. My experience is that buying rounds of drinks appears to be very rare and I noticed that many people would make their pint of lager last hours in the bar.
Moving to countries like Norway as a way of cutting down on alcohol intake is a drastic option as there are many other simple ways that we can cut down on drinking alcohol. Unfortunately, as a result of a chronic medical condition I was told to stop drinking alcohol last September (2014). In the last six months I have drank only 8 units of alcohol (and 6 of those units were on New Year’s Eve). My own reduction in alcohol intake was forced upon me. I can obviously choose to ignore my doctor’s advice but I decided not to. Any woman has to make a similar decision about whether they consume alcohol and/or nicotine during pregnancy.
The remainder of today’s blog provides some tips on the simplest ways to cut down on alcohol intake. They are not aimed at problem drinkers as they require extra external support and interventions from family, friends, doctors and/or therapists. The tips below come from a variety of sources (listed in ‘Further reading’). I don’t claim to be an expert on alcohol addiction (although I have published more than a few papers on alcohol problems over the years – again, see some of these in ‘Further reading’ below) but most of these tips are practical and common sense:
- Don’t go it alone: If you really want to cut down your alcohol intake, try do it with your friends and family together. Doing it with others rather than on your own means you will have others around you going through the same thing as yourself as well as having a ready made support group.
- Don’t buy rounds of drinks in pubs and clubs: If you’ve ever been out on a pub crawl with friends, you will know that you tend to drink at the pace of the quickest drinker in the group (and this may be at a quicker rate than you would ideally prefer). If you do want to drink in rounds, then try opting out every other round and/or try to drink with a smaller group of friends (as larger groups typically lead to more alcohol being drunk over the course of an evening).
- Spread out your drinking and drink more slowly: Sounds obvious but it’s true. (As I noted above, in places where alcohol is very expensive this becomes a natural option). A related option is to have one alcoholic drink followed by one non-alcoholic drink throughout the evening.
- Don’t buy pints, doubles or large glass drinks: When you do drink in pubs and clubs, order smaller measures (wine in a small glass rather than a large one, halves instead of pints, a bottle of lager rather than a pint of lager). All of these smaller options mean a reduced ‘alcohol by volume’ ratio (i.e., less alcohol actually consumed). If you are the kind of person who says to yourself ‘I never have more than two glasses of wine a night’, then changing to a smaller glass will have an immediate and appreciable effect in lowering overall alcohol intake.
- Where possible choose non-alcoholic drinks: When you eat out or dine at home, have a soft drink, juice or water rather than wine or beer with your meal.
- Dilute alcoholic drinks: If the option of a non-alcoholic drink isn’t always possible or simple doesn’t appeal, then dilute your drinks. Have a lager shandy or a white wine spritzer.
- Have ‘alcohol-free’ days: If you drink every day, start by trying to drink alcohol every other day. If you drink alcohol a few times a week, try to drink just once a week. Just cutting down on your normal weekly pattern will help you to realise that you can go without alcohol.
- Avoid cocktails: Cocktails often contains a lot more alcohol than people think.
- Drink alcohol free beers and lagers: If you love the taste of lager or beer, there are alcohol free options. There are also an increasing number of fake cocktails (‘mocktails’).
- Reward yourself for not drinking alcohol: Many people drink as a way to alleviate the stresses and strains of every day life (or to do the exact opposite – to celebrate the fact that you’ve done something well or because it is a special occasion). The money not spent on alcohol could go towards giving yourself another kind of treat or reward (a massage, the new CD you wanted, watching a film at the cinema, etc.).
- Tell everyone in your social circle you’re cutting down alcohol intake: By telling everyone you know including family, friends and work colleagues, you will be more committed to not drinking alcohol than if you told no-one.
- Avoid temptation: One of the key factors in any potentially addictive activity is knowing what the ‘triggers’ are (e.g., walking past a pub, watching television, having an argument with your loved one, etc.). Knowing what the triggers are can be a strategy for avoiding temptation (e.g., changing the routes on your way back home to avoid walking past your favourite pub, doing something else instead of watching television, etc.).
- Get a new hobby: Changing one aspect of your routine life can also help change other aspects. Sometimes, changing one aspect of your life (such as introducing daily exercise) goes hand-in-hand with other areas of your life (drinking less alcohol, eating more healthily).
- Think of the benefits of not drinking alcohol: Not drinking alcohol can bring lots of positives. In six months without alcohol I’ve lost about 6.35kg in weight because alcohol is high in calories (and that’s without exercise!). Other benefits include more money for other things, better quality sleep, less stress (because alcohol is a depressant), and better health.
- Use alcohol tracking tools: Many apps are now available to help you keep track of your alcohol intake. For instance, the MyDrinkaware tool allows you to see how alcohol is affecting you on a number of different dimensions including your health (how many units you are consuming over time), weight (how many calories you are consuming over time), and finances (how much money you are spending on alcohol over time).
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Drinkaware (2015). Tips for cutting down when out. Located at: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/make-a-change/how-to-cut-down/cutting-down-when-out-and-about/tips-for-cutting-down-when-out
Drinkaware (2015). Track your drinking. Located at: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/unitcalculator#unitcalculator
Griffiths, M.D. (2014). I drink, therefore I am: The UK’s alcohol dependence. Intervene, April, 20-23.
Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2010). Gambling, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking and health: findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. Addiction Research and Theory, 18, 208-223.
Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2011). Internet gambling, health. Smoking and alcohol use: Findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 1-11.
Halonen, J. I., Kivimäki, M., Virtanen, M., Pentti, J., Subramanian, S. V., Kawachi, I., & Vahtera, J. (2013). Living in proximity of a bar and risky alcohol behaviours: a longitudinal study. Addiction, 108(2), 320-328.
Glynn, S. (2012). Living close to a bar increases chance of risky drinking. Medical News Today, November 7. Located at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/252462.php
NHS Choices (2015). Tips on cutting down [alcohol]. Located at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol/Pages/Tipsoncuttingdown.aspx
Resnick, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Service quality in alcohol treatment: A qualitative study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 453-470.
Resnick, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Service quality in alcohol treatment: A research note. International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, 24, 149-163.
Resnick, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Alcohol treatment: A qualitative comparison of public and private treatment centres. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 185-196.
A few weeks ago, three independent things happened that has led me to writing this article. Firstly, I received an email from one of my blog readers who wrote:
“I’m a recovering addict. I still find that hard to admit even after time in therapy and the support of my loved ones, but to say it out loud can sometimes be a help. One part of my therapy, which really did strike a chord was something called ‘Chaos Addiction’. It was suggested to me that my addictive behaviors were fueled by a need to constantly have things in my life that were ‘in flux’ – to experience the ‘predictably unpredictable’. Looking back over my life, it hit home…I’d love it if you might think about sharing this with your site’s readership”.
Secondly, a couple of days later I was given a CD-R by one of my friends that included the song ‘Addicted to Chaos’ by the group Megadeth (from their 1994 album Youthanasia). Thirdly, a couple of days after that I was watching the film Chasing Lanes where the lead character in the film Doyle Gipson (played by Samuel L Jackson) is told by his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor (played by William Hurt) that he was ‘addicted to chaos’ rather than alcohol.
I have never come across the term ‘chaos addiction’ prior to the email I was sent. As far as I am aware, there has never been any empirical research on the topic although Dr. Keith Lee did write a 2007 book (Addicted to chaos: The journey from extreme to serene) of his own experiences on the topic. Using case studies, the book examines individuals that have become “addicted to intensity out of the chaos and toward mind/body harmony, higher consciousness, and a deeply spiritual transformation”. More specifically:
“In a culture where the ‘extreme theme’ has become the norm, people are increasingly seduced into believing that intensity equals being alive. When that happens, the mind becomes wired for drama and the soul is starved of meaningful purpose. This type of life may produce heart-pounding excitement, but the absence of this addictive energy can bring about withdrawal, fear, and restlessness that is unbearable”.
In researching this article I came across a number of online articles dealing with ‘addiction to chaos’. The term has been applied to the actress Lindsay Lohan following a television interview with Oprah Winfrey (and the many articles that followed that honed in on her ‘addiction to chaos).
A short piece in Business Week by Clate Mask claimed that it is entrepreneurs that are frequently addicted to chaos (based on his “experiences and observations working with thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs over the years” along with his top three signs he sees as being addicted to chaos: (i) their business life revolves around the in-box, (ii) they can’t step away from the business, (ii) they are strangely proud they have so little free time. Clate then goes on to claim that:
“If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, you are probably addicted to chaos. Get help. Business ownership should bring you more time, money, and control. If you’re not getting that, make some changes to your mindset and your business systems so you can find the freedom you were looking for when you started your business in the first place”.
An online article by Silvia Mordini discussed about her personal experiences and how she now uses yoga to provide grounding and stability in her life. (In fact, there are quite a few papers on treating addictions with yoga including a recent systematic review of randomized control trials by Paul Posadski and his colleagues in the journal Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies – see ‘Further reading’ below). As Mordini confessed:
“My past addiction to chaos simply hurt me too much. I got sick of the constant mental tug-o-war with myself. I’m not interested in feeling impatient with one thought and having to pull or push at the next one. Impatience promotes chaos and doesn’t feel good. The antidote to this is patience. Patience feels good. It feels like a return to mental stability no matter the chaos around us or what other people are thinking or doing…[The grounding that yoga brings] serves us as a simplifying force in order to stabilize our minds. When grounded, we plug back into our best selves and become fully present and balanced. Our energy stabilizes. Once centered, we are able to clearly see the circumstances of our lives. We no longer over-respond or over-worry because the static noise of chaos doesn’t pull us apart”.
She then goes on to provide her readers with five practical ways to promote stability and overcome addiction to chaos: (i) practice yoga, (ii) meditate, (iii) use a mantra (she suggests “I will let go of the need to be needed/I will let go of the need to be accepted/I will let go of the need to be accomplished), unplug from technology, and (v) get your hands and feet dirty (do some gardening, go for a walk on the beach, etc.). Obviously there is no clinical research confirming that these strategies would help overcome ‘chaos addiction’ but engaging in them certainly won’t do anyone any harm.
Another online article (‘Addicted to Chaos’) by addiction counselor Rita Barsky notes that many addicts grew up within dysfunctional families and noted:
“We never felt safe in our family of origin and the only thing we knew for sure was that nothing was for sure. Life was totally unpredictable and we became conditioned to living in chaos. When I talk about chaos in our lives, it was often not the kind that can be seen. In fact, many alcoholic/addict mothers were also super controllers and on the surface, our lives appeared to be perfect. The unsafe and chaotic living conditions of our lives were not visible or obvious to the outside world. Despite the appearance of everything being under control, we experienced continued chaos, developed a tolerance for chaos and I believe became addicted to chaos. I think it is important to say I have never done a scientific experiment to investigate this theory. It is based on observation of numerous alcoholic/addicts and their behavior”.
This was clearly written from experience and appears to have some face validity. Interestingly, Barsky then goes on to say:
“During the recovery process life becomes more manageable and less chaotic. The alcoholic/addict begins to feel a sense of autonomy and safety. A feeling of calm settles over their life. The paradox for the alcoholic/addict is that feeling calm is so unfamiliar it induces anxiety. There is a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop. When there is a crisis, whether real or perceived, we actually experience a physical exhilaration and it feels remarkably like being active. From there it can be a very short distance to a relapse. Even if we don’t pick up we are not in a sober frame of mind. Addiction to chaos can be very damaging. Once engaged in someone else’s crisis we abandon ourselves and often develop resentments, especially if it is someone we love or are close to. Family chaos is the ‘best’ because it’s so familiar and we can really get off on it. When there is a crisis with family or friends we feel compelled to listen to every sordid detail and/or take action. We are unable to let go, we need to be in the mix even though it is painful and upsetting. It requires tremendous effort to detach and not jump in with both feet to the detriment to our well being”.
I find this account compelling because it’s written by someone that appears to have gone through this herself, and has now applied her therapeutic expertise retrospectively to understand the underlying psychology of what was occurring at the height of the addiction. Another compelling account is at Molly Field’s Yoga Blog.
“My object of desire is Chaos. My therapist told me at the end of my first session ever that I have a Chaos addiction…I’m not kidding: this stuff’s insidious. If it weren’t for my awareness of my ability to lose my temper over little-seeming things (aka scars from my past), I’d never know about the Addiction to Chaos. It’s because I grew up with it, was surrounded by it and trained by some of the world’s finest Chaos foments that I became one myself…My relationship with Chaos had become so much a part of my fabric of being that if I didn’t sense it, I would make it”.
Finally, I’ll leave you with the only tool that I have come across that claims to provide a diagnostic indication of whether someone is addicted to chaos. I need to point out that this came from the website of former psychologist Phil McGraw, the US television host of Dr. Phil. I have reproduced everything below verbatim (so when it says that “you are addicted to chaos” if you endorsed five or more of the ten items, that is the view of Dr. Phil – whenever I have co-developed a scale, I at least add the words “You may have a problem” rather than “You have got a problem”).
“While most people try to avoid drama, research shows that others have figured out how to trigger the body’s stress response, just for the rush. Take the test and find out if you’re creating chaos in your everyday life!
Directions: Answer the following questions ‘True’ or ‘False’
- Do you usually yell and scream to make your point?
- Do you ramp things up to win every argument?
- If you get sick, do you feel that EVERYONE should know about it?
- When you argue, do you ever break things or knock them over?
- Does being calm or bored sound like the worst thing to you?
- Do you ever yell at strangers if you feel that they are in your way?
- Do you hate it when you are not the center of attention?
- Is there usually a crisis to solve in your life?
- Do you break up or threaten a break up with a mate often?
- Are you usually the one who starts fights?
Results: If you answered ‘True’ to five or more of the questions above, you are addicted to chaos”
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Barsky, R. (2007). Addicted to Chaos. A Sober Mind, December 2. Located at: http://asobermind.blogspot.co.uk/2007/12/addicted-to-chaos.html
Field, M. (2012). Recovering from an addiction to chaos. The Yoga Blog, April 7. Located at: http://www.theyogablog.com/recovering-from-addiction/
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Workaholism is still a useful construct Addiction Research and Theory, 13, 97-100.
Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Workaholism: A 21st century addiction. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 24, 740-744.
Griffiths, M.D. & Karanika-Murray, M. (2012). Contextualising over-engagement in work: Towards a more global understanding of workaholism as an addiction. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1(3), 87-95.
Jakub, L. Addicted to chaos: Oprah’s interview with Lindsay Lohan. Hello Giggles, August 19. Located at: http://hellogiggles.com/addicted-to-chaos-oprahs-interview-with-lindsay-lohan
Kramer, L. (2015). Are you addicted to chaos? Recovery.org, January, 15. Located at: http://www.recovery.org/pro/articles/are-you-addicted-to-chaos/
Lee, J.K. (2007). Addicted to chaos: The journey from extreme to serene. Transformational Life Coaching and Consultancy.
Mask, C. (2011). Three signs you’re addicted to chaos. Business Week, March 18. Located at: http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/tips/archives/2011/03/three_signs_you_are_addicted_to_chaos.html
Posadzki, P., Choi, J., Lee, M. S., & Ernst, E. (2014). Yoga for addictions: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 19(1), 1-8.
Mordini, S. (2013). Are you addicted to chaos and drama? Mind Body Green, January 15. Located at: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7395/are-you-addicted-to-chaos-and-drama.html
I apologise in advance, but today’s blog is (i) a not-so thinly disguised plug (well, a blatant plug) for a national event that is being hosted by my university on Wednesday 18th March (2015) and (ii) a just a slight updating of a blog I published a couple of years ago when the Ig Nobels last came to NTU. The new blurb I was sent by our local organizer Phil Banyard proclaims:
“The Ig Nobel Prizes honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology. The awards are held each year at Harvard University and each award is presented by a Nobel laureate such is the esteem of this event. Over the past few years Marc Abrahams has brought an Ig Nobels tour to the UK in the spring. The tours highlights some of the key awards from the Ig Nobels’ back catalogue and provides a great opportunity to promote science to a wider audience. This year’s programme will feature Marc Abrahams, organiser of the Ig Nobel Prizes, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, and Guardian columnist, together with a gaggle of Ig Nobel Prize winners and other improbable researchers. The programme will include: Chris McManus (Ig Nobel winner, Scrotal asymmetry in ancient Sculpture and man); Richard Stephens (Ig Nobel winner, The effect of swearing on pain); Richard Webb (Tribute to John Hoyland, the father of Nominative Determinism)”.
If that’s not enough to get you going, I would also like to add that science’s top journal Nature says: “The Ig Nobel awards are arguably the highlight of the scientific calendar” (and who am I to argue?). For those of you who know nothing about the Ig Nobels, they were initiated by one of my favourite journalists, Guardian columnist Marc Abrams. Abrams writes a weekly column for the Guardian called Improbable Research and he is also the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research.
Back in February 2010, I was delighted when Abrams did a whole column on my research into gambling entitled ‘Slot-machine gamblers are hard to pin down: Why are gamblers such a difficult subject for academic study?’ Secretly, I’m very proud that he dedicated a whole column to my research. (In fact, I found out while I was researching the original blog on this topic, is that my research also features in his 2012 book This is Improbable: Cheese String Theory, Magnetic Chickens, and Other WTF Research. Here are some of the things he wrote about my research into gambling:
“It’s hard to get good payoffs from slot machines, yes. But it’s also hard to get good information from slot machine gamblers, and that made things awkward for psychologists Mark Griffiths, of Nottingham Trent University, and Jonathan Parke, of Salford University. They explained how, in a monograph called Slot Machine Gamblers – Why Are They So Hard to Study? Griffiths and Parke published it a few years ago in the Journal of Gambling Issues. ‘We have both spent over 10 years playing in and researching this area,’ they wrote, ‘and we can offer some explanations on why it is so hard to gather reliable and valid data. Here are three from their long list.
- First, gamblers become engrossed in gambling. ‘We have observed that many gamblers will often miss meals and even utilise devices (such as catheters) so that they do not have to take toilet breaks. Given these observations, there is sometimes little chance that we as researchers can persuade them to participate in research’
- Second, gamblers like their privacy. They ‘may be dishonest about the extent of their gambling activities to researchers as well as to those close to them. This obviously has implications for the reliability and validity of any data collected.’
- Third, gamblers sometimes notice when a person is spying on them. “The most important aspect of non-participant observation research while monitoring fruit-machine players is the art of being inconspicuous. If the researcher fails to blend in, then slot-machine gamblers soon realise they are being watched and are therefore highly likely to change their behaviour.’
The gambling machines go by many names, ‘fruit machine’ and ‘one-armed bandit’ also being popular. But Griffiths and Parke don’t obsess about nomenclature. The two are giants in their chosen profession. The International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction ran a paean from a researcher who said: ‘In the problem gambling field we don’t exhibit the same adulation as music fans for their idols, but we have our superstars and, for me, Mark Griffiths is one.’
Professor Griffiths is one of the world’s most published scholars on matters relating to the psychology of fruit-machine gamblers, with at least 27 published studies that mention fruit machines in their title. These range from 1994’s appreciative Beating the Fruit Machine: Systems and Ploys Both Legal And Illegal to 1998’s admonitory Fruit Machine Gambling and Criminal Behaviour: Issues for the Judiciary*. Women get special attention (Fruit Machine Addiction in Females: a Case Study), as do youths (Adolescent Gambling on Fruit Machines and several other monographs). There is the humanist perspective (Observing the Social World of Fruit-Machine Playing) as well as that of the biomedical specialist (The Psychobiology of the Near Miss in Fruit Machine Gambling). Griffiths and Parke collaborate often. Strangers to their work might wish to begin by reading the classic The Psychology of the Fruit Machine. Their fruitful publication record reminds every scholar that, even when a subject is difficult to study, persistence and determination can yield a rewarding payoff”.
All I can say is that after re-reading this, I wonder how I can still get my head through the door.
More recently, one of my papers was actually reported by Marc Abrams on his Improbable Research website. More specifically, my case study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior about eproctophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from flatulence), was given press coverage in over 100 newspaper and magazine stories around the world including those in the UK, Ireland, US, Greece, Italy, Holland, China, and Ghana (e.g., New York Daily News, Huffington Post, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror, The Sun, Metro, Times of Malta, Irish Examiner, Asian Image, and Cosmopolitan). However, it was actually Abrams who first reported the story under the headline “Academic Study of a Young Man’s Sexual Attraction to Human Gas”. For those who don’t know, the underlying philosophy of the IR website is to feature “research that makes people laugh and then think”. More specifically, Abrams wrote:
“Professor Mark D Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University has published a remarkable new study. Here’s how we know this study is remarkable: The university’s press office sent copies of it to many prominent science journalists, remarking that (1) ‘It’s the world’s first paper on eproctophilia – sexual arousal from flatulence’ and (2) ‘Professor Griffiths would be more than happy to talk to you in more detail’. A remarkable number of those journalists immediately sent it on to us at the Annals of Improbable Research. We are, in this blog entry you are reading right now, remarking upon that study. There is more. Lots more. In other respects, too, Professor Griffiths is an expert. So renowned is he that Wikipedia devoted an entire web page to him. One of the many things on which he is an expert is the academic study of gamblers. We have celebrated some of his abundant work on that subject. (We express our thanks, and other emotions, to the many journalists who instinctively decided that they should alert us to the existence of Professor Griffiths’s new line of research.) BONUS (unrelated): The 1998 Ig Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to Dr. Mara Sidoli of Washington, DC, for her illuminating report, ‘Farting as a Defence Against Unspeakable Dread’ [Journal of Analytical Psychology, vol. 41, no. 2, 1996, pp. 165-78.]”
Anyway, if you’d like to go see Marc Abrams in person, here are the further details:
Event: The Ig Nobels: A celebration of Science
Time and date: 6.30 pm, Wednesday 18th March
Location: The Newton Building on the City Campus of the University.
Booking details: The event is free but booking is essential.
Details of their UK events and more information about the Ig Nobels can be found on their website: http://www.improbable.com/improbable-research-shows/complete-schedule/
* I’ve never actually written a paper with this title but I think it’s an inadvertent mix of two or three papers I’ve written with similar titles
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Further reading (i.e., the papers cited by Marc Abrams above)
Griffiths, M.D. (1991). The psychobiology of the near miss in fruit machine gambling. Journal of Psychology, 125, 347-357.
Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Beating the fruit machine: Systems and ploys both legal and illegal. Journal of Gambling Studies, 10, 287-292.
Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London: Routledge
Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Observing the social world of fruit-machine playing. Sociology Review, 6(1), 17-18.
Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Fruit machine addiction in females: A case study. Journal of Gambling Issues, 8. Located at: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue8/clinic/griffiths/index.html.
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Eproctophilia in a young adult male: A case study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1383-1386.
Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Slot machine gamblers – Why are they so hard to study? Journal of Gambling Issues, 6. Located at: http://jgi.camh.net/doi/full/10.4309/jgi.2002.6.7
Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics (revisited). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.
Yeoman, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Adolescent machine gambling and crime (I). Journal of Adolescence, 19, 99-104.
Griffiths, M.D. & Sparrow, P. (1998). Fruit machine addiction and crime. Police Journal, 71, 327-334.
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Cybercrime: Areas of concern for the judiciary. Justice of the Peace, 165, 296-298.
Last Thursday (January 29), I was watching the newspaper review on Sky News when one of the reviewers referred to a story in the Daily Mail about the negative effects of box-set bingeing (‘Watching TV box-set marathons is warning sign you’re lonely and depressed – and will also make you fat’). Having examined the psychology of box-set bingeing in a previous blog, the story instantly grabbed my attention (and also because I love box-set bingeing when I get the time). (I also discovered in researching this article that in November 2013, the Oxford Dictionary announced that the word ‘binge-watch’ [defined as “to watch multiple episodes of a television programme in rapid succession” was a contender for its word of the year but was eventually beaten by the word ‘selfie’).
The Daily Mail story was based on some research led by doctoral researcher Ms. Yoon Hi Sung (at the University of Texas). Unfortunately, the research is not publicly available as it hasn’t actually been published yet. In fact, the study is from a conference paper that will be presented in May 2015 (at the Conference of the International Communication Association in Puerto Rico in May). Ms. Sung said that his findings “should be a wake-up call”. In typical Daily Mail style, a number of claims were made (which are listed below verbatim):
- “Watching TV box-set marathons is warning sign you’re lonely and depressed – and will also make you fat
- Watching TV for long periods of time can lead to obesity and exhaustion.
- ‘Binge-watchers’ are more likely to lack self-control and have addictions.
- University of Texas researchers said it’s no longer a ‘harmless addiction’.
- They said people will watch TV as a distraction when they are feeling low”.
Unfortunately there was little detail of the method used or much about 316 participants aged 18 to 29 years (e.g., how the participants were recruited, how representative the sample was of all those who engage in box-set bingeing, etc.) but the Daily Mail was adamant that box-set bingeing is bad for your health. More specifically, the journalist Daniel Bates wrote:
“People who suffer from low moods are more likely to spend hours or days viewing multiple episodes of their favourite programme online or on DVD box set. But by doing so they could neglect work, relationships and even their family. The researchers from the University of Texas at Austin said that binge-watching should no longer be considered a ‘harmless addiction’ and that people should think twice before settling in for a long session in front of the TV…The findings showed a direct link. The worse somebody felt, the more likely they were to watch a lot of TV in an apparent attempt to avoid their low mood”.
Ms. Sung was quoted as saying:
“Even though some people argue that binge-watching is a harmless addiction, findings from our study suggest that binge-watching should no longer be viewed this way. Physical fatigue and problems such as obesity and other health problems are related to binge-watching and they are a cause for concern. When binge-watching becomes rampant, viewers may start to neglect their work and their relationships with others. Even though people know they should not, they have difficulty resisting the desire to watch episodes continuously”.
Not having access to the details of the study make it difficult to make methodological criticism but as a Professor of Gambling Studies I would bet my bottom dollar that the claims go beyond the data. As far as I am aware there has never been any academic study of box set viewing behaviour (either watching ‘on demand’ via interactive television or DVD box-sets) but I did come across some commercial research carried out by the company MarketCast in 2013 (and reported in a Variety magazine article entitled ’10 insights from studies of binge watchers’ by Marc Fraser). In the study, over 1000 US television viewers, the report claimed that there were “elevated binge levels” when watching box-set television series on demand such as House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Walking Dead, True Blood, and Sons of Anarchy. As Fraser reported:
“As networks grapple with the potential effect of binge-viewing to their bottom line, what they’re starting to learn is less threatening than some early analysts have suggested. The good news for broadcasters is that bingeing actually creates more viewers for TV shows, MarketCast found, which should broaden the audience for advertisers and their commercials when new episodes air. That’s primarily because most binge viewers are just trying to catch up on a series they may have missed, and tend to tune into a series during its regular airings. For example, 65% of those surveyed said they would watch new episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’ without bingeing when the series returned, while another 58% said they would tune into ‘The Walking Dead’ in similar fashion. At the same time, despite the large amount of time required for bingeing, other forms of entertainment aren’t seeing a large decrease as a result of binge-viewing, the study [found]”.
The MarketCast study also reported that 5% of their study participants said bingeing was the only way that they watched their favourite TV shows, and just under one-third of the sample planned to use the bingeing method of viewing their favourite TV series in the future. Here are some of the other key findings listed in the report:
- There are four types of binge-viewers. Those who binge (i) because they don’t like to wait a week to find out what happens next, (ii) because friends tell them they’re missing out; (iii) to watch TV shows they’ve seen before, and (iv) when they are ill or housebound because of injury,
- The main reasons for box-set bingeing are to (i) catch up on TV series that were missed when they first aired, (ii) avoid having to watch adverts (and save time), and (iii) avoid waiting to see what happens next.
- Two-thirds of the sample (67%) claimed to have had at least one binge-watching experience.
- Those who binge watch only are typically males under the age of 30 years (although there is no overall difference between males and females in binge watching behaviour). (Another piece of market research by Magid Generational Strategies in early 2013 reported tat 70% of binge viewers are aged 16 to 35 years).
- More binge watching is done alone (56%) and at home (98%). Binge watching is also done while travelling (13%) and/or while on holiday (16%).
- Box-set bingeing occurs online (e.g., via on-demand services) more than offline (e.g., DVD box-sets).
- Drama is most watched genre for bingeing (60%), followed by comedy (45%), and reality shows (26%).
Fraser also made reference to another piece of market research by Solutions Research Group that examined 1,200 Canadian subscribers of Netflix and their viewing habits related to the television series House of Cards (that puts all 13 episodes online simultaneously). The study found that one in three viewers watched all 13 episodes within four weeks of first airing).
Another news story I came across (in Australia’s Herald Sun) provided a more positive spin and claimed in the headline ‘Binge-viewing box sets on the couch now the best way to build romance’. The article by journalist Megan Miller reported:
“For more and more couples, churning through a lazy 12-episode series is a romance rekindler that takes less effort than a meal somewhere nice and is cheaper than a beach holiday. It can be done without leaving the comfort of one’s home (or even one’s flannie pyjamas) and provides valuable couple time as well as down time from the rigours of work and family. Everyone’s on board. Barack and Michelle Obama are said to be hooked on spy drama ‘Homeland’ and our own PM Tony Abbott loves sitting down with wife Margie to an [episode] (or three) of ‘Downton Abbey’”.
It appears that the inspiration for the herald Sun story may have been the “couple Phoebe and Mike, both 31 [years of age], were so addicted to cult hit Breaking Bad they took discs with the latest series on their Fijian honeymoon earlier this year, desperate to race back to their villa each night to keep up with the escapades of meth-maker Walter White”. Miller then interviewed Melbourne-based psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack who commented that:
“Doing something you both enjoy is at the heart of engaging in a binge session in front of the box. Shared interests create a bond and connection that’s great for relationships. Cuddling up on the couch and snuggling while watching a show that you both get enjoyment from gives a common interest and some relaxed time together…New partners may watch shows together for the sake of the other, not because they hold a great interest in it. An established relationship is one where the two people have a greater level of comfort together, and don’t depend on the environment to help impress the other. At a later point in a relationship the two are relaxed with one another and can negotiate each other’s interests and needs, and find a mutually interesting series that is exciting for both of them”.
All of the articles I have read on the topic describe binge-watching as an ‘addiction’ (at least in passing). Although there is a small literature on ‘television addiction’ (for a recent review in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions by my colleague Dr. Steve Sussman – see ‘Further reading’ below) I know of no empirical research on the topic of ‘binge-viewing addiction’. However, I did come across an arguably tongue-in-cheek list of signs in an article in the Daily Edge:
- The thought of a day doing nothing except watching a box set makes you genuinely excited.
- You have avoided a social engagement to stay in and watch something.
- At least once, you have woken up early specifically to watch the latest episode.
- You’ve had this thought – ‘Just one more episode’ or ‘Not sure if an actual memory or something I saw on TV’.
- You have accidentally drooled on at least one sofa cushion during a binge.
- You have cheated on your loved one with a box set. By which we mean, watching ahead while they’re out/on the phone to their mam/have gone to bed. AKA ‘Netflix Adultery’.
- You have had that moment where you get up from the couch, and have to shake food out of the folds of your clothes.
- You tell yourself you could stop at any time.
- When it’s all over, you feel confusion, shame and regret.
Even though these signs were probably written in jest, they would probably have good face validity should anyone decide to construct a new instrument to assess binge-watching addiction. However, even with the new study by the researchers at the University of Texas, I’m still to be convinced that box-set bingeing is a serious health concern – at least based on the scientific evidence.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Bates, D. (2015). Watching TV box-set marathons is warning sign you’re lonely and depressed – and will also make you fat. Daily Mail, January 29. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2931572/Love-marathon-TV-session-warning-sign-lonely-depressed.html
Daily Edge (2014). 11 signs of you’re suffering from a binge-watching problem. Located at: http://www.dailyedge.ie/binge-watching-problem-signs-1391910-Apr2014/
Graser, M. (2013). Marathon TV viewers tend to be millenials playing catch up on shows; say they’ll watch new seasons as they air. Variety, March 7. Located at: http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/10-insights-from-studies-of-binge-watchers-1200004807/
Koepsell, D. (2013). In defence of the box set binge: a global shared culture. New Statesman, December 29. Located at: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2013/12/defence-box-set-binge-global-shared-culture
Kompare, D. (2006). Publishing flow DVD Box Sets and the reconception of television. Television & New Media, 7(4), 335-360.
Miller, M. (2014). Binge-viewing box sets on the couch now the best way to build romance. Herald Sun, December 13. Located at: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/bingeviewing-box-sets-on-the-couch-now-the-best-way-to-build-romance/story-fni0fit3-1226782514245?nk=0ed250e88a2970045f6fc84123b03f10
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Over the last decade, my research unit has carried out an increasing amount of research into the psychology of online gambling. In some of our recent research interviewing online gamblers, offline gamblers and non-gamblers, we found that people who gambled online did so because of its (i) convenience, (ii) greater value for money, (iii) the greater variety of games, and (iv) anonymity. Perhaps more interestingly, were the inhibiting reasons that stopped people from wanting to gamble online in the first place. The main inhibiting reason that stopped people gambling online was that offline gamblers and non-gamblers said the authenticity of gambling was significantly reduced when gambling online. We also found a number of other inhibitors of online gambling including (i) the reduced realism, (ii) the asocial nature of the internet, (iii) the use of electronic money, and (iv) concerns about the safety of online gambling websites. The reduced authenticity and realism may help to explain why online live action casino games are seen as increasingly popular among some types of gamblers.
This empirical research also chimes with my own personal psychology of online gambling. One of the main reasons I don’t like gambling at Internet casinos is that I believe the majority of game outcome are likely to be pre-programmed and/or predetermined. To me, this is somewhat akin to playing with imaginary dice! Our empirical research findings also help explain the rise of live online casino gambling. Players not only want increased realism and authenticity, but still have the added advantages of online anonymity while playing.
In online live casino gaming, the anonymity of the Internet allows players to privately engage in gambling without the fear of stigma. This anonymity may also provide the gambler with a greater sense of perceived control over the content, tone, and nature of the online experience. Anonymity may also increase feelings of comfort since there is a decreased ability to look for, and thus detect, signs of insincerity, disapproval, or judgment in facial expression, as would be typical in face-to-face interactions. For activities such as gambling, this may be a positive benefit particularly when losing as no-one will actually see the face of the loser. Anonymity may reduce social barriers to engaging in gambling, particularly those activities thought to be more skill-based gambling activities (such as poker or blackjack) that are relatively complex and often possess tacit social etiquette. The potential discomfort of committing a structural or social faux-pas in the gambling environment because of inexperience is minimized because the player’s identity remains concealed.
Furthermore, one of the main reasons why behaviour online is very different from offline is because it provides a ‘disinhibiting’ experience. One of the main consequences of disinhibition is that on the internet people lower their emotional guard and become much less restricted and inhibited in their actions.
The increase in online live casino gambling has happened alongside the rise of online betting exchanges – the type of online gambling where it could be argued that skill can – to some extent – be exercised. For gamblers, having a punt on live sporting events via betting exchanges is a psychologically safer option because punters know (or can check) who won a particular football or horse race. The playing of live action casino games via the Internet shares some of the psychological similarities of online betting exchanges.
The rise of live online gambling has been coupled with increasingly sophisticated gaming software, integrated e-cash systems, and increased realism (in the shape of “real” gambling via webcams, live remote wagering, and/or player and dealer avatars). These are all inter-linked facilitating factors. Another factor that I feel is really important in the rise of online gambling (including online live action casino games) is the inter-gambler competition. Obviously there is an overlap between competitiveness and skill but they are certainly not the same. What’s more recent research has suggested that being highly competitive may not necessarily be good for the gambler. For instance, Professor Howard Shaffer, a psychologist at Harvard University, claims that men are more likely to develop problematic gambling behaviour because of their conventionally high levels of aggression, impulsivity and competitiveness. Clearly, the idea of the competitiveness of the activity being one of the primary motivations to gamble is well supported.
Based on the fact that so little research has systematically examined the links between gambling and competitiveness, our research unit did some research into this area. We speculated that a gambler who is highly competitive will experience more arousal and stimulation, and be drawn to gambling as an outlet to release competitive instincts and drives. This is likely to occur more in activities like online poker and online live action casino games. Our research did indeed show that problem gamblers were significantly more likely than non-problem gamblers to be competitive.
Being highly competitive may help in explaining why in the face of sometimes negative and damaging financial consequences, gamblers persist in their habit. Psychological research in other areas has consistently shown that highly competitive individuals are more sensitive to social comparison with peers regarding their task performance. Applying this to a gambling situation, it is reasonable to suggest that competitive gamblers may be reluctant to stop gambling until they are in a positive state in relation to opposing gamblers, perhaps explaining why excessive gambling can sometimes occur.
Sociologists have speculated that factors of the human instinctual expressive needs, such as competition, can be temporarily satisfied when engaging in gambling activities. Evidence exists supporting gambling as an instrumental outlet for expressing competitive instinctual urges. The US sociologist Erving Goffman developed what he called the ‘deprivation-compensation’ theory to explain the relationship between gambling and competitiveness. He suggested that the stability of modern society no longer creates situations where competitive instincts are tested. Therefore, gambling is an artificial, self-imposed situation of instability that can be instrumental in creating an opportunity to test competitive capabilities. Again, online live action casino gambling is another gambling form that can facilitate such instinctive needs.
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