Category Archives: Addiction

Making play while the sun shines: Online games can be a great environment for friendship and social support

A couple of weeks ago, I was commissioned by The Conversation to write an article on the social benefits of online gaming in times of lockdown due to coronavirus-19 (COVID-19). Today’s blog features the original article I write rather than the version that was eventually published. The published article can be read here).

As people all around the world begin to self-isolate and increasingly live life indoors as the spread of COVID-19 widens, there has been much discussion in the mass media about how individuals must use modern technologies to socialize and keep in touch with each other. While much of the conversation appears to focus on social media, Skype, and FaceTime, another popular way in which individuals can do this is through online gaming. Here, gamers can socialize with others online and create a sense of community and wellbeing. Most gamers value the socialization aspects very highly and are among the main motivations for playing, particularly when it comes to engaging in ‘massively multiplayer online games’.

I first became interested in the psychology of videogames while I was doing a PhD on slot machine addiction back in the late 1980s. I used to spend a lot of time doing observational research in amusement arcades up and down the country and I soon realized there was a lot of psychological, social, and behavioural overlap between arcade slot machine players and arcade videogame players and developed player typologies based on playing behaviour and socialization characteristics. I never could have imagined back when I started my gaming research over 30 years ago that gaming would evolve into what it has become today. Over the past three decades, gaming has become more and more social and many players develop good friendships with the people they meet with online.

In a previous article for The Conversation I wrote about many of the positive aspects of gaming. There is now lots of research showing the many benefits of gaming and I have written on most of these including educational benefits, therapeutic and medical benefits, cognitive benefits, and social benefits. While I have probably published more papers on gaming addiction than any other academic I am not at all anti-gaming and I have always advocated that the advantages of gaming far outweigh the disadvantages.

In 2003, I published the first empirical study concerning online gaming and debunked the stereotypical myth that online gamers were socially withdrawn teenagers. Among a sample of over 11,000 Everquest players, most were adults, and 23% said that their favourite aspect of playing the game was grouping and interacting with other people (23%), and a further 10% said it was chatting with friends and guild mates (10%). We followed up with a study a year later and found almost identical results.

In 2007, I carried out a study with Helena Cole that specifically examined social interactions in online gaming that received worldwide media attention (and has also become one of my most cited studies). We surveyed over 900 massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) players from 45 different countries and found that MMORPGs were highly socially interactive environments providing the opportunity to create strong friendships and emotional relationships. The study showed MMORPGs can be extremely social games, with high percentages of gamers making life-long friends and partners.

Approximately three-quarters of both males and females said they had made good friends within the game (and the average number of ‘good friends’ in the game was seven). Many players went on to meet up in real life with others they had first ‘met’ in the game. One of the reasons we got so much press publicity about our study was that 10% of the participants reported having at least one romantic relationship with someone they had met in-game. We concluded that online gaming allowed players to express themselves in ways they may not feel comfortable doing in real life because of their appearance, gender, sexuality, and/or age. MMORPGs also offered a place where teamwork, encouragement, and fun could be experienced. A gamer in one of my later published case studies ended up marrying someone he met in the online game World of Warcraft.

According to the latest gaming industry statistics, 65% of adults play videogames across different types of hardware (60% on smartphones, 52% on a personal computer, and 49% on a dedicated console). What might be surprising is that among gamers, the gender split is narrowing – 46% are female (average age 34 years) and 54% are male (average age 32 years). One of the most significant findings is that 63% of gamers play with others and that many players get social support from the gaming communities that they are in. Other research has shown that there appears to be no difference in general friendships between gamers and non-gamers and that social online gaming time increases the probability of finding online friends.

Gaming often gets bad publicity because most media coverage tends to concentrate on the minority of gamers who play to such an extent that it compromises all other areas of their life (i.e., ‘gaming disorder’) but we have to remember that millions of gamers play every day and many do so for the many positives it brings. Friendship, social support, and being in a like-minded community are just some of the reasons that online gaming is going to be so popular at a time when we are being asked to stay indoors as much as possible.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Cole, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Social interactions in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing gamers. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 575-583.

Griffiths, M.D. (1991). Amusement machine playing in childhood and adolescence: A comparative analysis of video games and fruit machines. Journal of Adolescence, 14, 53-73.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002).  The educational benefits of videogames Education and Health, 20, 47-51.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2003).  The therapeutic use of videogames in childhood and adolescence. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 547-554.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Can videogames be good for your health?  Journal of Health Psychology, 9, 339-344.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Video games and health. British Medical Journal, 331, 122-123.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2005).  The therapeutic value of videogames. In J. Goldstein & J. Raessens (Eds.), Handbook of Computer Game Studies (pp. 161-171). Boston: MIT Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Adolescent video game playing: Issues for the classroom. Education Today: Quarterly Journal of the College of Teachers, 60(4), 31-34.

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. (2019). The therapeutic and health benefits of playing videogames. In: Attrill-Smith, A., Fullwood, C. Keep, M. & Kuss, D.J. (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Cyberpsychology. (pp. 485-505). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Griffiths, M.D., Davies, M.N.O. & Chappell, D. (2003). Breaking the stereotype: The case of online gaming. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 81-91.

Griffiths, M.D., Davies, M.N.O. & Chappell, D. (2004).  Online computer gaming: A comparison of adolescent and adult gamers. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 87-96.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J., & Ortiz de Gortari, A. (2017). Videogames as therapy: An updated selective review of the medical and psychological literature. International Journal of Privacy and Health Information Management, 5(2), 71-96.

Griffiths, M. D., Kuss, D.J., & Ortiz de Gortari, A. (2013). Videogames as therapy: A review of the medical and psychological literature. In I. M. Miranda & M. M. Cruz-Cunha (Eds.), Handbook of research on ICTs for healthcare and social services: Developments and applications (pp.43-68). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

Nuyens, F., Kuss, D.J., Lopez-Fernandez, O., & Griffiths, M.D. (2019). The experimental analysis of non-problematic video gaming and cognitive skills: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 17, 389-414.

Reading by example: The books that inspired my career

This Christmas I managed to do a lot of book reading (most of it being David Bowie-related) and my favourite read was John O’Connell’s Bowie’s Books: The Hundred Literary Heroes Who Changed His Life (which If I’m nit-picking should actually be the 98 heroes because George Orwell and Anthony Burgess make two appearances each on the list), followed by Will Brooker’s Why Bowie Matters (a book I wish I had wrote because it was written by a Professor of Film and Cultural Studies and is a loose account of an academic spending a whole year trying to live like David Bowie as a piece of research). I also love lists so I thought I’d kick off the New Year with a list of the books that have shaped my academic life. This list was first published by The Psychologist (in 2018) but this blog may give my list a wider readership.

Excessive Appetites: A Psychological View of the Addictions (by Jim Orford)

One of the most influential books on my whole career is Jim Orford’s seminal book Excessive Appetites that explored many different behavioural addictions including gambling, sex, and eating (i.e., addictions that don’t involve the ingestion of psychoactive substances). Jim Orford’s books are always worth a read and he writes in an engaging style that I have always admired. It was by chance that I did my PhD at the University of Exeter (1987-1990) where Orford was working at the time and since 2005 we have published many co-authored papers together. While we can agree to disagree on some aspects of how and why people become addicted, Jim will continue to be remembered as a pioneer in the field of behavioural addiction.

The Psychology of Gambling (by Michael Walker)

If there’s one book I’d wish I had written myself, it is this one. I did my PhD on slot machine addiction in adolescence but this book was published shortly after I’d finished and beautifully summarises all the main theories and perspectives on gambling psychology. My PhD would have been a whole lot easier if this book had been published when I first started my research career! I got to know Michael quite well before his untimely death in December 2009 (and he was external PhD examiner to some of my PhD students), and one of my enduring images of him was walking around at gambling conferences with his book clutched in his hand. Some of my colleagues found that a little strange but if I’d have written a book that good I’d have it with me at such events all the time!

Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People for Change (by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick)

I reviewed this book for the British Journal of Clinical Psychology (BJCP) back in the early 1990s and concluded by saying that it is a book that should be read by all therapists because its content can be applied to nearly all clinical situations and not just to those individuals with addictive behaviour problems. Motivational interviewing (MI) borrows strategies from cognitive therapy, client-centred counselling, systems theory, and the social psychology of persuasion, and the underlying theme of the book is the issue of ambivalence, and how the therapist can use MI to resolve it and allow the client to build commitment and reach a decision to change. In my most recent research I’ve used the basic tenets of MI in designing personalised messages to give to gamblers while they are gambling online in real time. I’ve now come to the conclusion 25 years after writing my BJCP review that anyone interested in enabling behavioural change should apply the tenets in this book to their work.

The Myth of Addiction (by John B. Davies)

Even though this book was published back in 1992, I still tell my current students that this is a ‘must read’ book. Davies takes a much researched area of social psychology (i.e., attribution theory) and applies it to addiction. The basic message of the book is that people take drugs because they want to and not because they are physiologically addicted. The whole book is written in a non-technical manner and is highly readable and thought provoking. I often use Davies’ term ‘functional attribution’ from this book in my teaching and writings on sex addiction, and apply it to celebrities who use the excuse of ‘sex addiction’ to justify their infidelities.

Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices (by Anil Aggrawal)

Anyone that reads my blog will know that when it comes to the more bizarre side of sexual activity, my ‘go to’ book is Dr. Aggrawal’s book on unusual sexual practices. Others in the sexology field often look down their noses at this book but it is both enjoyable and informative and the kind of book that once you start reading you find it hard to put down again. A lot of academic books on sexual behaviour can be boring and/or impenetrable but this one is the polar opposite. The book also kick-started some of my own recently published research on sexual fetishes and paraphilias.

Small World (by David Lodge)

During my PhD, I remember watching the 1988 adaptation of David Lodge’s novel Small World. At the time, I had never heard of David Lodge but I went out and bought the book and was totally hooked. I then discovered that Small World was the second part of a ‘campus trilogy’ (preceded by Changing Places and followed by Nice Work). Since then I have bought every novel Lodge has ever published and he’s my favourite fiction writer (and I’ve bought and read some of his academic books on literary criticism). I love campus novels and through Lodge and devoured other university-based novels (including Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man, Howard Jacobson’s Coming from Behind, and Ann Oakley’s The Men’s Room among my favourites).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Brooker, W. (2019) Why Bowie Matters. London: William Collins.

Davies J. B. (1992). The Myth of Addiction. Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers.

Griffiths, M.D. (2018). My shelfie. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 31, 70.

Lodge, D. (1984). Small World. London: Secker & Warburg.

Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (1991). Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People to Change Addictive Behavior. New York: Guilford Press.

O’Connell, J. (2019). Bowie’s Books: The Hundred Literary Heroes Who Changed His Life. London: Bloomsbury.

Orford, J. (2001). Excessive Appetites: A Psychological View of the Addictions. Chichester: Wiley.

“I ink, therefore I am”: A brief look at ‘tattoo addiction’

“When I first told people back in 2016 that I was getting my first tattoo, the most common response I got from those who were already inked themselves was ‘You’re going to get addicted to getting tattoos’. I found this notion a little ridiculous – I was nervous enough just getting a small one on my ankle. I couldn’t imagine getting hooked on something that was not only expensive, but painful and permanent. Fast forward to 2019, and I’ve since gotten two more tattoos, each one progressively larger and more detailed, and I’m already planning my fourth, fifth, sixth, etc. As I was warned, I have indeed gotten hooked. For me, it’s both because I love how it makes me feel about my body, and because I’ve gotten to discover a new form of expression in my mid-30s. According to a 2018 report from Statista, roughly 46 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, and 30 percent of these people have two or three –19 percent have up to four or five. Clearly, other people love getting inked just as much as I do. But while tattoos can be fun to have, are they actually addictive?

This opening quote is by Amy Semigran, a journalist who interviewed me earlier this year for an article she was writing on addictions to tattoos for the online magazine Mic (‘Are tattoos really addictive? There’s a reason you keep coming back for more’). Regular readers of my blog will be aware that I’ve written various articles on the psychology of tattoos over the years including articles on stigmatophilia (sexual arousal from a partner who is marked or scarred in some way, which can also include body tattoos), the use of extreme tattooing in films, a look at the TV programme ‘My Tattoo Addiction’, and an article on whether having tattoos makes women more sexually attractive.

In my interview, I told Semigran that in order for a person’s behaviour to be deemed an addiction, it needs to meet my six specific criteria: salience (where tattooing becomes the most important thing in a person’s life), mood modification (e.g., the euphoric feelings that accompany tattooing), tolerance (the gradual build-up of tattooing with the individual spending more and more time engaged in tattooing), withdrawal symptoms (negative psychological and/or physical consequences as a result of not being able to get tattooed such as extreme moodiness or irritability), conflict (tattooing compromising other areas of the individual’s life such as personal relationships and education/occupation), and relapse (returning to tattooing after a period of abstinence). Therefore, I told Semigran that tattooing does not meet my criteria for addiction. I also added that while many behaviours can become impulsive, addiction relies on constant rewards or reinforcement. Alcoholics, gambling addicts, or drug addicts feed their habits with frequent rewarding experiences (at least in the short-term) but even the most heavily tattooed people are not engaging in the behaviour regularly.

However, it is feasible that tattooing could be a behaviour that results in constant preoccupation (e.g., constantly thinking about getting the next tattoo, looking at tattoo designs, reading tattooing magazines, talking with other heavily tattooed individuals and sharing experiences, working as a tattooist, etc.). However, constantly being preoccupied by tattooing is (in itself) not a problem, unless of course it starts to cause serious conflict with other day-to-day activities. Semigran also interviewed Dr. Daniel Selling (a psychologist at Williamsburg Therapy Group in New York) for her article. He was quoted as saying:

“The word addiction in the context of tattoos is misused…while you can’t have a tattoo addiction, per se, it can be a dependence where you feel some elements of need and withdrawal…and perhaps spend too much time or money getting work…Being tattooed can also lead to an adrenaline rush of sorts. It’s the body tolerating annoyance and pain coupled with excitement and change”.

I agree that some people can spend too much time or money or spend money they don’t have on getting tattoos, but this is not addiction (and I would also argue that it is not dependence either). For many people, getting tattoos might be more of a passion than a problem, and there is nothing wrong with being passionate about what you do. I am passionate about work and some people describe me as being addicted to work or of being a ‘workaholic’ but given there are almost no negative consequences of me working hard and loving my job, it certainly can’t be viewed as an addiction.

As Semigran pointed out in her article, for many people, their passion and interest in tattooing is something that enhances their lives rather than interferes with it (this is exactly the same as my assertion – published in a 2005 issue of the Journal of Substance Use) that healthy excessive enthusiasms add to life whereas addictions take away from it. Semigran interviewed Lisa Orth, a Los Angeles-based tattoo artist Lisa Orth who has around 100 tattoos). She said:

“It’s an incredible feeling to be able to permanently customize yourself with artwork. [The] feeling of self-expression can be an empowering experience…It’s one of the main reasons [my] clients come back again and again. Tattooing can be a way of engaging with, and taking possession of, one’s body in an active way…[It] can allow people to define themselves visually in a way that forces the observer to see a person as they most authentically see themselves. That’s a big draw (so to speak) for those who repeatedly get inked…Getting tattooed is one of the remaining rituals in our culture that are physical, mental and emotional challenges, where you come out transformed on the other side”.

Again, this explanation has nothing to do with addiction and everything to do with self-identity and passion. Many addiction psychologists, would also add that if he behaviour causes harm or injury to the individual, it may also be a sign or symptom of possible addiction. However, Semigran quoted American psychologist, Dr. Tracy Alderman from an article she wrote for Psychology Today examining the extent to which tattooing and body piercings can be classed as self-harm.

“[E]njoying a rush is different than participating in self-harm. Since tattooing is a needle penetrating skin, that can potentially feed someone’s desire to feel pain or change their appearance due to unhappiness with themselves…Once in a while there will be cases in which piercing and/or tattoos do fit the definition of self-injury. But overwhelmingly,self-injury is a distinct behavior, in definition, method and purpose, from tattooing and piercing”.

I read Dr. Alderman’s article and her views mirror my own when it comes to the psychology of tattooing:

“[A] main issue separating self-injurious acts from tattoos and piercings is that of pride. Most people who get tattooed and/or pierced are proud of their new decorations. They want to show others their ink, their studs, their plugs. They want to tell the story of the pain, the fear, the experience. In contrast, those who hurt themselves generally don’t tell anyone about it. Self-injurers go to great lengths to cover and disguise their wounds and scars. Self-injurers are not proud of their new decorations”.

Semigran also quoted Dr. Suzanne Phillips who recently wrote an article for PsychCentral entitled ‘Tattoos after trauma-do they have healing potential’. Dr. Phillips notes:

“[A tattoo being used] to register a traumatic event is a powerful re-doing…It starts at the body’s barrier of protection, the skin, and uses it as a canvas to bear witness, express, release and unlock the viscerally felt impact of trauma”.

There’s no doubt that tattooing has become part of mainstream culture over the past two decades and there are a number of scholars who claim in the scientific literature that getting tattoos can be potentially addictive (such as Dr. Ivan Sosin; Dr. Allyna Murray and Dr. Tanya Tompkins; see ‘Further Reading’ below) but based on my own addiction criteria I remain to be convinced. However, whenever I think about the psychology of tattooing, I am always reminded of the saying: “Tattoos are like potato chips … you can’t have just one”.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Alderman, T. (2009). Tattoos and piercings: Self-injury? Psychology Today, December 10. Located at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/nz/blog/the-scarred-soul/200912/tattoos-and-piercings-self-injury?amp

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.

Kovacsik, R., Griffiths, M.D., Pontes, H., Soós, I., de la Vega, R., Ruíz-Barquín, R., Demetrovics, Z., & Szabo, A. (2019). The role of passion in exercise addiction, exercise volume, and exercise intensity in long-term exercisers. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-018-9880-1

Murray, A. M., & Tompkins, T. L. (2013). Tattoos as a behavioral addiction. Science and Social Sciences, Submission 26. Located at: https://digitalcommons.linfield.edu/studsymp_sci/2013/all/26

Phillips, S. (2019). Tattoos after trauma-do they have healing potential? PsychCentral, March 27. Located at: https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/2012/12/tattoos-after-trauma-do-they-have-healing-potential/

Semigran, A. (2019). Are tattoos really addictive? There’s a reason you keep coming back for more. Mic, July 3. Located at: https://www.mic.com/p/are-tattoos-really-addictive-theres-a-reason-you-keep-coming-back-for-more-18166085

Sosin, I. (2014). EPA-0786-Tattoo as a subculture and new form of substantional addiction: The problem identification. European Psychiatry, 29, Supplement 1, 1.

Szabo, A., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z., de la Vega, R., Ruíz-Barquín, R., Soós, I. &Kovacsik, R. (2019). Obsessive and harmonious passion in physically active Spanish and Hungarian men and women: A brief report on cultural and gender differences. International Journal of Psychology, 54, 598-603.

The sciences of reliances on appliances: Have we become reliant on digital technologies and what can we do about it?

Readers of my blog will know that I hate to waste anything that I have put time and effort into and today’s blog contain the written transcripts of partly unpublished interviews on smartphone and social media use that I did a number of months ago with the Daily Express and the Nottingham Post. I have no idea which parts of my responses were used or in what context, but here my complete responses to the questions I was asked.

Q: Are we too reliant on tech and gadgets when it comes to family life both in the home, and also social media?

Mark Griffiths: In most walks of life including work, education, and leisure, reliance on tech and gadgets has become the norm. It’s almost impossible to function without relying on tech. However, individuals often spend too much time on things that distract them from what they should be doing. I use social media every day but for no more than about 10-15 minutes so it doesn’t interfere with work productivity or time spent with my family. Most individuals are habitual smartphone and/or social media users. Even though very few people are genuinely addicted to the applications on their smartphones, a few hours use each day can reduce the amount of time they should be spending on their occupation or education (depending upon age) and can reduce the amount of quality time spent with family members. I have three screenagers all who spend a disproportionate amount of time in front of their smartphones. However, I have no problem if it doesn’t impact on their education, chores around the house, social friendships with their peers, or their physical education. However, some parents use tech heavily themselves (which is not good in terms of being a role model to their children) and others use tech as electronic ‘babysitters’ for their children.

Q: What problems can this cause?

MG: Thankfully, serious side effects and genuine addiction to smartphone applications is minimal. However, habitual smartphone use simply leads to less time spent on things that people should be doing including their (i) job or school/ college/ university work, (ii) physical exercise (because smartphone use tends to be a sedentary for most people), and (iii) quality time with friends and family (less face-to-face interaction). For those at risk of genuine addiction, excessive smartphone use leads to a complete deterioration and compromising of everything in that person’s life and can lead to mental health issues (e.g., depression, social anxiety, etc.) but as I said the number of individuals genuinely affected in this way is minimal.

Q: What are the benefits of a more simple life, less gadgets, less tech?

MG: I gave up using my smartphone a couple of years ago and am highly productive in my job. I still actively use social media and am online a lot of the time but doing it via my laptop or work computer means that I’m not constantly bombarded with notifications, pings by the minute, or constant phone vibrations. The benefits of technology far outweigh the negatives but that doesn’t mean that we should be living our whole lives online.

Q: What are your top tips for switching off as a family 

MG: I’ve written a lot about the benefits of digital detox and how to so it (see: https://drmarkgriffiths.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/tech-your-time-12-top-tips-for-a-digital-detox/ ). As a father of three screenagers we have some general rules:

  • No smartphones at the dinner table.
  • No smartphone use late at night (can’t do that now as my children are now al over 18 years of age) but parents have every right to control their younger children’s tech use.
  • No smartphones for children under 11 years of age.
  • Remember that what you do with tech will be mimicked by your children so set a good example of responsible tech use.
  • Having family events where smartphone use is difficult (e.g., going swimming, going for outdoor walks where reception is poor, going on holiday in places where there is no Wi-Fi access). These types of event are more about showing children that life can still live life without being online 24/7. All my children are very sporty and play competitive sport so that’s great for restricting smartphone use.

Q: How young is too young to own a mobile phone?

MG: Making a decision on when is the right time depends on each child and their parents. It is about responsible parenting and limiting screen time. There is no scientific evidence about what the right age is to give a phone. I have three screenagers and none of them got a phone before the age of 11 years of age. We live in a very technologically advances society and there is no harm in letting children learn early on how to use an i-Pad or tablet. It stops them becoming technophobes when they grow older. The majority of children know more about it than adults now. Obviously you need to monitor what they are using the phone for. We wouldn’t want our children using gambling apps for instance but they mostly just want to keep in touch with their friends. However, parents know their children better than anyone else and there is a reason to give a child a phone when it concerns safety and knowing where your child is, especially if they are walking to and from school. One reason to give a child a phone at the start of secondary school is so that they don’t feel ostracized when they realise everyone else in their class has one. Ironically the majority of kids that have a phone rarely use it to make calls but knowing where they are and being able to talk to them almost instantly is a huge relief for parents.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

MG: There’s no scientific evidence that moderate tech use has a negative impact (psychologically or physically on people’s lives). The old cliché is true – everything in moderation. Excessive use of almost anything even when it’s something socially approved and socially sanctioned (e.g., work, exercise, education, etc.) can be problematic if it’s done to the neglect of everything else.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Balakrishnan, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Social media addiction: What is the role of content in YouTube? Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6, 364-377.

Balakrishnan, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Perceived addictiveness of smartphone games: A content analysis of game reviews by players. International Journal of Mental Health and Addictions, 17, 922-934.

Balta, S., Jonason, P., Denes, A., Emirtekin, E., Tosuntaş, S.B., Kircaburun, K., Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Dark personality traits and problematic smartphone use: The mediating role of fearful attachment. Personality and Individual Differences, 149, 214-219.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013) Social networking addiction: Emerging themes and issues. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 4: e118. doi: 10.4172/2155-6105.1000e118.

Griffiths, M.D. & Kuss, D.J. (2011). Adolescent social networking: Should parents and teachers be worried? Education and Health, 29, 23-25.

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.

Hussain, Z., Griffiths, M.D. & Sheffield, D. (2017). An investigation in to problematic smartphone use: The role of narcissism, anxiety, and personality factors. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6, 378–386.

Kırcaburun, K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Instagram addiction and the big five of personality: The mediating role of self-liking. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7, 158-170.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Online social networking and addiction: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Social networking sites and addiction: Ten lessons learned. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14, 311; doi:10.3390/ijerph14030311

Richardson, M., Hussain, Z. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Problematic smartphone use, nature connectedness, and anxiety. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7, 109-116.

Yang, Z., Asbury, K., & Griffiths, M. D. (2019). Do Chinese and British university students use smartphones differently? A cross-cultural mixed methods study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 17(3), 644-657.

Sound affects: Another look at ‘music addiction’

In a previous blog that I wrote seven years ago, I looked at the concept of ‘music addiction’. As Philip Dorrell pointed out in his 2005 book What is Music? Solving a Scientific Mystery, music (like drugs) acts on our emotions and feelings. Regular readers of my blog will know that I describe myself as a ‘music obsessive’ and have written many articles about my own passion for listening to and collecting music (a few examples here, here, and here). One of the proudest moments of my life was getting a populist article on ‘music addiction’ published in Record Collector, my favourite magazine (see screenshot below and ‘Further reading’ for the full reference).

A 2011 study published by Dr. Valorie Salimpoor and her colleagues in Nature Neuroscience reported that on a neurochemical level, the pleasurable experience of listening to music releases the neurotransmitter dopamine that is important for the pleasures associated with rewards such as food, psychoactive drugs and money. This led to many headlines in newspapers along the lines of ‘people who say that they are addicted to music are not lying’. The team also reported that just the anticipation of pleasurable music led to increased dopamine release. Therefore, this helps explain why individuals (like myself) continually repeat songs or albums all the time as we want to re-experience those sensations repeatedly.

My previous article examined the concept of ‘musomania’ (i.e., an obsession with music). I noted that there had been very little in the way of academic or clinical literature on the topic although since writing my original article I have come across a couple of more recently published studies looking at the concept (one which published shortly after my original blog on the topic).

Dr. Nicolas Schmuziger and his colleagues published a paper in a 2012 issue of Audiology Research entitled ‘Is there addiction to loud music? Findings in a group of non-professional pop/rock musicians’. They hypothesized that listening to loud music may be an addictive behavior and that it could result in hearing damage (which is one of the reasons they published their findings in an audiology journal – also, they probably would have found it harder to publish their study in an addiction journal). They hypothesized that individuals who were members of non-professional pop/rock bands who had regular exposure to loud music would be more likely to show an addictive-like behavior for loud music compared to individuals who were not.

In their study, the researchers recruited 50 non-professional musicians and matched them with 50 control participants. Both groups completed a questionnaire called the Northeastern Music Listening Survey (NEMLS) comprising two basic scales. The first scale was an adaptation of the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST) to study the addictive-like behavior towards loud music. The NEMLS was developed by Dr. Mary Florentine and her colleagues to assess Maladaptive Music Listening (MML). It is a 24 item scale that (in relation to listening to music) examining five distinct areas: “(i) recognition and admission of the problem by self and others; (ii) legal, work and social problems; (iii) seeking involvement with treatment programs; (iv) marital-family difficulties; and (v) medical pathology”. In addition to socio-demographic questions (on age, gender, and level of education), a second component of the NEMLS included “four items assessing three out of seven clinical diagnostic criteria for substance dependence as outlined by the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association…The other four criteria were already embedded within the MAST”.

Findings showed that nine (out of 50) met the DSM-IV criteria for ‘music dependence’ compared to just one individual in the control group. Seven of the nine musicians endorsing DSM criteria also had a positive score on the NEMLS. The researchers concluded that traits of addictive-like behavior to loud music were detected more often in members of nonprofessional pop/rock bands than in matched controls. The authors themselves pointed out that they did not explore the reasons why their participants “with repeated exposure to high-sound levels of electro-amplified music may be more likely to show traits of maladaptive behavior to loud music than the control subjects, and whether they develop such behavior before or after joining a pop/rock band”. They also concluded that only a few participants in their sample may have maladaptive music listening.

A more recent paper by Dr. Christine Ahrends entitled ‘Does excessive music practicing have addiction potential?’ was published in the journal Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain. She noted that:

“A theory that has previously been put forward but has not yet been empirically examined is the idea of “musical addictivity” (Panksepp, 1995)… Panksepp assumes an involvement of the opioid system for the emergence of “chills” when listening to music and concludes from there that listening to emotionally arousing music can be addictive through the release of opioids. On those grounds, Panksepp compares the phenomenon of music-induced chills (defining the main bodily response as a feeling of coldness) with that of drug addiction and its related withdrawal symptoms (like the so-called “cold turkey”). Although this comparison has major limitations, the general hypothesis might provide a new perspective on certain types of music-related behavior”.

Put simply, it has been argued that music has the capacity to activate the reward centres in the human brain and this can lead to behavioural addiction. Dr. Ahrends noted that recent studies supported the idea of addictive music consumption (citing the studies by Schmuziger and colleagues, and the study by Florentine and colleagues, both mentioned above) but not for music practicing. She wrote that:

“Anecdotal evidence has shown that some musicians either continue to practice through practice-induced pain or have psychosomatic disorders at deprivation, thus transforming a former goal-directed behavior into a maladaptive one”.

Based on the small empirical literature and anecdotal evidence, Dr. Ahrends hypothesized that music practice has the potential to be addictive and carried out an exploratory empirical study. To assess music practice addiction, she adapted the Exercise Dependence Scale Revised (EDS-R) (very similar to my own Exercise Addiction Inventory) and investigated the extent to whether musicians fulfilled the criteria to be classified as being “at risk for dependence” in relation to their music practice. A total of 25 musicians were recruited from German conservatories. Based on the scale scores three of the participants were classified as “at risk for dependence,” 20 of the participants were classified as “nondependent-symptomatic,” and two were classified as “nondependent-asymptomatic.” Based on these results, Dr. Ahrends claimed the findings provided tentative support for music practice addiction. She went on to argue that the concept of music practice addiction is a promising concept for further research and “may have implications for the understanding of mental health problems in musicians”.

In relation to this latter study, I would argue that this isn’t a case of ‘music practice addiction’ (if it exists at all) but if it exists, it is actually akin to ‘study addiction’ (a pre-cursor to ‘workaholism’) that I and my colleagues have published a number of papers on over the past few years (see ‘Further reading). The notion of ‘study addiction’ is highly controversial so it’s unsurprising that ‘music practice addiction’ would similarly be seen as controversial by most scholars working in the behavioural addiction field.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Ahrends, C. (2017). Does excessive music practicing have addiction potential? Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, 27(3), 191-202.

Atroszko, P.A., Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D. & Pallesen, S. (2015). Study addiction – A new area of psychological study: Conceptualization, assessment, and preliminary empirical findings. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4, 75–84.

Atroszko, P.A., Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D. & Pallesen, S. (2016). Study addiction: A cross-cultural longitudinal study examining temporal stability and predictors of its changes. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 357–362.

Atroszko, P.A., Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D., Pallesen, S. (2016). The relationship between study addiction and work addiction: A cross-cultural longitudinal study. Journal of Behavioral Addiction, 5, 708–714.

Dorrell, P. (2005). Is music a drug? 1729.com, July 3. Located at: http://www.1729.com/blog/IsMusicADrug.html

Dorrell, P. (2005).What is Music? Solving a Scientific Mystery. Located at: http://whatismusic.info/.

Florentine, M., Hunter, W., Robinson, M., Ballou, M., & Buus, S. (1998). On the behavioral characteristics of loud-music listening. Ear and Hearing, 19(6), 420-428.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Music addiction. Record Collector, 406 (October), p.20.

The Local (2007). Man gets sick benefits for heavy metal addiction. June 19. Located at: http://www.thelocal.se/7650/20070619/

Morrison, E. (2011). Researchers show why music is so addictive. Medhill Reports, January 21. Located at: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=176870

Panksepp, J. (1995). The emotional sources of “chills” induced by music. Music Perception, 13, 171–207.

Salimpoor, V.N., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K. Dagher, A. & Zatorre, R.J. (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature Neuroscience 14, 257–262.

Schmuziger, N., Patscheke, J., Stieglitz, R., & Probst, R. (2012). Is there addiction to loud music? Findings in a group of non-professional pop/rock musicians. Audiology Research, 2(e1), 57-63.

Smith, J. (1989). Senses and Sensibilities. New York: Wiley.

Bed-ly serious: A brief look at ‘sleeping addiction’

As a life-long insomniac, I’ve always been interest in sleep at a personal level. In 1984, when I was studying for my psychology degree, the first ever research seminar I attended was one on the psychology of sleep by Dr. Jim Horne (who was, and I think still is, at Loughborough University). I found the lecture really interesting and although I never pursued a career in sleep research it was at that point that I started to take an interest more professionally. In my blog I’ve written a number of articles on various aspects of sleep including sexsomnia (engaging in sexual acts while sleeping, for instance, while sleepwalking), somnophilia (engaging in sexual acts while individuals are sleeping), Sleeping Beauty paraphilia (a sub-type of somnophilia in which individuals are sexually aroused by watching other people sleep), and lucid dreaming (where individuals are aware they are dreaming and exert some kind of control over the content of the dream),

More recently, I’ve been a co-author on a number of research papers in journals such as Sleep Medicine Reviews, Journal of Sleep Research, and Sleep and Biological Rhythms (see ‘Further reading below) but these have all involved either the effects of internet addiction on sleep or the psychometric evaluation of insomnia screening instruments rather than being about the psychology of sleep.

In a previous A-Z article on “strange and bizarre addictions” I included ‘sleep addiction’ as one of the entries. Obviously I don’t believe that sleeping can be an addiction (at least not by my own criteria) but the term ‘sleep addiction’ is sometimes used to describe the behaviour of individuals who sleep too much. Conditions such as hypersomnia (the opposite of insomnia) has been referred to ‘sleeping addiction’ (in the populist literature at least). In a 2010 issue of the Rhode Island Medical Journal, Stanley Aronson wrote a short article entitled ‘Those esoteric, exoteric and fantabulous diagnoses’ and listed clinomania as the compulsion to stay in bed. Given the use of the word ‘compulsive’ in this definition, there is an argument to consider clinomania as an addiction or at least a behaviour with addictive type elements.

In an online article entitled ‘Sleep addiction’, Amber Merton also mentioned clinomania in relation to an addiction to sleep:

“If you are obsessed with sleeping or have an intense desire to stay in bed, you could be suffering from a condition called clinomania. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who can experience symptoms similar to addiction and even withdrawal in association with sleep, or lack thereof”.

The reference to ‘addiction-like’ symptoms appears to have some validity based on these self-report accounts I found online. All of these individuals mention various similarities between their constant need for sleep and addiction. I have highlighted these to emphasize my assertions that some of the consequences are at the very least addiction-like:

  • Extract 1: “I believe someone can become psychologically dependent on sleep. I am 47 and have used sleep for 40 years to escape from life…I typically sleep 4-6 hours too much each day. Sleep feels like an addiction to me because I crave it several times a day and am looking forward to how I can sneak it in. I don’t seem to be able to control it with will power for very long…I only have short periods when this isn’t a problem. When I am under stress it is at its worse. If I have any free or unstructured time, I can’t control how much I sleep excessively. When my time is heavily scheduled, I really struggle with keeping a full schedule and crave the time off when I can sleep for hours. If I know I’ll have a few hours in between activities free, I will find ways to sneak in some sleep. I am embarrassed about this, don’t tell the people around me the extent of the problems and devise ways to sneak in sleep without people knowing”.
  • Extract 2: “I love sleeping. It feels so good I think I could even become addicted if I didn’t HAVE to wake up. I sleep about 12 hours every day and could sleep more if I didn’t have to do daily necessities. I am aware of the fact that people who generally sleep more than they are supposed to, die sooner and have other various health problems. To be honest I would rather sleep than do most things. I even choose sleep over sex a lot”.
  • Extract 3: “I often sleep for 12-20 hours at a time. I have depression and am on anti-depressants. I just love sleeping. It’s so safe and comfy. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s just amazing”.
  • Extract 4: “I sleep AT LEAST 12 hours a day. But on days off I’ve been known to sleep for about 15-20 hours. [I am] addicted to sleep. I’ve cancelled social outings with friends pretending to be sick when really I just wanted to sleep in. I love sleep and I can’t get enough of it. I’ve slept through the entire weekend multiple times before, only waking up Monday morning when my alarm rang. And even after that much wonderful sleep I was still tired. The second I come home from work every day I eat, shower, and then crawl into bed and sleep the entire evening and night away. My alarm’s the only thing that can wake me up anymore…As for why I love sleep so much, I see a lot of people saying it’s an escape for them. For me it’s more, I don’t like people or going out or socializing, so sleep is my drug of choice. Is it bad? Maybe. Do I care? Not really…I more than love it, and it’s not hurting anyone if we’re being honest”.
  • Extract 5: “I feel like I’m addicted to sleep. Here’s why I think though. I suffered for 13 years with depression and while I know I am still getting over it I don’t feel that’s the reason I’m addicted. During those 13 years I would have serious bouts of chronic insomnia. The doctors tried to many different sleeping medications, meditation, clinics to help me find a routine for natural sleep without meds. Nothing worked. Now I live in Thailand and my doctor here recommended melatonin tablets, all natural as your brain is supposed to produce it anyway to tell you when it’s dark it’s time to sleep and when it’s like light it’s time to wake up. She thinks my brain fails to produce certain chemicals as such with serotonin and now figured melatonin. Since I have been taking a melatonin supplement, I sleep so well, I fall asleep within 20 minutes and I sleep for AT LEAST 8 hours. When I wake up I just want to go back to sleep again because it feels amazing. I don’t feel like it’s part of my anxiety or my depression, I just think it’s because I had insomnia for so long its addictive!
  • Extract 6: “To be honest if I could I would sleep my life away. My so called normal sleeping pattern: I am awake all night. Fall asleep around 4am-8am. Sleep 12 hours. Repeat. My mind is a broken record, constantly repeating the trauma. I do suffer from depression and anxiety. Sleep is my addiction. When I sleep I feel SAFE regardless?”
  • Extract 7: “I’ve been addicted to sleep (the escape from an abusive childhood, depression, and PTSD) since I was ten years old! I want to change though because my body is a mess. I’ve slept for 4 days and sometimes more with short awake periods to eat a little and use the potty. Not enough though, because now my body doesn’t work properly…Oversleeping has its consequences”.
  • Extract 8: “I’m so pleased that I have found this site and other people who are addicted to sleep as this problem has plagued my adult life and I would like it to stop. Take today for instance, I woke at 5.30am and was quite awake feeling a little anxious but I could not wait to get to sleep again, so I did and stayed in bed till around 2.20 pm. I have many days like this and as the lady above the sleep state is quite lucid and I do seem to enjoy it rather than getting up and living life for real”.

Again, I reiterate that none of these individuals are addicted to sleep but in addition to the addiction-like descriptions, there is also crossover in the motivations for excessive sleep and motivations underlying addictions (most noticeably the association with depression, anxiety, psychological trauma, and using the activity as an escape). In relation to addiction, these extracts include references to salience (engaging in sleep to the neglect of everything else in their life), cravings (for sleep), the sleep being excessive, repetitive and habitual, sleep leading to negative consequences (conflict), and loss of control. The fact that many of these individuals describe their behaviour as an addiction or addictive doesn’t mean that it is.

While there is no academic paper that I know of that has ever claimed sleep can be a genuine addiction there are countless clinical and empirical papers examining excessive sleep (i.e., hypersomnia) and the different etiological pathways that can lead to hypersomnia. Although hypersomnia is not an addiction, those with the condition (like addicts) can suffer many negative side-effects from the relatively minor (e.g., low energy, fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, restlessness, hallucinations) to the more severe (e.g., diabetes, obesity, heart disease, clinical depression, memory loss, suicidal ideation, and in extreme cases, death). In one online article I came across, the similarity between hypersomnia and addiction in relation to depression was evident:

It’s important to note that in some cases separating cause from effect here can be muddled. For instance, does over sleeping contribute to depression or does depression contribute to oversleeping? Or are both oversleeping and depression the effect of a larger underlying cause? Furthermore, once a person is experiencing both, could they act to reinforce the other as a feedback loop?”

This observation could just as easily be made about most addictions (substance or behavioural). Finally, it’s worth noting that there are many sub-types of hypersomnia and excessive sleep. In a good review of hypersomnia [HS] in Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, Dr. Yves Dauvilliers notes the following hypersomnia sub-types (including narcolepsy which can include excessive sleep but isn’t usually classed as a type of hypersomnia; also note that ‘idiopathic’ means of unknown cause) which I have paraphrased below:

  • Narcolepsy: This is a disabling neurologic disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleep (EDS) and cataplexy (i.e., a sudden loss of voluntary muscular tone without any alteration of consciousness in relation with strong emotive reactions such as laughter, joking).
  • Narcolepsy without cataplexy: This is simply a variant of narcolepsy with cataplexy (but without the cataplexy).
  • Idiopathic hypersomnia: Idiopathic HS is rare and remains a relatively poorly defined condition due to the absence of specific symptoms such as cataplexy or sleep apneas (i.e., loss of breathing while sleeping).
  • Recurrent hypersomnia: This HS is characterized by repeated episodes of excessive sleep (at least 16 hours a day) lasting from a few days up to several weeks. The most well-known recurrent HS is Kleine-Levin syndrome which comprises both cognitive disturbances (feelings of confusion and unreality) and behavioural disturbances (such as overeating and hypersexual behaviour during symptomatic episodes).
  • Hypersomnia associated with neurologic disorders: This type of HS causes EDS and can be a result of brain tumours, dysfunction in the thalamus, hypothalamus, or brainstem that may mimic idiopathic HS or narcolepsy.
  • Hypersomnia associated with infectious disorders: This type of HS can be a result of viral infection such as HIV pneumonia, Whipple’s disease (a systemic disease most likely caused by a gram-positive bacterium), or Guillain-Barré syndrome (a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system).
  • Hypersomnia associated with metabolic or endocrine disorders: This type of HS can be a result of conditions such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, hepatic encephalopathy (a liver dysfunction among individuals with cirrhosis), and acromegaly (a hormonal disorder that develops when the pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone).
  • Hypersomnia caused by drugs: This type of HS is secondary to many different types of drug medication including hypnotics, anxiolytics, antidepressants, neuroleptics, anti-histamines, and anti-epileptics.
  • Hypersomnia not caused by drugs or known physiologic conditions: This type of HS can be caused by a range of disorders such as depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and abnormal personality traits.

None of these types of HS is an addiction but clearly the negative consequences can be just as serious for the individual.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Alimoradi, Z., Lin, C-Y., Broström, A., Bülow, P.H., Bajalan, Z., Griffiths, M.D., Ohayon, M.M. & Pakpour, A.H. (2019). Internet addiction and sleep problems: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Review, 47, 51-61.

Aronson, S. M. (2010). Those esoteric, exoteric and fantabulous diagnoses. Rhode Island Medical Journal, 93(5), 163.

Bener, A., Yildirim, E., Torun, P., Çatan, F., Bolat, E., Alıç, S., Akyel, S., & Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Internet addiction, fatigue, and sleep problems among students: A largescale survey study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. doi: 10.1007/s11469-018-9937-1

Billiard, M., & Dauvilliers, Y. (2001). Idiopathic hypersomnia. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 5(5), 349-358.

Dauvilliers, Y. (2006). Differential diagnosis in hypersomnia. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, 6(2), 156-162.

Domenighini, A. (2016). Can you be addicted to sleep? Vice, January 24. Located at: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mg7e33/can-you-be-addicted-to-sleep

Hawi, N.S., Samaha, M., & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Internet gaming disorder in Lebanon: Relationships with age, sleep habits, and academic achievement. Journal of Behavioral Addiction, 7, 70-78.

Mamun, M.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Internet addiction and sleep quality: A response to Jahan et al. (2019). Sleep and Biological Rhythms. doi: 10.1007/s41105-019-00233-0

Merton, A. (2008). Sleep addiction. Located at: https://www.plushbeds.com/blog/sleep-disorders/sleep-addiction/

Mignot, E. J. (2012). A practical guide to the therapy of narcolepsy and hypersomnia syndromes. Neurotherapeutics, 9(4), 739-752.

Pakpour, A., Lin, C-Y., Cheng, A.S., Imani, V., Ulander, M., Browall, M. Griffiths, M.D., Broström, A. (2019). A thorough psychometric comparison between Athens Insomnia Scale and Insomnia Severity Index among patients with advanced cancer. Journal of Sleep Research. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12891.

Risky business: Organisations should have a ‘gambling at work’ policy

Earlier this week, I was interviewed by the BBC about whether organisations should help individuals who have gambling problems and whether they should have a ‘gambling at work’ policy. Most of us work in organisations that have policies on behaviours such as drinking alcohol and cigarette smoking. However, very few companies have a ‘gambling at work’ policy. One problem gambler in a position of financial trust can bring down a whole organisation – Nick Leeson being a case in point when he single-handedly brought down Barings Bank). Leeson’s (albeit somewhat extreme) antics demonstrate that organisations need to acknowledge that gambling with company money can be disastrous for the company if things go horribly wrong. While no company expects an employee gambling to bring about their collapse, Leeson’s case does at least highlight gambling as an issue that companies ought to think about in terms of risk assessment.

Gambling is a popular leisure activity and national UK surveys into gambling participation show that around two-thirds of adults’ gamble annually and that problem gambling affects approximately 0.5% of the British population (although the prevalence rates for adolescents can be three to four rimes higher). There are a number of socio-demographic factors associated with problem gambling. These included being male, having a parent who was or who has been a problem gambler, being single, and having a low income. Other research shows that those who experience unemployment, poor health, housing, and low educational qualifications have significantly higher rates of problem gambling than the general population.

It is clear that the social and health costs of problem gambling can be large on both an individual and societal level. Personal costs can include irritability, extreme moodiness, problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, family neglect, and bankruptcy. There can also be adverse health consequences for both the problem gambler and their partner including depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraines, and other stress-related disorders.

For most people, gambling is not a serious problem and in some cases may even be of benefit in team building and/or creating a collegiate atmosphere in the workplace (e.g., National Lottery syndicates, office sweepstakes). However, for those whose gambling starts to become more of a problem, it can affect both the organisation and other work colleagues. Typically problem gambling at work can lead to many negative “warning signs” such as misuse of time, mysterious disappearances, long lunches, late to work, leaving early from work, unusual vacation patterns, unexplained sick leave, internet and telephone misuse, etc. However, new forms of gambling, such as gambling via the internet or smartphones at work, means that many of these warning signs are unlikely to be picked up. However, just because problem gambling is difficult to spot does not mean that managers should not include it in risk assessments and/or planning procedures. Listed below are some practical steps that can be taken to help minimise the potential problem.

  • Take the issue of gambling seriously. Gambling (in all its many forms) has not been viewed as an occupational issue at any serious level. Managers, in conjunction with Human Resources Departments need to ensure they are aware of the issue and the potential risks it can bring to both their employees and the whole organisation. They also need to be aware that for employees who deal with finances, the consequences for the company should that person be a problem gambler can be very great.
  • Raise awareness of gambling issues at work. This can be done through e-mail circulation, leaflets, and posters on general notice boards. Most countries (including the UK) have national and /or local gambling agencies that can supply useful educational literature (including posters). Telephone numbers for these organisations can usually be found in most telephone directories.
  • Ask employees to be vigilant. Problem gambling at work can have serious repercussions not only for the individual but also for those employees who befriend a problem gambler, and the organisation itself. Fellow staff members need to know the signs and symptoms of problem gambling. Employee behaviours such as asking to borrow money all the time might be indicative of a gambling problem.
  • Give employees access to diagnostic gambling checklists. Make sure that any literature or poster within the workplace includes a self-diagnostic checklist so that employees can check themselves to see if they might have (or be developing) a gambling problem.
  • Check internet “bookmarks” of staff. In some jurisdictions across the world, employers can legally access the e-mails and internet content of their employees. One of the easiest checks is to simply look at an employee’s list of “bookmarked” websites. If they are gambling on the internet regularly, internet gambling sites are almost certainly likely to be bookmarked.
  • Develop a “Gambling at Work” policy. As mentioned at the start of this blog, many organisations have policies for behaviours such as smoking or drinking alcohol in the workplace. Employers should develop their own gambling policies by liaison between Human Resource Services and local gambling agencies. A risk assessment policy in relation to gambling would also be helpful.
  • Give support to identified problem gamblers.  Most large organisations have counselling services and other forms of support for employees who find themselves in difficulties. Problem gambling needs to be treated sympathetically (like other more bona fide addictions such as alcoholism). Employee support services must also be educated about the potential problems of workplace gambling.

Problem gambling can clearly be a hidden activity and the growing availability of internet gambling and gambling via smartphone or tablets is making it easier to gamble from the workplace. Thankfully, it would appear that for most people, gambling is not a serious problem. For those whose gambling starts to become more of a problem, it can affect both the organisation and other work colleagues (and in extreme cases cause major problems for the company as a whole). Managers clearly need to have their awareness of this issue raised, and once this has happened, they need to raise awareness of the issue among the work force. Gambling is a social issue, a health issue and an occupational issue. Although not high on the list for most employers, the issues highlighted here suggest that it should at least be on the list somewhere.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Calado, F., Alexandre, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Prevalence of adolescent problem gambling: A systematic review of recent research. Journal of Gambling Studies, 33, 397-424.

Calado, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Problem gambling worldwide: An update of empirical research (2000-2015). Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 592–613.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Internet gambling in the workplace. In M. Anandarajan & C. Simmers (Eds.). Managing Web Usage in the Workplace: A Social, Ethical and Legal Perspective. pp. 148-167. Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2002).  Occupational health issues concerning Internet use in the workplace. Work and Stress, 16, 283-287.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Internet gambling in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 21, 658-670.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Internet abuse and internet addiction in the workplace. Journal of Worplace Learning, 7, 463-472.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The hidden addiction: Gambling in the workplace. Counselling at Work, 70, 20-23.

Can you stomach it? Another look at ‘bellypunching’ for sexual arousal

In a previous blog, I briefly looked at gastergastrizophilia (a sadomasochistic sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from bellypunching). I also noted that I had never seen it listed in any reputable academic source (and that it did not appear in either Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices or Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices). I also wondered whether it really existed. Since writing that blog I’ve had a few people write to me saying that it definitely exists (see the comment section of my previous blog). I also described it as “one of the weirdest sounding sexual paraphilias that I have come across”. Last week I received some feedback from a man who criticized my article on the topic. I always welcome feedback (however critical) so I thought I would use today’s blog to respond to the criticism I received. I have included all the feedback I received along with my responses. Although I have the name and email address of the man who contacted me, I have decided not to use them in this article as he did not give me permission to do so (although if he does, I will update this accordingly).

Gutpuncher: I must admit – coming from a phycologist [sic] – I find that opening statement (“one of the weirdest sounding sexual paraphilias that I have come across”) to be an exceedingly derogatory and leading comment, immediately stamping all that is to follow with a big, bold stigma… That statement is as perverted as it is pejorative. It erroneously throws all who enjoy and practice this fetish into the fringe of lawlessness and make them sexual deviants without ethics or conscience. It’s the insane equivalent of saying, “we have no idea how many people actually engage in sex, because the participants themselves aren’t really sure of what is consent and what is rape.” REALLY?! EVERYONE with whom I have EVER participated in this fetish, myself very much included, has ALWAYS done so with complete and total CONSENT. The only reason we might not so quickly stand up to be counted –– is we’re not so keen on pointed fingers labeling us as “weird.

My response: Obviously I am a psychologist not a ‘phycologist’. But more seriously, what I actually wrote was that it one of the “weirdest sounding” paraphilias. To me, ‘gastergastrizophilia’ does sound weird compared to hundreds of other paraphilias that I have written about. I used the word ‘weird’ as a synonym for ‘strange’ or ‘unusual’. I think ‘Gutpuncher’ interpreted “one of the weirdest sounding paraphilias” as being “one of the weirdest paraphilias” which is somewhat different. Having said that, even if I had written what ‘Gutpuncher’ appears to think I have written, I would still argue that the use of ‘weird’ is a legitimate word to use (and I think most individuals would agree). Also, ‘Gutpuncher’ appears to think that calling an activity “weird” means that the person doing it is ‘weird’ but this is simply not true. I have a number of self-acknowledged weird hobbies (some of which I’ve written about such as being a record collecting completist who will happily pay lots of money for something that I may not even like) but this does not make me (as an individual) weird. The activity and the individual are two distinct things. But I’d just like to reiterate, what I actually wrote was that ‘gastergastrizophilia’ is weird-sounding.

Gutpuncher: Having just come across your article, though, I honestly don’t even know if the true purpose of your blog is to actually “help” anyone with real questions, concerns, or confusion about their own lives or sexuality. After a quick check and realizing that your expertise lies in gaming and gambling addictions, quite possibly your dealing with matters of sexuality here may just be a fun outlet, a way of creating a relaxed, man-of-the-people presence here on the internet, without any real offerings of advice or council – well, other than proclaiming certain things as “weird.”

My response: My blog page clearly states on every article that I have ever published: “Welcome to my blog! If you are interested in addictive, obsessional, compulsive and/or extreme behaviours, you’ve come to the right place”. The primary purpose of my blog is to write about things that I think people might want to read. My aim is not to help people, but if it does, that’s great, but it’s not the primary purpose. ‘Gutpuncher’ says my “expertise lies in gaming and gambling addictions” and that “dealing with matters of sexuality here may just be a fun outlet”. I do indeed have expertise in gambling and gaming addictions as well as in many other behavioural addictions. While gambling and gaming are among my main areas of expertise, I’ve also published over 50 academic papers (as well as many populist articles) on human sexual behaviour including papers on paraphilias (a small selection of which I list in the ‘Further reading’ section below). I think this more than qualifies me to write about human sexual behaviour. Even if I didn’t have expertise in researching sexual behaviour, it still wouldn’t invalidate me from writing about things that interest me (which sex does).

Gutpuncher: I also take great offense at the included quote (though not your own, but presented nonetheless to be considered) that “nobody has any real numbers, in part because the participants themselves don’t know where the line actually divides consent and abuse.”

My response: Any quotes that I use in blogs are fully referenced and are the views of the person writing it. Quotes used may or may not match my own views. This doesn’t mean I can’t use them. The quote came from the Wikipedia entry on ‘bellypunching’ and it’s the only article on the topic that I found when I wrote the article at the time.

Gutpuncher: But still, as a male who (purely from a homoerotic perspective) finds great pleasure in this fetish (known in male form as “Gutpunching” or “ab punching”), and as one who has personally connected with 60+ other males in the flesh who – most definitely – also find arousal in this sexual proclivity, and as someone who has personally witnessed hundreds and hundreds of other males online (through profile-posting websites and video uploads) who also claim this fetish as their own, I wonder why the male perspective has been entirely ignored here? Since this blog post was to give a look, however “brief,” at the subject, that seems to me a rather large omission. Again, quite possibly, this blog may playfully lean toward titillation instead of factual inclusivity, and “gay” stuff may add a whole other unappealing level of “weird.” But, this fetish IS most assuredly both a female and a MALE subject, to be correct.

My response: This is useful anecdotal information from someone who has first-hand experience of the gutpunching community. I wrote my article on gastergastrizophilia in August 2015 (i.e., four years ago). As with all my blogs, I researched the area and referenced everything I was able to locate scientifically and empirically (I found nothing published on any academic database) and anecdotally (i.e., searching online). I referenced everything that I found and only located one article (on Wikipedia) and also found some first-person accounts on the Dark Fetish website, as well as reference to hundreds of bellypunching videos. I didn’t ignore (or deliberately omit) anything and I wrote about what I found. I look forward to you sending me more information so that I can do a follow-up article.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Bőthe, B., Bartók, R., Tóth-Király, I., Reid, R.C., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z., Orosz, G. (2018). Hypersexuality, gender, and sexual orientation: A largescale psychometric survey study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47, 2265-2276.

Bőthe, B., Kovács, M., Tóth-Király, I., Reid, R.C., Griffiths, M.D., Orosz, G., Demetrovics, Z. (2019). The psychometric properties Hypersexual Behavior Inventory using a large-scale nonclinical sample. Journal of Sex Research, 56, 180-190.

Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Zsila, Á., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z., Orosz, G. (2018). The development of the Problematic Pornography Consumption Scale (PPCS). Journal of Sex Research, 55, 395-406.

Dhuffar, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). A systematic review of online sex addiction and clinical treatments using CONSORT evaluation. Current Addiction Reports, 2, 163-174.

Dhuffar, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Understanding the role of shame and its consequences in female hypersexual behaviours: A pilot study. Journal of Behavioural Addictions, 3, 231–237.

Dhuffar, M.K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Understanding conceptualisations of female sex addiction and recovery using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Psychology Research, 5, 585-603.

Dhuffar, M., Pontes, H.M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The role of negative mood states and consequences of hypersexual behaviours in predicting hypersexuality among university students. Journal of Behavioural Addictions, 4, 181–188.

Dhuffar, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Barriers to female sex addiction treatment in the UK. Journal of Behavioural Addictions, 5, 562–567.

Fernandez, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Psychometric instruments for problematic pornography use: A systematic review. Evaluation and the Health Professions. Epub ahead of print, doi: 10.1177/0163278719861688

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Compassion, dominance/submission, and curled lips: A thematic analysis of dacryphilic experience. International Journal of Sexual Health, 27, 337-350.

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Sexual interest as performance, intellect and pathological dilemma: A critical discursive case study of dacryphilia. Psychology and Sexuality, 7, 265-278.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Dying for it: Autoerotic deaths. Bizarre, 24, 62-65.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000).  Excessive internet use: Implications for sexual behavior. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3, 537-552.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2001).  Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 333-342.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Stumped! Amputee fetishes. Bizarre, 44, 70-74.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Addicted to sex? Psychology Review, 16(1), 27-29.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilias: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Eproctophilia in a young adult male: A case study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1383-1386.

Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Paraphilias and the press – Don’t always believe what you read. Medical Journal Armed Forces India, 75, 232-233.

Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Salirophilia and other co-occurring paraphilias in a middle-aged male: A case study. Journal of Concurrent Disorders, 1(2), 1-8.

Griffiths, M.D. & Dhuffar, M. (2014). Treatment of sexual addiction within the British National Health Service. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 561-571.

The Full Wiki (2013). Bellypunching. Located at: http://www.thefullwiki.org/Bellypunching

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Meditation Awareness Training for the treatment of sex addiction: A case study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 363–372.

Stars in their highs: The psychology of ‘addiction to fame’ (revisited)

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by The Face magazine who wanted to know if fame can be addictive. I looked at this issue in one of my first articles published on this website as well as a number of other articles related to fame (such as ones on Celebrity Worship Syndrome, the psychology of being starstruck, celebriphilia [the pathological desire to have sex with a celebrity], celebrity endorsements in gambling advertising, and whether famous people are more susceptible to addictive behaviour). I ended up doing the interview via email and given that when The Face eventually publish their article I am unlikely to get more than a few soundbites, I thought I would publish my responses to the questions I was asked here.

The Face: Why do we desire fame?

Obviously not everyone wants to be famous but for those that desire it there are many reasons why they would want it. On a pragmatic level it is because fame might lead to benefits such as having more money, power, being pampered, living a life of luxury and/or greater sexual success, etc. On a psychological level it may lead to something that overcomes feelings of insecurity or feeds a need to be adored by others. Many people are famous as a by-product of what they do (e.g., being a professional sportsman, politician, etc.). Here, the desire is to do well in the chosen profession and fame is not usually the primary motivating factor. However, it is also worth noting that once someone has become famous and then are unable to maintain their public profile (e.g., a footballer retiring from the sport), those who desire fame will often do other things (e.g., reality TV) as a way of keeping themselves in the public eye.

The Face: Is fame an addiction?

Addiction to anything relies on constant rewards (what we psychologists call ‘reinforcement’). You cannot become addicted to something that doesn’t have constant rewards – and being famous can obviously bring constant rewards. I would class something as being an addiction if it fulfils six criteria. All of these have to be present to be a genuine addiction.

  • Salience –This occurs when fame becomes the single most important activity in the person’s life and dominates their thinking (preoccupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behaviour (deterioration of socialised behaviour).
  • Mood modification – This refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of being famous (e.g. the euphoric feelings that accompany the activities that they engage in).
  • Tolerance – This is the process whereby increasing amounts of time spent trying to achieve and/or maintain fame.
  • Withdrawal symptoms – These are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects (e.g., the shakes, moodiness, irritability, etc.), that occur when the person feels they are no longer famous and/or in the public eye.
  • Conflict – This is when the desire to be famous results in conflicts between the person and those around them (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (social life, hobbies and interests) or from within the individual themselves (intra-psychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control about achieving and/or maintaining fame).
  • Relapse – This is the tendency for repeated reversions to earlier patterns of excessive time spent trying to achieve and/or maintain fame.

My own view is that it is theoretically possible for individuals to be addicted to fame but the number that would fulfil all my criteria would be few and far between.

The Face: You have asked the question of what substance the people addicted to fame are actually addicted to. Couldn’t it just be validation? 

The ‘object’ of fame addiction is likely to be highly idiosyncratic and individualistic (just like those individuals who are addicted to work). The rewards and reinforcements will be different for different people. Validation is a plausible generic factor as is feeling of wanting to be adored.

The Face: Is there any biological similarity between what an addictive substance like cocaine does to the brain and what fame does? 

There is no empirical evidence to answer such a question but on a biological level, anything that we do that makes us feel good leads to increases in serotonin (which at a basic level leads to feelings of positive wellbeing and happiness) which leads to an increase in the body’s own drug-like chemicals (endorphins – opioid neuropeptides), and ultimately leading to increases of the neurotransmitter dopamine (often characterised as the body’s own chemical ‘pleasure’ producer)

The Face: Does the behaviour of people ‘addicted’ to fame mirror that of other addicts?

If we are going to call fame an ‘addiction’ it has to mirror the signs, symptoms, and consequences of other addictions. Consequently, very few people would be classed as addicted using my criteria above. For many individuals, fame might have addictive elements rather than being an addiction per se.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. & Joinson, A. (1998). Max-imum impact: The psychology of fame. Psychology Post, 6, 8-9.

Halpern, J. (2007). Fame Junkies. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

McGuinness, K. (2012). Are Celebrities More Prone to Addiction? The Fix, January, 18. Located at: http://www.thefix.com/content/fame-and-drug-addiction-celebrity-addicts100001

Rockwell, D. & Giles, D.C. (2009). Being a celebrity: A phenomenology of fame. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 40, 178-210.

Streeter, L.G. (2011), Doctor helps people beat their fame addiction. Palm Beach Post, October 3. Located at:  http://www.palmbeachpost.com/health/doctor-helps-people-beat-their-fame-addiction-1892781.html

Turner, M. (2007). Addicted to fame: Stars and fans share affliction. MSNBC Entertainment News, August 9. Located at: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/20199608/ns/today-entertainment/t/addicted-fame-stars-fans-share-affliction/

Carry on pampering: A brief look at “comfort addiction”

“Comfort addiction is everywhere in 2019. There are TED Talks, rehab treatments and academic articles devoted to this new-age compulsion – just ask Keith Richards or King Salman of Saudi Arabia” (The Tatler, 2019).

This opening quote is from a recent article by Helen Kirwan-Taylor in The Tatler sent to me by psychotherapist Christopher Burn (whose book Poetry Changes Lives I mentioned in a previous article on ‘poetry addiction‘). He thought I might be interested in writing an article on it (and he was right). Anything with the word ‘addiction’ attached to something I have not come across before I always going to arouse my curiosity. I typed in “comfort addiction” to Google and was surprised to find quite a few articles such as ‘Overcome your comfort addiction’ (in The Huffington Post), ‘Are you ready to start conquering your dangerous addiction to comfort?’ (in The Entrepreneur), ‘Are you addicted to comfort?’ (in The New Man), ‘Living in the age of comfort addiction‘ (Patheos.com), and ‘Our crippling addiction to comfort’ (in The Inspirational Lifestyle). I even came across a television news item on Good Morning San Diego (pictured below).

Screen Shot 2019-06-06 at 16.49.45

The thrust of Kirwan-Taylor’s article is that some individuals are addicted to “indulgence” and recounts anecdotes of celebrities (both living and dead such as Queen Victoria, Hillary Clinton and Kate Moss) and a few non-celebrities who apparently suffer or suffered from such an ‘addiction’. A few examples of alleged ‘comfort addiction’ from the article included the following:

Pink Floyd toured with an ‘Ambience Director’ to ensure their every whim was catered for in distant lands. Keith Richards has a shepherd’s pie made for him before every Stones gig…Lionel Richie takes his own scented candle to ward off unsavoury smells and make places ‘feel like home’; and the late AA Gill, a former Tatler writer, used to always request the same table at The Wolseley for breakfast”.

Kirwan-Taylor then goes on to assert that ‘comfort addiction’ is a “vice about which few are willing to go on the record”. The first thing to say is that the examples cited have absolutely nothing to do with any operational definition of addiction that I can think of, and the word ‘addiction’ is being used in a light-hearted or throwaway manner (as well as an arguably sensationalist tactic to get people like myself to read it). One of Kirwan-Taylor’s interviewees was a private banker named only as ‘Simon’ (born with a silver ladle in his mouth):

“Comfort addiction is little talked about because sufferers know that it’s a pretty unattractive condition. I’ve started to decline shooting invitations because you can never be sure whether the mattress will be firm enough, the sheets clean enough or the bathroom en suite. Statelies [stately homes] are particularly uncomfortable”.

The article’s apparent rationale for calling such behaviour an ‘addiction’ is that there are addictive elements such as mood modification, withdrawal symptoms, and interpersonal conflict. More specifically, (i) comfort is similar to addictive substances (such as cocaine, alcohol and sugar) and makes individuals “feel temporarily better [and] soothes away life’s irritants” [mood modification] (ii) any sudden withdrawal of comfort leads the individuals “into a combination of acute anxiety, helplessness and rage” [withdrawal symptoms], and (iii) there are individuals are prepared to forego social events with friends because they are afraid to undergo any type of discomfort (presumably both psychological and physical although the article doesn’t explicitly say) [interpersonal conflict]. To overcome the lack of creature comforts, such individuals will bring their own bedding, food, drink, and eating and drinking utensils when staying at hotels or at friends’ houses. As one (unnamed) hotelier claimed:

“[Such individuals] don’t like the idea of sleeping on the same bed linen a thousand other people have slept on before. They prefer snuggling up in something that feels like home”.

To be honest, I can understand some of the thought processes behind this. I never ever (and I really do mean never) try on clothes or shoes in a shop before buying them because all I can think about is the number of sweaty and/or unclean people who might have tried on the clothing before me. Kirwan-Taylor also makes the claim that:

“There are, of course, varying levels of creature comfort. The late Karl Lagerfeld not only travelled by private jet with his own bookcase, he also went to extraordinary lengths to cosset his guests, too [such as building] a tennis court on his property at Biarritz as an enticement for [Anna Wintour] to visit…It is [also] rumoured that when King Salman of Saudi Arabia was due to stay at the One & Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives in 2017, he asked for exclusive hire of the hotel and that it be repainted and fitted with gold handrails. At his request, a hospital was apparently built on-site, and nannies, personal trainers, security and chefs were flown in by private jet. In the end, the King never turned up”.

According to Kirwan-Taylor, there are other factors that facilitate ‘comfort addiction’ of which age is one. To support this proposition, the article featured quotes from Dr Robert Biswas-Diener (co-author of self-help book The Upside of Your Dark Side as well as a TED Talk on ‘comfort addiction’) who described the phenomenon of ‘comfort inflation’ which turns into an “expectation”. He claimed (and I agree with such claims) that:

“Standards inflate over time. When you’re a student, a futon seems fine. By the time you’re 40, you can only sleep in a super king. It’s a natural progression. Business class gets you off and on the plane first. You sit by yourself. If you’re flying economy and you’re upgraded, you’re elated. If you’re flying business and are downgraded, you’re fuming. It’s easier to adjust upwards than downwards… Comfort is about convenience, privacy and safety. It is all about control. When you’re lumped in economy you have no idea who you will be sitting next to”.

When it comes to flying business class, I can only concur. Because of a degenerative medical condition, I can no longer fly long distances in economy class. If my clients want my services, flying business class is a minimum. I’m not bothered about the service received by the airline staff or boarding the plane first (although that’s admittedly nice), I just want comfort on the plane (and access to the comfortable seating or showers in the business lounge). I could argue (based on my own research) that there is an analogy to the concept of ‘tolerance’ here (the needing of more and more of a particular substance or behaviour to get the same initial mood-modifying effects). Whereas I was once happy to be flying on a plane to get from A to B, now I want the ultimate in comfort. I now discuss which airline’s business class I prefer or which business lounges are best. One of my colleagues once called me a “comfort junkie” (which again plays on the addiction analogy) but all this really means I like my five-star hotels and creature comforts (you will never see me go camping again in my life).

As Kirwan-Taylor’s article points out, “[individuals] quickly adjust to our new standards and [they] want more”. The article also includes a quote from George Harrison who once said “Do you remember when we were so poor we had to fly first class?”. Other signs that individuals have a ‘comfort addiction’ is individuals who “install home gyms, cinemas and hair salons [in their homes] as standard”. And too much comfort may not be a good thing for us. Kirwan-Taylor also interviewed Norman Doidge (author of The Brain That Changes Itself) who asserted:

“Too much comfort lowers resilience and with it the ability to deal with challenges. It is the willingness to leave the comfort zone that is key to keeping the brain new”

Obviously I don’t think ‘comfort addiction’ exists but I don’t deny some people’s experiences relating to comfort (including my own personal experiences) and I could certainly make an argument that there are some addiction-like elements.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK 

Further reading

Doidge, N. (2008). The Brain That Changes Itself. London: Penguin.

Haisha, L. (2011). Overcome your ‘comfort addiction’. Huffington Post, November 17. Located at: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/overcome-your-comfort-add_n_637327

Kashdan, T. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2014). The Upside of Your Dark Side. London: Penguin.

Kirwan-Taylor, H. (2019). Are you a comfort addict and utterly addicted to indulgence? The Tatler, May 14. Located at: https://www.tatler.com/article/are-you-a-comfort-addict

Lanier, T. (2015). Are you addicted to comfort? The New Man, June 1. Located at: https://www.thenewmanpodcast.com/2015/06/are-you-addicted-to-comfort/

Munro, D. (2017). Our crippling addiction to comfort. The Inspirational Lifestyle, May 22. Located at: http://www.theinspirationallifestyle.com/our-crippling-addiction-to-comfort/

Schmidt, M. (2017). Living in the age of comfort addiction. Patheos.com, February 28. Located at: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/takeandread/2017/02/living-age-comfort-addiction-qa-erin-straza/

Shore, J. (2015). Are you ready to start conquering your dangerous addiction to comfort? The Entrepreneur, April 2. Located at: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/244480