Category Archives: Addiction

Booze news: What are the simplest ways to reduce your alcohol intake?

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

Further reading

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.

Disarray of light: A brief look at ‘chaos addiction’

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”.

However, to me, this appears to be more like addiction to work rather than addiction to chaos (see ‘Further reading’ below for my papers on workaholism).

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

Further reading

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

Brain humour: The Ig Nobels are coming to Nottingham Trent (again)

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)”.

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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.

Book at: www.ntu.ac.uk/ignobles2015 (direct link here)

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.

Flying ‘high’: A brief look at ‘binge flying’ and ‘flying addiction’

As part of my job I do a lot of travel. It’s an occupational necessity. Last year alone I did over 20 work trips abroad that comprised over 50 flights (such as the six flights that I had to take to get to a conference in Uruguay and then back to the UK). One of my research colleagues at a conference in Taiwan jokingly accused me of being ‘addicted’ to flying. Nothing could be further from the truth. For me, flying is little more than a way to get from A to B. However, I have tried to turn my experiences into something more positive and have written a number of short articles providing tips about flying and travelling abroad for outlets such as the British Medical Journal and the PsyPAG Quarterly (see ‘Further Reading’ below).

However, there are a few papers in the academic literature that have proposed the idea of ‘binge flying’ and ‘flying addiction’ in the Annals of Tourism Research. One British research team (Drs. Scott Cohen, James Higham and Christina Cavaliere) have written various papers on flying, particularly the dilemma that many business travellers face in wanting to be ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’ but knowing that the amount of flying they are doing is contributing to climate change and leaving a ‘carbon footprint’.

One of the papers published by Cohen and his colleagues was entitled ‘Binge flying: Behavioural addiction and climate change’. In their introduction to the topic, the authors referenced my 1996 paper in the Journal of Workplace Learning on behavioural addictions to argue there was now evidence that many behaviours could be potentially addictive even without the ingestion of a psychoactive substance. They then went on to say:

“[Two] articles in the popular press have further implicated frequent tourist air travel as a practice that may constitute behavioural addiction (Hill, 2007; Rosenthal, 2010). In stark contrast to most behavioural addictions, which are characterised by severe negative consequences for individuals directly, the destructive outcome attributable to excessive flying is premised upon air travel’s growing contribution to global climate change. Both Burns and Bibbings (2009) and Randles and Mander (2009) cite Hill’s (2007) interview in ‘The Observer’ with ‘Rough Guides’ founder Mark Ellingham, who coins the term ‘binge flying’ in critiquing the public’s growing appetite for holidays accessed through air travel”.

They also used my 1996 paper to make a number of points to support their premise that excessive flying can be conceptualized as an addiction. More specifically, they noted:

“Griffiths (1996) notes that behavioural addictions may have ‘normative ambiguity’, in that moderate use is accepted but stigma can result from over-enactment of the behaviour, or compulsive consumption (Hirschman, 1992)…Even though addictions are typically conceptualised as purely negative, Griffiths (1996) distinguishes a number of possible addiction benefits that individuals may perceive, such as changes of mood and feelings of escape, positive experiences of pleasure, excitement, relaxation, disinhibition of behaviour and the activity as a source of identity and/or meaning in life…Not only does excessive tourist air travel meet this basic criterion of behavioural addiction where longer-term outlooks are sacrificed for immediate gratification, but tourist experiences also supply many of the psychological benefits that Griffiths (1996) uses to characterise sites of potential behavioural addiction. These include feelings of escape, heightened experiences of pleasure and excitement (a ‘buzz’ or ‘rush’), relaxation, disinhibition of behaviour and the activity as an arena for identity work and searching for meaning in life”.

To support their argument that flying can be an addiction, they assert there are three key characteristics that can be found in addictive behavior that can be applied to flying: (i) a drive or urge to engage in the behaviour, (ii) a denial of the harmful consequences of the behaviour, and (iii) a failure in attempts to modify the behaviour. As regular readers of my blog will know, I operationally define addictive behaviour as comprising six components (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse), and as such, flying would be unlikely to be classed as an addiction by my own criteria. The authors interviewed 30 participants as part of their research but little of the qualitative data presented made any reference to addiction or elements of addictive behaviour. They somehow concluded that:

“Continued movement in consumer discourses towards a mainstream negative perception of the practice of holiday frequent flying may eventually find tourism consumption the further subject of query as an addictive phenomenon. Frequent air travel may then join gambling, smoking, shopping, video games and Internet use, (Clark & Calleja, 2008), amongst others, as ‘pathologised’ sites of behavioural addiction that reflect society’s (re)positioning of certain types of behaviour as socially dysfunctional”.

The concept of ‘binge flying’ and ‘flying addiction’ were more recently critiqued by Dr. Martin Young and colleagues in a 2014 issue of the Annals of Tourism Research. Their view closely matches my own view (and they also cite my 1996 paper on behavioural addictions) when they asserted:

“We take issue with the application of a behavioural addiction framework in the context of consumption generally, and frequent flying specifically. We argue that while the conceptual lens of behavioural addiction may be seductive to some (cf. Hill, 2007), it is, in contrast to the position of Cohen et al. (2011), ultimately counterproductive to the development of a meaningful critical response to the question of frequent flying and environmental damage… There is, of course, a deep irony in even trying to view frequent flying through the lens of addiction. Tourism, traditionally the realm of freedom, unconstraint and abandon (Crompton, 1979; Sharpley, 2003) is now recast as a pathology, associated with the pernicious tendencies of the human psyche.

Dr. Young and colleagues’ paper asserts that the idea that flying in extreme cases could be classed as a behavioural addiction is “unconvincing” (and again is something that I agree with). The paper also adapts the 2013 DSM-5 criteria for gambling disorder (substituting the word ‘gambling’ with ‘flying’) to highlight that while it is theoretically possible for someone to have an addiction to flying, it is highly unlikely even amongst the most frequent of flyers. As they note:

“A diagnosed flying addict (and some may exist) would appear to differ from the frequent flyer who is feeling guilty about the environmental consequences of flying. Indeed, the latter would appear to be entirely rational. Flying may be associated with feelings of guilt and suppression, but so are many other activities, like driving to work, using plastic bags, and using electricity from coal-powered generators. This does not make flying an addiction as defined by the DSM-5. In addition, a flying addict would be addicted to the act of flying when, in reality, people fly as part of a broader tourism or business journey or experience. Flying may be incidental to the motivations for travel, merely an unavoidable part of attaining a particular experience. In other words, the focus of flying addiction is likely to be complicated and shifting, unlike, for instance, gambling addiction, that is more clear-cut”.

Pathologizing a behaviour like flying may be stretching the addiction analogy a little too far, but I don’t see a theoretical reason why someone could not become addicted. However, it’s unknown as to what the actual object of flying addiction might be. Is it the actual flying and being in the air? The thrill of take-offs and landings? Is it the feeling of being attended and catered for (especially when flying business class) by the airline staff? Is it the anticipation associated of visiting somewhere new? All of these suggestions could be empirically tested but probably from a purely motivational view rather than from an addiction perspective.

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

Further reading

Burns, P., & Bibbings, L. (2009). The end of tourism? Climate change and societal challenges. 21st Century Society, 4(1), 31-51.

Clark, M., & Calleja, K. (2008). Shopping addiction: A preliminary investigation among Maltese university students. Addiction Research and Theory, 16(6), 633-649.

Cohen, S. A., Higham, J. E., & Cavaliere, C. T. (2011). Binge flying: Behavioural addiction and climate change. Annals of Tourism Research, 38(3), 1070-1089.

Crompton, J. (1979). Motivations for pleasure vacation. Annals of Tourism Research, 6(4), 408–424.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Tips on…Business travel abroad, British Medical Journal, 327, S38.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Tips on…Conference travel abroad. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 83, 4-6.

Higham, J. Cohen, S. & Cavaliere, C. (2013). ‘Climate breakdown’ and the ‘flyer’s dilemma': Insights from three European societies. In: Fountain, J. & Moore, K. (Eds.). CAUTHE 2013: Tourism and Global Change: On the Edge of Something Big (pp. 321-324). Christchurch, N.Z.: Lincoln University.

Hill, A. (2007). Travel: The new tobacco. The Observer, May 6. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2007/may/06/travelnews.climatechange

Hirschman, E. C. (1992). The consciousness of addiction: Toward a general theory of compulsive consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 19(2), 155-179.

Randles, S., & Mander, S. (2009a). Practice(s) and ratchet(s): A sociological examination of frequent flying. In S. Gössling & P. Upham (Eds.), Climate change and aviation: Issues, challenges and solutions (pp. 245-271). London: Earthscan.

Rosenthal, E. (2010, 24 May). Can we kick our addiction to flying? Guardian, May 24. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/24/kick- addiction-flying

Sharpley, R. (2003). Tourism, tourists and society. Huntingdon: Elm Publications.

Young, M., Higham, J.E.S. & Reis, A.C. (2014). ‘Up in the air’: A conceptual critique of flying addiction. Annals of Tourism Research, 49, 51-64.

Played to death: What turns online gaming into a health risk?

Please note that the following article is a slightly extended version of an article that was first published by CNN International

Last month, a 32-year old male gamer was found dead at a Taiwanese Internet café following a non-stop three-day gaming session. This followed the death of another male gamer who died in Taipei at the start of the year following a five-day gaming binge.

While these cases are extremely rare, it does beg the question of why gaming can lead to such excessive behaviour. I have spent nearly three decades studying videogame addiction and there are many studies published in both the medical and psychological literature showing that very excessive gaming can lead to a variety of health problems that range from repetitive strain injuries and obesity, through to auditory and visual hallucinations and addiction. I have to stress that there is lots of scientific research showing the many educational and therapeutic benefits of playing but there is definitely a small minority of gamers that develop problems as a result of gaming overuse.

But what is it that makes gaming so compulsive and addictive for the small minority? For me, addiction boils down to constant reinforcement, or put more simply, being constantly rewarded while playing the game. Gaming rewards can be physiological (such as feeling ‘high’ or getting a ‘buzz’ while playing or beating your personal high score), psychological (such as feeling you have complete control in a specific situation or knowing that your strategic play helped you win), social (such as being congratulated by fellow gamers when doing something well in the game) and, in some cases, financial (such as winning a gaming tournament). Most of these rewards are – at least to some extent – unpredictable. Not knowing when the next reward will come keeps some players in the game. In short, they carry on gaming even though they may not have received an immediate reward. They simply hope that another reward is ‘just around the corner’ and keep on playing.

Added to this is the shift over the last decade from standalone console gaming to massively multiplayer online games where games never end and gamers have to compete and/or collaborate with other gamers in real time (instead of being able to pause the game and come back and play from the point at which the player left it). Many excessive gamers report that they hate logging off and leaving such games. They don’t like it as they don’t know what is going on in the game when they are not online.

The last five years has seen large increase in the number of scientific studies on problematic gaming. In May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association published the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). For the first time, the DSM-5 included ‘internet gaming disorder’ (IGD) as a psychological condition that warrants future research. Throughout my research career I have argued that although all addictions have particular and idiosyncratic characteristics, they share more commonalities than differences such as total preoccupation, mood modification, cravings, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict with work, education and other people, and loss of control. These similarities likely reflect a common etiology of addictive behaviour.

So when does a healthy enthusiasm turn into an addiction? At the simplest level, healthy enthusiams add to life and addictions take away from it. But how much is too much? This is difficult to answer as I know many gamers who play many hours every day without any detrimental effects. The DSM-5 lists nine criteria for IGD. If any gamer endorses five or more of the following criteria they would likely be diagnosed as having IGD: (1) preoccupation with internet games; (2) withdrawal symptoms when internet gaming is taken away; (3) the need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in internet gaming, (4) unsuccessful attempts to control participation in internet gaming; (5) loss of interest in hobbies and entertainment as a result of, and with the exception of, internet gaming; (6) continued excessive use of internet games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems; (7) deception of family members, therapists, or others regarding the amount of internet gaming; (8) use of the internet gaming to escape or relieve a negative mood;  and (9) loss of a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of participation in internet games.

The good news is that only a small minority of gamers suffer form IGD. Most online games are fun and exciting to play. But like any activity that is taken to excess, in a minority of cases the activity can become addictive. Any activity if done for days on end could lead to severe health problems and even death – and gaming is no exception. Instead of demonizing games, we need to educate gamers about the potential dangers of very excessive use.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Gaming addiction in adolescence (revisited). Education and Health, 32, 125-129.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder needs a unified approach to assessment. Neuropsychiatry, 4(1), 1-4.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

Griffiths, M.D. & Pontes, H.M. (2014). Internet addiction disorder and internet gaming disorder are not the same. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 5: e124. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.1000e124.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H., Gradisar, M.S., Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Toward a consensus definition of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review of psychometric assessment tools. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet and gaming addiction: A systematic literature review of neuroimaging studies. Brain Sciences, 2, 347-374.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 278-296.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.

Lopez-Fernandez, O., Honrubia-Serrano, M.L., Baguley, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Pathological video game playing in Spanish and British adolescents: Towards the Internet Gaming Disorder symptomatology. Computers in Human Behavior, 41, 304–312.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Measuring DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: Development and validation of a short psychometric scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 137-143.

Pontes, H., Király, O. Demetrovics, Z. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The conceptualisation and measurement of DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: The development of the IGD-20 Test. PLoS ONE, 9(10): e110137. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110137.

Spekman, M.L.C., Konijn, E.A, Roelofsma, P.H.M.P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Gaming addiction, definition, and measurement: A large-scale empirical study, Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 2150-2155.

Boxing clever? Another look at television binge watching

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

Further reading

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

Spangler, T. (2013). Poll of online TV watchers finds 61% watch 2-3 episodes in one sitting at least every few weeks. Variety, December 13. Located at: http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/netflix-survey-binge-watching-is-not-weird-or-unusual-1200952292/

Sussman, S., & Moran, M.B. (2013). Hidden addiction: Television. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2(3), 125-132.

Gamblers anonymous: The psychology of live online casino gambling

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.

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

Further reading

Goffman, I. (1972). Where the action is. In: Interaction Ritual (pp. 149–270). Allen Lane, London.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gambling addiction on the Internet. In K. Young & C. Nabuco de Abreu (Eds.), Internet Addiction: A Handbook for Evaluation and Treatment. pp. 91-111. New York: Wiley.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.

Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2009). Socio-demographic correlates of internet gambling: findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 199-202.

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.

Kuss, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012).  Internet gambling behavior. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior (pp.735-753). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

McCormack. A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Motivating and inhibiting factors in online gambling behaviour: A grounded theory study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 39-53.

McCormack, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). A scoping study of the structural and situational characteristics of internet gambling. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 3(1), 29-49.

McCormack, A., Shorter, G. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). An examination of participation in online gambling activities and the relationship with problem gambling. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2(1), 31-41.

McCormack, A., Shorter, G. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Characteristics and predictors of problem gambling on the internet. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 11, 634-657.

Wardle, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Defining the ‘online gambler’: The British perspective. World Online Gambling Law Report, 10(2), 12-13.

Wardle, H., Moody, A., Griffiths, M.D., Orford, J. & and Volberg, R. (2011). Defining the online gambler and patterns of behaviour integration: Evidence from the British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. International Gambling Studies, 11, 339-356.

Horticulture clash: Can gardening be addictive?

Back in November 2000, I appeared in numerous tabloid newspapers around the world in a story about ‘gardening addiction’ (such as one in the Daily Mail – ‘Professor says gardening is addictive’). It all began after I was interviewed by a journalist from the New Scientist magazine (Andy Coghlan). Coghlan wanted my reaction to a study published in the journal Biological Psychology led by my friend and colleague, Dr. Gerhard Meyer (with who I later co-edited the book Problem Gambling in Europe in 2009). Meyer and his colleagues had carried out a study on blackjack players and showed that they increased their heart rates while gambling (something that I also found in an earlier study I published on arousal in slot machine gamblers in a 1993 issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors). Meyer’s study also found that blackjack gamblers playing for money also had increased levels of salivary cortisol compared to blackjack gamblers playing for points.

I was asked by Coghlan whether I thought gambling could be a genuine addiction, even though it didn’t involve the ingestion of a psychoactive substance. I systematically went through my addiction components model (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse) and spent about 15 minutes talking about my research on various behavioural addictions. When the New Scientist article was published, the only quote attributed to me was the following:

“Some people say you can’t have addiction unless you take a substance, but I would argue that gambling taken to excess is an addiction. If you accept that, you then accept that sex, computer games, even gardening, can be addictive. It opens up the floodgates to everything else”.

I had quite deliberately used the example of gardening to make the point that addiction should be assessed by standard addiction criteria and that if any behaviour fulfils all the criteria for addiction it should be classed as such irrespective of what the behaviour is. I also said in my interview with the New Scientist that I had never come across a case of gardening addiction but that it was theoretically possible. The New Scientist story was re-written by many different news outlets around the world. My comments were included in all of these stories. Some of these stories were reported with the focus being on the gambling study (such as the one reported by the BBC which you can read here). Others such as the Daily Mail and the New York Post (NYP) made my comments as the focus of the story. Here is what the NYP reported under the headline ‘Garden-variety junkies hooked on hobby’:

“Before you stop to smell the roses, you might want to think twice. People who enjoy gardening are as physically addicted as junkies and alcoholics, researchers claim. The findings by scientists at Bremen University in Germany are controversial because many experts refuse to believe that behavior can be addictive…The scientists also found the same is true of sex and gambling. They studied gamblers and measured the amounts of a stress hormone linked to addiction. Dr. Gerhard Meyer asked 10 gamblers in a casino to play blackjack, staking their own money. While the volunteers played, Meyer measured changes in their heart rates and levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva. He then asked them to play for points rather than money, as a ‘control’ situation. Both heart rates and cortisol concentrations were markedly higher when the gamblers played for money…People who use addictive narcotics also have increased cortisol levels, which, in turn, can trigger the ‘addiction chemicals’ dopamine and seretonin in the brain. ‘Some people say you can’t have addiction unless you take a substance, but I would argue that gambling taken to excess is an addiction’, psychologist Mark Griffiths said. ‘If you accept that, you then accept that sex, computer games, even gardening, can be addictive. It opens up the floodgates to everything else’. If the new research is correct, gardening, gambling and sex, which involve pleasurable rewards for effort expended, could set up an addictive chemical pathway in the brain…Meyer says his findings might reduce the culpability of people who have committed crimes. If lawyers can attribute their clients’ crimes to physiological cravings rather than acts of free will, they may receive lighter sentences, he says”.

I spent much of the week in the media trying to get what I had actually said into context (and even appeared on Channel 4’s Big Breakfast television show defending what I had said). The Daily Mail article had sought comment from TV’s most high profile gardening expert Alan Titchmarsh who said: “[Gardening] is a very addictive pursuit. Once you’ve discovered the thrill of making things grow, you can’t stop. I get very twitchy if I can’t get outside and garden for a few days. It is an addiction – but a positive, useful addiction”. While I have no doubt Titchmarsh believed gardening to be a positive addiction (and would fulfil Dr. Bill Glasser’s criteria for positive addiction that I examined in a previous blog), it wouldn’t be an addiction using my own criteria. I wrote a letter to the New Scientist that they published on November 22 (2000) under the title ‘All kinds of addiction’. In that letter I wrote:

“My alleged comments about gardening addiction have been taken totally out of context and I would like to set the record straight, particularly as many of the national media appeared to have had a laugh at my expense following your press release on this story. My comments were made in reaction to the research by Meyer on gambling addiction, and whether I thought gambling was a true addiction because it didn’t involve a drug. I replied that any behaviour, be it gambling, sex, eating, Internet use, playing computer games or even, theoretically, gardening, that features all the core components of addiction, that is to say, mood-modifying effects, withdrawal symptoms, build-up of tolerance, total preoccupation with the activity, loss of control, neglect of everything else in their lives and relapse can be classed as an addiction. This was not reported in your article, leaving me wide open to misinterpretation. For the record, I have never said that gardening is addictive. What I have said is that any behaviour that fulfils the criteria for addiction can be operationally defined as addiction”.

On the same day (November 22), the Daily Mail also published an edited version of the letter I sent to the New Scientist buried away on page 73 (which you can read here) under the title ‘Eh, not quite’. In retrospect, I can smile about the whole incident, but I wasn’t smiling at the time. In a 2005 paper in the Journal of Substance Use, I subtly included a reference to the ‘gardening addiction’ story (or rather the lack of it) in a paper examining the nature of addiction:

It is also important to acknowledge that the meanings of ‘addiction’, as the word is understood in both daily and academic usage, are contextual, and socially constructed (Howitt, 1991; Irvine, 1995; Truan, 1993). We must ask whether the term ‘addiction’ actually identifies a distinct phenomenon – something beyond problematic behaviour – whether socially constructed or physiologically based. If so, what are the principal features of this phenomenon? If we argue that it is hypothetically possible to be addicted to anything, it is still necessary to account for the fact that many people become addicted to alcohol but very few to gardening. Implicit within our understanding of the term ‘addiction’ is some measure of the negative consequences that must be experienced in order to justify the use of this word in its academic or clinical context. It seems reasonable at this stage to suggest that a combination of the kinds of rewards (physiological and psychological) and environment (physical, social and cultural) associated with any particular behaviour will have a major effect on determining the likelihood of an excessive level of involvement in any particular activity”.

I have still to come across anyone that I would say is genuinely addicted to gardening. However, I did come across an interesting paper on unusual compulsive behaviours caused by individuals receiving medication for Parkinson’s disease. The paper was published in a 2007 issue of the journal Parkinsonism and Related Disorders by Dr. Andrew McKeon and his colleagues. They reported seven case studies of unusual compulsive behaviours after treating their patients with dopamine agonist therapy (i.e., treatment that activates dopamine receptors in the body). One of the cases involved a man who developed a gardening compulsion:

“A 53-year-old male with [Parkinson’s disease] for 13 years became intensely interested in lawn care. He would use a machine to blow leaves for 6 [hours] without rest, finding it difficult to disengage from the activity, as he found the repetitive behavior soothing. He also developed compulsive gambling”.

This case study at least suggests that someone can develop addictive and/or compulsive like behaviour towards gardening but is obviously isolated and very rare (and in this case brought on by the medication taken). I am not aware of any empirical research on gardening addiction since my comments on the topic back in 2000. However, I still stick to my assertion that if the rewards are present (i.e., psychological, social, physiological, and/or financial), it is theoretically possible for people to become addicted to almost anything – even gardening.

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

Further reading

Glasser, W. (1976). Positive Addictions. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Tolerance in gambling: An objective measure using the psychophysiological analysis of male fruit machine gamblers. Addictive Behaviors, 18, 365-372.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). All kinds of addiction New Scientist, November 22, p 58.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Hoffmann, B. (2000). Garden-variety junkies ‘hooked’ on hobby: Study. New York Post, November 10. Located at: http://nypost.com/2000/11/10/garden-variety-junkies-hooked-on-hobby-study/

Howitt, D. (1991). Concerning Psychology. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Irvine, J. M. (1995). Reinventing perversion: Sex addiction and cultural anxieties. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 5, 429–450.

Meyer, G., Hauffa, B. P., Schedlowski, M., Pawlak, C., Stadler, M. A., & Exton, M. S. (2000). Casino gambling increases heart rate and salivary cortisol in regular gamblers. Biological Psychiatry, 48(9), 948-953.

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gaming in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.

McKeon, A., Josephs, K. A., Klos, K. J., Hecksel, K., Bower, J. H., Michael Bostwick, J., & Eric Ahlskog, J. (2007). Unusual compulsive behaviors primarily related to dopamine agonist therapy in Parkinson’s disease and multiple system atrophy. Parkinsonism & Related Disorders, 13(8), 516-519.

Truan, F. (1993). Addiction as a social construction: A postempirical view. Journal of Psychology, 127, 489-499.

The junkie generation? Teenage “addiction” to social media

Earlier today I appeared live on my local radio station (BBC Radio Nottingham) commenting on a study released by the Allen Carr Addiction Clinics (ACAC) concerning teenage addiction (and more specifically addiction to social media). The study was a survey of 1,000 British teenagers aged 12 to 18 years old and the press release went with the heading “INFO UK BREEDING A GENERATION OF TEENAGE ADDICTS SAYS NEW STUDY” (their capital letters, not mine) with the sub-headline that “83% of UK teenagers would struggle to go ‘cold turkey’ from social media and their other vices for a month”.

As someone that has spent almost 30 years studying ‘technological addictions’ I was interested in the survey’s findings. I tried to get hold of the actual report by contacting the ACAC Press Office. They were very helpful and sent me a copy of the Excel file containing the raw data (entitled ‘Addicted Britain’). They also informed me that the data were collected for ACAC by the market research company OnePoll, and that the teenagers filled out the survey online (with parents’ permission). However, there is no actual published report with the findings (and more importantly, no methodological details). I asked ACAC if they knew the response rate (for instance, was the online survey sent to 10,000 teenagers to get their 1,000 responses that would give a response rate of 10%), and how were the teenagers recruited in the first place. Also, as the survey was carried out online, those teenagers who are the most tech-savvy and feel confident online, would be more likely to participate than those who don’t like (or rarely use) online applications. Before I comment on the survey itself, I would just like to provide some excerpts from the press release that was sent out:

“The explosion of social media, selfies and mobile devices is priming a generation of UK teenagers for a lifelong struggle with addiction…83% of UK teenagers admit they would struggle to give up their vices for a whole month. [The study] unveiled a worrying trend of growing numbers of young people constantly striving to find the next thrill, mostly via technology and social media. When asked which behaviours they could abstain from, UK teens said they would most struggle living without texting (66%), followed by social networking (58%), junk food (28%) and alcohol (6%). The report found that the average teen checks social media 11 times a days, sends 17 text messages and takes a ‘selfie’ picture every four days. This constant pursuit of stimulation, peer approval, instant gratification, and elements of narcissism are all potential indicators of addictive behaviour. The study highlights that parents across the UK are inadvertently becoming ‘co-dependents’ enabling their child’s addictions by providing them with cash albeit with the best of intentions”.

The first thing that struck me reading this text was the use of the word “vice”. Most dictionary definitions of a vice is “immoral or wicked behaviour” or criminal activities involving prostitution, pornography, or drugs”. As far as I am concerned, social networking, junk food, and alcohol are not vices (especially social networking). The whole wording of the press release is written in a way to pathologise normal behaviours such as engaging in social media use. Also, asking teenagers about which behaviours they could not abstain from for a month tells us almost nothing about addiction. All it tells us is that the activities that teenagers most engage in are the ones they would find hardest not to do. This is just common sense. My main hobbies are listening to music on my i-Pod and reading. I would really have difficulty in not listening to my favourite music or reading for a whole month but I’m not addicted to music or reading.

The ACAC kindly sent me all the questions that were asked in the survey and there was no kind of addiction scale embedded in any of the questions asked. Basically, the survey does not investigate teenagers’ potential addictions, as no screening instrument for any behaviour asked about was included in the survey. There were some attitude questions asking whether activities like social networking could be addictive, but as I have argued in previous blogs, almost any activity that is constantly rewarding can be potentially addictive.

That’s not so say we shouldn’t be concerned about teenagers’ excessive use of technology as my own research has shown that a small minority of teenagers do appear to have problems and/or be addicted to various online activities. However, as my research has shown, doing something excessively doesn’t mean that it is addictive. As I have noted in a number of my academic papers, the difference between a healthy enthusiasm and an addiction is that healthy enthusiasm add to life and addictions take away from it. The perceived overuse of technology by the vast majority of teenagers is quite clearly something that is life-enhancing and positive with no detrimental effects whatsover.

Given that the vast majority of teenagers use the social media to communicate and interact with friends, I was surprised that ACAC’s findings were not closer to 100% saying that they couldn’t abstain for one month. Which teenagers would find it easy not to use social media for a month given how important it is in their day-to-day social lives? The findings in the press release also quote John Dicey (Global Managing Director and Senior Therapist of ACAC) who said:

“The findings of this report are cause for concern and highlight a generation of young people exhibiting many of the hallmarks of addictive behaviour. The explosion of technology we have seen since the late 90’s offers incredible opportunities to our youth – the constant stimulation provided by access to the internet for example can be a good or a bad thing. There’s a price to pay. This study indicates that huge numbers of young people are developing compulsions and behaviours that they’re not entirely in control of and cannot financially support. Unless we educate our young people as to the dangers of constant stimulation and consumption, we are sleepwalking towards an epidemic of adulthood addiction in the future”.

While my own research shows that a small minority of teenagers experience problems concerning various online activities, there was almost nothing in the ACAC report “huge numbers of young people are developing compulsions and behaviours that they’re not entirely in control of”. The use of the word “huge” is what we psychologists call a ‘fuzzy quantifier’ (as what is ‘huge’ to one person may not be ‘huge’ to another). Mr. Dicey’s conclusions simply cannot be made from the data collected. He says that the report shows that many teenagers are displaying the “hallmarks of addictive behaviour” but given no addiction screening instruments were used, the data do not show this. The press release uses the following findings to make the claim that “the abundance of technology that UK teens can access seems to be creating a generation of ‘tech addicts’!”

“One-third of UK teens (32%) admit they check social media more than 10 times a day. The report also found that the average teen checks social media 11 times day, which equals once every 1.5 hours they are awake. UK teens are also avid takers of ‘selfies’, with over a quarter taking more than 10 a month. The average teen takes 7.4 selfies a month, equalling one every four days on average…The plethora of technology available to teens is also having a worrying impact on their attention spans. 1 in 4 teens have over 20 apps on their smartphones, with the average teen having 13 apps on their device. The constant search for the ‘next thing’ is evidenced in how they use apps – 46% admitted that they stop using or delete an app less than a week after using it, freeing up storage space for a new app”.

Anyone that has teenagers (I have three screenagers myself) will tell you that the above statistics indicate adolescent normality not addiction. Checking social media 10 times a day does not indicate addiction in the slightest. Although I have never taken a selfie, I check my social media far more than 10 times a day. Deleting apps to make way for other apps is no different from me removing songs on my i-Pod every week to make way for other songs I want to listen to. Again, there is absolutely nothing in these statistics that provides evidence of adolescent addiction.

Anyone that is aware of my work will know that I take the issue of teenage technology use seriously and that I firmly believe that a small minority of adolescents experience addiction to various online applications. However, studies like the one done for ACAC do little for the area as the rhetoric of the claims are unsupported by their data.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of context in online gaming excess and addiction: Some case study evidence. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 119-125.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2014). The technological convergence of gambling and gaming practices. In Richard, D.C.S., Blaszczynski, A. & Nower, L. (Eds.). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Disordered Gambling (pp. 327-346). Chichester: Wiley.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder needs a unified approach to assessment. Neuropsychiatry, 4(1), 1-4.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Social networking addiction: An overview of preliminary findings. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.119-141). New York: Elsevier.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

Griffiths, M.D. & Pontes, H.M. (2014). Internet addiction disorder and internet gaming disorder are not the same. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 5: e124. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.1000e124.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Addiction to social networks on the internet: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D. & Binder, J. (2013). Internet addiction in students: Prevalence and risk factors. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 959-966.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2014).  Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4026-4052.

Kuss, D.J., van Rooij, A.J., Shorter, G.W., Griffiths, M.D. & van de Mheen, D. (2013). Internet addiction in adolescents: Prevalence and risk factors. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1987-1996.

Strange fascinations: A brief look at unusual compulsive and addictive behaviours

In previous blogs, I have examined lots of strange types of addictive and compulsive behaviours including compulsive singing, compulsive hoarding, carrot eating addiction, Argentine tango addiction, compulsive nose-picking, compulsive punning, compulsive helping, obsessive teeth whitening, compulsive list-making, chewing gum addiction, hair dryer addictionwealth addiction, and Google Glass addiction (to name just a few).

However, while doing some research for a paper I am writing on ‘fishing addiction’ (yes, honestly), I came across an interesting paper on unusual compulsive behaviours caused by individuals receiving medication for Parkinson’s disease ([PD] a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system) and multiple system atrophy ([MSA] a degenerative neurological disorder in which nerve cells inside the brain start to degenerate and with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease).

In the gambling studies field there are now numerous papers that have been published showing that some Parkinson’s patients develop compulsive gambling after being treated for PD. According to the Parkinsons.co.uk website, those undergoing PD treatment can have many side effects including addictive gambling, obsessive shopping, binge eating, and hypersexuality. The website also notes other types of compulsive behaviour that have been associated with PD medication including “punding or compulsive hobbyism [when someone does things such as collecting, sorting or continually handling objects]. It may also be experienced as (i) a deep fascination with taking technical equipment apart without always knowing how to put it back together again, (ii) hoarding things, (iii) pointless driving or walking, and (iv) talking in long monologues without any real content”.

The paper that caught my eye was published in a 2007 issue of the journal Parkinsonism and Related Disorders by Dr. Andrew McKeon and his colleagues. They reported seven case studies of unusual compulsive behaviours after treating their patients with dopamine agonist therapy (i.e., treatment that activates dopamine receptors in the body). The paper described some compulsive behaviours that most people would not necessarily associate with being problematic. Below is a brief description of the seven cases that I have taken verbatim from the paper.

  • Patient 1: “A 65-year-old female with PD for 9 years developed compulsive eating, and also felt compelled to repetitively weigh herself at frequent intervals during the day and at night. She found her behavior both purposeless and repetitive. Obsessive thoughts were also a feature, as the patient ‘had to’ weigh herself three times each occasion she used the weighing scales”.
  • Patient 2: “A 67-year-old female with PD for 8 years played computer games and solitaire card games for hours on end, often continuing to do so through the night. She did not enjoy the experience and found it purposeless, but did so as she felt she had ‘to be doing something’. She also developed compulsive eating and gambling”.
  • Patient 3: “A 48-year-old male with PD for 5 years, with little prior interest, developed an intense interest and fascination with fishing. His wife was concerned that he fished incessantly for days on end, and his interest did not abate despite never catching anything. This patient also developed compulsive shopping, spending large amounts of time and money in thrift stores”.
  • Patient 4: “A 53-year-old male with PD for 13 years became intensely interested in lawn care. He would use a machine to blow leaves for 6h without rest, finding it difficult to disengage from the activity, as he found the repetitive behavior soothing. He also developed compulsive gambling”.
  • Patient 5: “The wife of a 52-year-old male with an 11-year history of PD complained that her husband now spent all of his time on his hobbies, to the detriment of their marriage. The patient made small stained glass windows, day and night. In addition, he would frequently stay awake arranging rocks into piles in their yard, intending to build a wall, but never doing so. He would start multiple projects but complete nothing. He was also noted to have become hypersexual, demanding sexual intercourse from his wife several times daily”.
  • Patient 6: “This 60-year-old male, with a history of alcohol abuse and ultimately diagnosed with MSA, relentlessly watched the clock, locked and unlocked doors and continually arranged and lined up small objects on his desk. He also became hyperphagic and hypersexual, developing an intense fascination with pornographic films”.
  • Patient 7: “The wife of a 59-year-old male with PD for 1 year described how her husband dressed and undressed several times daily. On one occasion, while guests were at their house for dinner, he spent most of his time in his bedroom repeatedly changing from one pair of trousers into another. This behavior deteriorated considerably on increasing levodopa dose to 1100mg/day, and on a subsequent occasion after reducing quetiapine from 100 to 75 mg/day”.

These cases highlight that the compulsive behaviours that develop following dopamine agonist therapy often co-occur with one or more other compulsive behaviour and that much of these behaviours are repetitive and unwanted. As the authors noted:

“The temporal association between medication initiation and the onset of these behaviors led to our suspicion that medications were causative. In the aggregate, these patients illustrate that the behaviors provoked by drug therapy in parkinsonism cover a broad spectrum, ranging from purposeless and repetitive to complex, reward-oriented behaviors. Punding is the term typically applied to the former, and was seen in Patient 5 (arranging rocks into piles) and Patient 6 (lining up small objects on a desk)…Previous descriptions of pathological behaviors occur- ring with dopaminergic therapy in PD have been notable for the absence of obsessive thoughts accompanying compulsive behaviors, unlike Patient 1 who was remark- able for a counting ritual accompanying repetitive use of a weighing scale. In six of the seven cases, other reward- seeking behaviors (gambling, shopping, hypersexuality or overeating) were present and contemporaneous with these other unusual compulsive behaviors. This suggests that all of these behaviors, while phenomenologically distinct, are all part of the range of psychopathology encapsulated by obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders”.

According to the Parkinsons.co.uk website, PD sufferers are more likely to experience impulsive and compulsive behaviour if the person is (i) diagnosed with Parkinson’s at a young age, (ii) male, (iii) single and live alone, (iv) a smoker, and (v) someone with a personal or family history of addictive behaviour. The same article also notes that if the PD sufferer has a history of ‘risk-taking’, such as gambling, drug abuse or alcoholism, [they] may be more likely to develop dopamine addiction”. This is where the PD sufferer takes more of their medication than is needed to control their Parkinson’s symptoms (and known as dopamine dysregulation syndrome). Similarly, Dr. McKeon and colleagues concluded:

“Previously described associated clinical features include a prior history of depressed mood (four patients in this series), disinhibition, irritability and appetite disturbance…A history of problems with impulse control prior to the diagnosis of PD may be a risk factor for developing compulsive behaviors with dopaminergic therapies…although this only pertained to Patient 6…The compulsions were not found to be troublesome by three patients, with complaints regarding behavioral change coming from the patient’s spouse. Our observations affirm the need to check with both patient and family at follow-up visits for the emergence of a variety of troublesome pathological behaviors that may result from dopaminergic therapy, particularly dopamine agonists”.

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

Further reading

Dodd, M. L., Klos, K. J., Bower, J. H., Geda, Y. E., Josephs, K. A., & Ahlskog, J. E. (2005). Pathological gambling caused by drugs used to treat Parkinson disease. Archives of Neurology, 62, 1377-1381.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

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