Category Archives: Compulsion

Betting kicks in flicks: A brief look at gambling on film

As a researcher in the gambling studies field and an avid watcher of films, it comes as little surprise that I love watching films where gambling is key to the plot. Occasionally, I write academic papers about gambling portrayals in film (most notably an in-depth look at my favourite gambling film, The Gambler – the original 1974 film starring James Caan in the title role and not the more recent 2014 remake starring Mark Wahlberg – which I published in a 2004 issue of the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction). I wrote about this paper in a previous blog and I have also written a few blogs where gambling films are central to the articles such as my blog on Philip Seymour Hoffman and his film Owning Mahowny, my blog on the psychology of Columbo (where I argued that gambling and gamblers are central to many of the plot lines), and my blog on the psychopathology of Star Wars (where problem gambling is one of the many disorders that features in the film’s franchise).

casino-movie

The world of gambling and gamblers has been portrayed in many films and in many different ways throughout the years (e.g., The Sting, The Cincinnati Kid, Casino, Owning Mahoney, Rain Man). However, I argued (way back) in a 1989 issue of the Journal of Gambling Behavior that many of these film representations tend to cast gambling in an innocuous light, and often portray gamblers, largely male, as hero figures. I made this observation without doing any systematic review of films containing gambling and my thoughts were purely impressionistic.

A decade ago, Dr. Nigel Turner and his colleagues published a lovely study in the Journal of Gambling Issues examining ‘images of gambling’ in films. They built on Jeffrey Dement’s 1999 book Going for broke: The depiction of compulsive gambling in film. They noted that:

“Dement’s (1999) book, Going for Broke is a thorough examination of movies that depict pathological gambling. He examined a number of films in terms of the extent to which the portrayals delivered accurate and appropriate messages about problem gambling. Although some movies accurately portray the nature of pathological gambling at least during some segments, Dement found that many movies about pathological gambling had irresponsibly happy endings. Film images in some cases reflected societal views on gambling. However, images in films may also alter societal views of gambling (Dement, 1999)…Dement focused only on movies that were about problem and pathological gambling. Many films that depict gambling or have images of gambling that are not about pathological gambling per se. In [our] article we will extend Dement’s work by looking more broadly at films about gambling”.

In their study, Turner and colleagues content analysed 65 films (from an initial list of “several hundred films”) mainly from the two decades prior to the publication of the study. The authors recounted that:

Many of the films we discuss are personal favourites that we have watched several times (e.g., Rounders, The Hustler, Vegas Vacation, The Godfather). Some of the films reviewed in this article have been also discussed by [other scholars]. Some films were included because they were found listed as gambling films in film catalogues or by Web searches for ‘gambling movies’ (e.g., Get Shorty). Other films were suggested to us by recovering pathological gamblers, counsellors specializing in problem gambling, recreational gamblers, video rental store employees, and postings to the bulletin board of Gambling Issues International (a listserve for gambling treatment professionals). Our examination of movies was restricted to movies released in cinemas (i.e., not television), and filmed in English (with one exception, Pig’s Law)…In all cases, either the first or second author viewed each film. In some cases both authors viewed the same film separately. The authors then discussed the themes that they thought were depicted in the film. The authors then collected the descriptions of movies and organized them into general themes”. 

After viewing (and re-viewing) the films, the authors found eight themes (often overlapping) represented in the movies watched. More specifically these were the themes of: (1) pathological gambling (films such as Fever Pitch, The Gambler, Owning Mahowny, Pig’s Law, etc.), (2) the magical skill of the professional gambler (Rain Man, Two For The Money, The Cincinatti Kid, Maverick, etc.), (3) miraculous wins as happy endings (The Cooler, The Good Thief, Two For The Money, etc.), (4) gamblers are suckers (Casino, Croupier, Two For The Money, etc., (5) gamblers cheat (Rounders, The Sting, House of Games, The Grifters, etc.), (6) gambling is run by organized crime (The Godfather, Casino, Get Shorty, etc.), (7) the casino heist (Ocean’s Eleven, The Good Thief, Croupier, etc.), and (8) gambling as a symbolic backdrop to the story (Leaving Las Vegas, Pay It Forward, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, etc.).

After this initial content analysis, Dr. Turner and his colleagues organized these eight themes into a general taxonomy of films. They reported that:

“First these films can be divided into two categories: films in which gambling is a central focus of the film, and others where gambling is a relatively minor topic but serves a symbolic role in the film. The films that are about gambling can be further divided into those that present generally negative views of gambling (e.g., pathology, crime, cheating) and those that present a generally positive image of gambling (e.g., magical skills and miraculous wins). The positive image is mainly related to the ability of the player to win (by skill or by miracle), but some of these films also add additional positive images by hinting at a glamorous and exciting lifestyle (The Good Thief, James Bond films, Rounders). Negative images of gambling are more common than positive images of gambling. Negative images were further divided into pathological gambling, suckers, cheaters, organized crime, and robbing casinos”.

They also go on to note that: very few films show ordinary people gambling non-problematically:

“Throughout the history of movies, gambling-related stories have been present. Movies about gambling are most often inhabited by problem gamblers (e.g., The Gambler), cheats (e.g., Shade), criminals (e.g., The Godfather, Ocean’s Eleven), spies (e.g., Diamonds are Forever), people with incredible luck (e.g., Stealing Harvard), and professional gamblers (e.g., Rounders, The Hustler). With the exception of The Odd Couple (1968), we have come across few movies that show ordinary people gambling in a non-problematic manner”.

With regards to problem and pathological gambling they conclude that:

“Some movies provide important insights into the nature of pathological gambling (e.g., The Gambler, Owning Mahowny, The Hustler). However, others make light of the disorder or indulge in the wishful thinking common with pathological gamblers (e.g., Let It Ride, The Cooler, Fever Pitch, The Good Thief). In some movies people develop a problem too quickly (Viva Rock Vegas, Lost in America). Some films take the view that all gamblers are addicted (Croupier, Two for the Money)…Most films about pathological gambling depict a narrow segment of the problem gambling population focusing on the male “action” gambler (see also Griffiths, 2004). Most pathological gamblers simply do not embezzle millions of dollars as in Owning Mahowny or take stupid risks just for the thrill of it as in The Gambler. Films rarely show gamblers hooked on slot machines or other electronic gambling machines even though such machines, where they are available, now account for a majority of problem gamblers in treatment”.

Obviously the sample of films chosen was selective and there were over a hundred films that weren’t analysed. However, even though the study was published ten years ago I don’t think the results (if repeated on more contemporary films) would be particularly different.

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

Further reading

Dement, J.W. (1999) Going for broke: The depiction of compulsive gambling in film. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Griffiths, M.D. (1989). Gambling in children and adolescents. Journal of Gambling Behavior, 5, 66-83.

Griffiths, M. (2004). An empirical analysis of the film ‘The Gambler’. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1(2), 39-43.

Gluss, H.M. & Smith, S.E., (2002). Reel people: Finding ourselves in the movies. Keylight: Los Angeles.

Turner, N. E., Fritz, B., & Zangeneh, M. (2007). Images of gambling in film. Journal of Gambling Issues, 20, 117-143.

Aid and a bet: Can personalised feedback help online gamblers play more responsibly?

In recent years, online gambling has become a more common leisure time activity. Research around the world suggests around 8-16% of adults have gambled online during the past year. Research has also demonstrated that there are a number of situational and structural characteristics that make online gambling potentially risky for susceptible and vulnerable individuals. Such factors include increased accessibility, affordability, anonymity and specific structural features of online games such as high event frequency. In addition, some forms of online gambling may be more problematic than others (e.g., online poker, online casino games).

A number of scientific studies have also shown that there are typically more problematic gamblers among those that gamble on the internet compared to those that only gamble in land-based venues. However, problem gambling severity is associated with overall engagement and that when the volume of gambling is controlled for, Internet gambling is not predictive of problems. Furthermore, most online gamblers are also offline gamblers and gamble on many different activities and across different gambling platforms.

Given the increasing number of people gambling online and issues surrounding problem gambling, many of the more socially responsible gambling companies around the world have started to use responsible gambling tools to help their clientele gamble more safely (such as the option to set time and money spending limits or to temporarily self-exclude from gambling for a day, week, month, or longer). In fact, one of our own studies recently demonstrated that the use of both time and money spending limits are most effective among gamblers that play most frequently, and that the effects are differential. For instance, time spending limits were most useful for online poker players and monetary spending limits were most useful for online casino players.

In addition, gamblers can now access and/or are given general advice on healthy and responsible gambling, as well as information about common misbeliefs and erroneous perceptions concerning gambling. However, findings on the effectiveness of providing gamblers with information in correcting or changing erroneous beliefs have been mixed. Some outcomes support the display of information, while other studies have reported non-significant results.

Studies have also shown that the way information is presented can significantly influence behaviour and thinking. Several studies have investigated the effects of interactive versus static pop-up messages during gambling sessions. Static messages do not appear to be effective, whereas interactive pop-up messages and animated information have been shown to change both irrational belief patterns and behaviour of gamblers. It has also been suggested that informational warning signs should promote the application of self-appraisal and self-regulation skills rather than the simple provision of information.

In one of our more recent studies, we investigated the effect of a pop-up message that appeared after 1,000 consecutive online slot machine games had been played during a single gambling session using behavioural tracking data. Our study analysed 400,000 gambling sessions (200,000 sessions before the pop-up had been introduced and 200,000 after the pop-up had been introduced). We found that the pop-up message had a limited effect on a small percentage of players. Although the study reported nine times as many gamblers stopped after 1000 consecutive plays compared to those gamblers before the introduction of the pop-up message, the number of gamblers that actually stopped after viewing the pop-up message was less than 1%.

In a follow-up study, we investigated the effects of normative and self-appraisal feedback in a slot machine pop-up message compared to a simple (non-enhanced) pop-up message. The study compared two representative random samples of 800,000 gambling sessions (i.e., 1.6 million sessions in total) across two conditions (i.e., simple pop-up message versus an enhanced pop-up message). The results indicated that the additional normative and self-appraisal content doubled the number of gamblers who stopped playing after they received the enhanced pop-up message (1.39%) compared to the simple pop-up message (0.67%). Like our previous study, the findings suggested that pop-up messages influence only a small number of gamblers to cease long playing sessions but that enhanced messages are slightly more effective in helping gamblers to stop playing within-session. Our two studies evaluating pop-up messages are the only published studies that examine the impact of messaging on actual gamblers in a real world online gambling environment.

In order to make individuals gamble more responsibly using behavioural tracking data, we believe that player feedback should also be presented in a motivational way. In practical terms, this means presenting messages in a non-judgmental way alongside normative data so that gamblers can evaluate their actions compared to other like-minded individuals. One of our most recent studies examined personalised feedback and information given to players during real world gambling sessions. We hypothesized that gamblers receiving tailored feedback about their online gambling behaviour would be more likely to change their behaviour (as measured by the amount of time and money spent) compared to those who did not receive tailored feedback.

We were given access to the behavioural tracking data of 1,358 gamblers at a European online gambling website that had voluntarily signed up to a behavioural feedback system that we developed (called mentor) that is offered to all customers on the website. The system is an opt-in system (i.e., gamblers can voluntarily choose to use it and the system is not mandatory). Once gamblers have enrolled to use the system, they can retrieve detailed visual and numerical feedback about their gambling behaviour via a button on the website. Player feedback is displayed in a number of ways (numerical, graphical, and textual) and provides information about wins and losses, playing duration, number of playing days, and games played. The system can also display personal gambling behaviour over time. For instance, Figure 1 shows the playing time information for a hypothetical player in the form of a graph over time.

At the top of the screen, players receive information about playing time over the previous 4-week and 24-week period. The white line in Figure 1 indicates that the player shows an upward trend and is steadily increasing the amount of time spent gambling. During the previous 4-week period, the player spent 25.75 hours gambling online. The upper line in Figure 1 is the average playing time for all other comparable online players (depending upon what types of game are typically played) and provides the gambler both normative and comparative feedback. Such feedback has been emphasized as an important aspect in facilitating behavioural change. Players are either assigned to ‘lottery’ type players or ‘casino’ type players based on their playing patterns.

Of the daily active players, 10% (n=1,358) opted into the system. Players could opt-in via a clearly visible button on the post-login website page which appeared immediately after they logged into their account. The personalised information appeared in a new pop-up window. This typically led to a break in play, as gamblers who viewed the information are unlikely to play and view information simultaneously. The system tracks those players who sign up and therefore the opt-in date is known and can also be used for analytical purposes.

All the visual, numerical, and textual information can be accessed by the gambler via a user-friendly on-screen dashboard. Responsiveness means that interactive content automatically adapts to technical environments. The player front end thus looks similar on different devices such as desktops, laptops, mobile phones, or tablets and also across different browsers and operating systems such as Windows, Android or iOS.

We investigated whether players’ behaviour changed after they have registered for the mentor system and saw the personalised feedback for the first time. We then compared their gambling behaviour with over 15,000 online gamblers displaying the same types of gambling behaviour (i.e., matched controls). Our results indicated that the personalised feedback system achieved the hypothesised effect and that the time and money spent gambling was significantly reduced compared to the online gambler control group that did not utilize the mentor system. The results suggest that responsible gambling tools such as mentor may help the clientele of gambling companies gamble more responsibly, and may be of help those who gamble excessively.

To our knowledge, this study was the first real world study investigating the effects of behavioural feedback on actual gambling behaviour within a real online gambling website. However, there were a number of limitations. For instance, all of the players in the target population had voluntarily registered to use the mentor system and were therefore not selected randomly from the population of players (but we tried to overcome this by using a control group of matched pairs). In addition, the reliability of our findings is limited because our data were only collected from one online gambling environment. It may also the case that players who voluntarily signed up to receive personalised messages about their gambling were different in other ways from controls (i.e., gamblers who voluntarily signed up to receive personalised messages may have already been interested in reducing their gambling and would be likely to gamble less).

Another limitation is that we did not know whether any of the gamblers who voluntarily opted to use the mentor system were problem gamblers. Therefore we do not know whether the system captures gamblers most in need of such interventions. Based on the findings, one explanation may be that the tool may simply be curtailing gambling in those who already play responsibly. Although our study was performed in a real world setting utilising objective behavioural data, it is limited because the motivations and thoughts of the players were unknown and can only be inferred.

Online gambling operators have the technical capabilities to introduce behavioural feedback systems such as the one we described in our paper, and our findings suggest that a system like mentor can help players limit the amount of time and money spent gambling can be achieved. However, the findings are preliminary and future research should focus on investigating at which point in time players should receive personalised messages to optimize behavioural change.

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Voluntary limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overview. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Testing normative and self-appraisal feedback in an online slot-machine pop-up message in a real-world setting. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 339. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00339.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). The use of personalized behavioral feedback for problematic online gamblers: An empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1406. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01406.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Personalized behavioral feedback for online gamblers: A real world empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1875. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01875. 

Auer, M., Littler, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Legal aspects of responsible gaming pre-commitment and personal feedback initiatives. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 6, 444-456.

Auer, M., Malischnig, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Is ‘pop-up’ messaging in online slot machine gambling effective? An empirical research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 29, 1-10.

Stairing at the rude boys: A brief look at climacophilia

In a number of my previous blogs, I have mentioned sexual paraphilias that appear to have been derived from the opposite phobic behaviours. Some examples include defecaloesiophilia (sexual arousal from painful bowel movements), lockiophilia (sexual arousal from childbirth), categelophilia (sexual arousal from being ridiculed), and rupophilia (sexual arousal from dirt). Another one that I could add to this list is climacophilia (sexual arousal from falling down stairs). This particular paraphilia got a lot of media publicity a few years ago when Dr. Jesse Baring was plugging his 2013 book Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All Of Us. (which I will return to below; I ought to confess that I love reading Baring’s populist articles and Professor Paul Bloom [of Yale University] went as far as to describe him as the Hunter S. Thompson of science writing.”). Climacophilia appears to be the opposite of climacophobia. The Wikipedia entry notes that:

“Climacophobia is the fear of climbing, especially using stairs. It is a type of specific phobia. Climacophobia is distinct from bathmophobia the fear of stairs themselves. Climacophobia is usually traced back to a negative experience, like falling down the stairs or having difficult time to climb stairs. The fear is also triggered by others, like witnessing somebody falling down stairs (either in real visualization or through media) or the other people he/she knows is suffering from climacophobia. Sufferers of climacophobia, if left untreated, end up limiting their activities and avoiding occupations that require the use of stairs or ladders. Sufferers tend to rely on elevators or disability-access ramps rather than stairs…Climacophobes tend to suffer from dizziness resembling vertigo when looking down stairs…Climacophobia can be treated using cognitive behavioural therapy [CBT], either independently or in tandem with other techniques. CBT can help sufferers stop negative thoughts about climbing while changing behaviors. Other treatment options include relaxation techniques, talk therapy, and medication for people who suffer severely from climacophobia”.

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In Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, climacophilia makes a seven-word entry between ‘clinical vampirism’ (arousal by drinking human or animal blood) and ‘coitobalnism’ (having sex in the bath), and is simply defined as deriving pleasure from falling down stairs. There was no mention of it all in Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Various websites provide definitions including the Pro Boner website (Climacophilia is an intriguing paraphilia characterised by sexual arousal to falling down the stairs. Climacophiles have their best orgasms when they’re falling down the stairs”) and the Buzz IO website (“Climacophilia is being sexually stimulated by seeing someone fall down a flight of stairs”). When reviewing Baring’s book, the New York Times defined it as the erotic compulsion to tumble down stairs”. Wikipedia also has a short entry and simply states:

“Climacophilia is a rare sexual paraphilia, or fetish in which the subject experiences erotic gratification when falling down the stairs. There hasn’t been a wide body of research conducted on people affected with this particular sexual preference and/or fetish”.

All of these definitions and snippets imply slightly different things relating to the same alleged behaviour. While all involve some kind of sexual arousal from falling down stairs, the New York Times says the behaviour is an “erotic compulsion whereas most others describe the behaviour as arousing, stimulating, and pleasurable (without being compulsive). One definition involves ‘orgasm’ being involved while the rest do not. The Wikipedia entry seems to imply that the paraphilia exists (it says “rare” rather than non-existent). The entry also says there “hasn’t been a wide body of research” suggesting there is some (perhaps a narrow body of research) – but that clearly isn’t the case. There’s none.

The journalist David DiSalvo interviewed Dr. Baring for Forbes magazine in relation to his book Perv, which covers 46 different paraphilias (all of which are listed in an article in the Huffington Post) – with paraphilias being defined by Baring as being primary attraction to a target or activity outside of the statistical norm”. Although I agree that paraphilias tend to be non-normative, I’m not whether I’d ever use the phrase “outside of the statistical norm” as there are some paraphilic behaviours that the majority of sexually active individuals are likely to have engaged in at least peripherally (such as bondage and other milder forms of sadomasochistic behaviour). In relation to the paraphilias outlined in his book, baring told DiSalvo that:

“These included both exceptionally rare paraphilias (such as ‘climacophilia’ in which a person can only get off while tumbling down a flight of stairs) and the more run-of-the-mill ones that are detailed in the DSM-V, such as voyeurism, sadism, and frotteurism (which is gratification by touching people in crowded public places, such as subways). But that’s just a small sampling. The most authoritative list, cobbled together by an Indian psychiatrist named Anil Aggrawal, includes a total of 547 distinct paraphilias”.

If you type in Baring’s name and his book into Google, many articles appear which mention ‘climacophilia’. For instance, in an interview with Vice magazine, the journalist (Nadja Sayej) began her article by saying:

“You may have recently seen the soft-spoken Jesse Baring on Conan recalling the strangest of sexual fetishes. Be it arousal from falling down the stairs (Climacophilia) or feeling steamy from rolling around in stones and gravel (Lithophilia), nothing surprises the Western New York author and psychologist”.

Baring was asked by Sayej what the weirdest fetish he had come across but there was no mention of climacophilia (probably because no-one has ever come across it):

“According to a recent forensic resource by the psychiatrist Anil Aggrawal, there are 547 documented paraphilias. Some of them – actually, most of them – are quite carnival-like. But it’s important to remember that these more exotic manifestations of sexuality might be represented by just one lone figure in the universe: a single, sad, lascivious soul who can only, just to give two random examples, have an orgasm while fondling a mouse (“musophilia”) or while rolling around in ferns (“pteridomania”). It’s virtually impossible for me to pick the weirdest, since so many of them would fit the bill for truly bizarre. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes in this literature, from a sex research pioneer named Wilhelm Stekel – who, incidentally, coined the word ‘paraphilia‘ in the 1920s. “Variatio delectat! How innumerable are the variations which Eros creates in order to make the monotonous simplicity of the natural sex organ interesting to the sexologist”.

I have spent hours online trying to track down any evidence that climacophilia exists and I have drawn a complete blank. Yes, there are lots of mentions of it (particularly in the articles on Baring’s book) but no dedicated articles (except a satirical one that I came across on the Dumb Buzz Feed website which you can read here). There are no online forums where like-minded climacophiles congregate and there are no climacophiles that have written so much as a one-sentence confession of being sexually aroused either by falling down stairs or watching others fall down stairs. In an academic review of Baring’s book, in the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy, Dr. David Ribner made a specific reference about Baring’s inclusion of climacophilia and said it was “incredulous…is there really someone out there who can only achieve orgasm by falling down a flight of stairs?”

Based on my own research I think I can answer that question in two letters. No.

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.

Baring, J. (2013). Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All Of Us. New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.

Bergner, D. (2013). Acquired tastes. ‘Perv’, by Jesse Baring. New York Times, October 4. Located at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/books/review/perv-by-jesse-bering.html

DiSalvo, D. (2013). Getting in touch with your inner sexual deviant. Forbes, October 24. Located at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2013/10/24/getting-in-touch-with-your-inner-sexual-deviant/#6f0f5548568e

Dumb Buzz Feed (2015). 7 problems only people with climacophilia will understand. May 3. Located at: https://dumbuzzfeed.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/7-problems-only-people-with-climacophilia-will-understand/

Huffington Post (2013). 46 sexual fetishes you’ve never heard of. October 23. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/23/sexual-fetish_n_4144418.html

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

Ribner, D.S. (2013). A review of ‘Perv: The sexual deviant in all of us’, by Jesse Baring. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 30, 297-300.

More mass debating: Compulsive sexual behaviour and the internet

The issue of sex addiction as a behavioural addiction has been hotly debated over the last decade. A recent contribution to this debate is a review by Shane Kraus and his colleagues in the latest issue of the journal Addiction that examined the empirical evidence base for classifying compulsive sexual behaviour (CSB) as a behavioural (i.e., non-substance) addiction. The review raised many important issues and highlighted many of the problems in the area including the problems in defining CSB, and the lack of robust data from many different perspectives (epidemiological, longitudinal, neuropsychological, neurobiological, genetic, etc.).

As my regular blog readers will know, I have carried out empirical research into a wide variety of different behavioural addictions (gambling, video gaming, internet use, exercise, sex, work, etc.) and have argued that some types of problematic sexual behaviour can be classed as sex addiction depending upon the definition of addiction used. I was invited by the editors of Addiction to write a commentary on the review and this has just been published in the same issue as the paper by Kraus and colleagues. This blog briefly looks at the issues in that review that I highlighted in my commentary.

For instance, there are a number of areas in Kraus et al.’s paper that were briefly mentioned without any critical evaluation. For instance, in the short section on co-occurring psychopathology and CSB, reference was made to studies claiming that 4%-20% of those with CSB also display disordered gambling behaviour. I pointed out that a very comprehensive review that I published with Dr. Steve Sussman and Nadra Lisha (in the journal Evaluation and the Health Professions) examining 11 different potentially addictive behaviours also highlighted studies claiming that sex addiction could co-occur with exercise addiction (8%-12%), work addiction (28%-34%), and shopping addiction (5%-31%). While it is entirely possible for an individual to be addicted to (say) cocaine and sex concurrently (because both behaviours can be carried out simultaneously), there is little face validity that an individual could have two or more co-occurring behavioural addictions because genuine behavioural addictions consume large amounts of time every single day. My own view is that it is almost impossible for someone to be genuinely addicted to (for example) both work and sex (unless the person’s work was as an actor/actress in the pornographic film industry).

The paper by Kraus et al also made a number of references to “excessive/problematic sexual behavior” and appeared to make the assumption that ‘excessive’ behaviour is bad (i.e., problematic).  While I agree that CSB is typically excessive, excessive sex in itself is not necessarily problematic. Preoccupation with any behaviour in relation to addiction obviously needs to take into account the context of the behaviour, as the context is far more important in defining addictive behaviour than the amount of the activity undertaken. As I have constantly argued, the fundamental difference between a healthy excessive enthusiasms and addictions is that healthy excessive enthusiasms add to life whereas addictions take away from them.

The paper also appeared to have an underlying assumption that empirical research from a neurobiological and genetic perspective should be treated more seriously than that from a psychological perspective. Whether problematic sexual behaviour is described as CSB, sex addiction and/or hypersexual disorder, there are thousands of psychological therapists around the world that treat such disorders. Consequently, clinical evidence from those that help and treat such individuals should be given greater credence by the psychiatric community.

shutterstock_cybersex

Arguably the most important development in the field of CSB and sex addiction is how the internet is changing and facilitating CSB. This was not even mentioned until the concluding paragraph yet research into online sex addiction (while comprising a small empirical base) has existed since the late 1990s including sample sizes of up to almost 10,000 individuals. In fact, there have been a number of recent reviews of the empirical data concerning online sex addiction including its treatment including ones by myself in journals such as Addiction Research and Theory (in 2012) and Current Addiction Reports (in 2015). My review papers specifically outlined the many specific features of the Internet that may facilitate and stimulate addictive tendencies in relation to sexual behaviour (accessibility, affordability, anonymity, convenience, escape, disinhibition, etc.). The internet may also be facilitating behaviours that an individual would never imagine doing offline such as cybersexual stalking.

Finally, there is also the issue of why Internet Gaming Disorder was included in the DSM-5 (in Section 3 – ‘Emerging measures and models’) but sex addiction/hypersexual disorder was not, even though the empirical base for sex addiction is arguably on a par with IGD. One of the reasons might be that the term ‘sex addiction’ is often used (and arguably misused) by high profile celebrities as an excuse to justify their infidelity (e.g., Tiger Woods, Michael Douglas, David Duchovny, Russell Brand), and is little more than a ‘functional attribution’. For instance, the golfer Tiger Woods claimed an addiction to sex after his wife found out that he had many sexual relationships during their marriage. If his wife had never found out, I doubt whether Woods would have claimed he was addicted to sex. I would argue that many celebrities are in a position where they are bombarded with sexual advances from other individuals and have succumbed. But how many people would not do the same thing if they had the opportunity? Sex only becomes a problem (and is pathologised) when the person is found to have been unfaithful. Such examples arguably give sex addiction a ‘bad name’, and provides a good reason for those not wanting to include such behaviour in diagnostic psychiatry texts.

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

Further reading

Bocij, P., Griffiths, M.D., McFarlane, L. (2002). Cyberstalking: A new challenge for criminal law. Criminal Lawyer, 122, 3-5.

Cooper, A., Delmonico, D.L., & Burg, R. (2000). Cybersex users, abusers, and compulsives: New findings and implications. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 6, 79-104.

Cooper, A., Delmonico, D.L., Griffin-Shelley, E., & Mathy, R.M. (2004). Online sexual activity: An examination of potentially problematic behaviors. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 11, 129-143.

Cooper, A., Galbreath, N., Becker, M.A. (2004). Sex on the Internet: Furthering our understanding of men with online sexual problems. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 18, 223-230.

Cooper, A., Griffin-Shelley, E., Delmonico, D.L., Mathy, R.M. (2001). Online sexual problems: Assessment and predictive variables. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 8, 267-285.

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.

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. (2004). Sex addiction on the Internet. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(2), 188-217.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Compulsive sexual behaviour as a behavioural addiction: The impact of the Internet and other issues. Addiction, 111, 2107-2109.

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.

Kraus, S., Voon, V., & Potenza, M. (2016). Should compulsive sexual behavior be considered an addiction? Addiction 111, 2097-2106.

Orzack M.H., & Ross C.J. (2000). Should virtual sex be treated like other sex addictions? Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 7, 113-125.

Sussman, S., Lisha, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.

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.

 

More of the write stuff: Why do people write blogs?

Given the large number of blogs I have published, I consider being a ‘blogger’ one of my core identities (although admittedly this is subsumed within my identity as a ‘writer’). I am often asked why I blog and why I blog so much (some would say excessively) which prompted me putting together the article you are now reading.

Academically, there have been a number of studies that have carried out research into why people blog. For instance, Dr. Bonnie Nardi and colleagues published a paper in Communications of the ACM, (2004) and concluded that bloggers are “driven to document their lives, provide commentary and opinions, express deeply felt emotions, articulate ideas through writing, and form and maintain community forums”. In 2008, Dr. Chin-Lung Hsu and Dr. Judy Lin published the results of a small survey of 212 bloggers in the journal Information and Management. Using the theory of reasoned action (a theory I have also used in relation to some of my gambling attitude research – see ‘Further reading’), they found that “ease of use and enjoyment, and knowledge sharing (altruism and reputation) were positively related to attitude toward blogging…[and that] social factors (community identification) and attitude toward blogging significantly influenced a blog participant’s intention to continue to use blogs”.

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A 2007 paper by Dr. Su-Houn Liu and colleagues in the journal Issues in Information Systems surveyed 177 bloggers following a qualitative study where they interviewed five bloggers about their motivation for blogging. From the interviews they generated ten motivations to blog – five that were intrinsic (killing time; having space to store data and files; enjoying sharing life with others; pouring out feelings; gaining achievement) and five that were extrinsic (looking forward to others’ responses; finding good topics after talking with others; constantly connecting with known people; making new friends; understanding others’ feelings and opinions). Using these motivations they hypothesized that blogging motivation would be positively related to blogging intention and that a blogger’s intention would be positively related to the amount of blogging. In the survey results, they found that the two most important motivations for blogging were (i) pouring out feelings and (ii) connecting with people. The results also showed that bloggers who had (i) both high intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for rewards had higher levels of blogging intention, and (ii) higher blogging intention were willing to take more time to maintain their blog and post more articles.

A study by Dr. Chris Fullwood and colleagues in a 2009 issue of CyberPsychology and Behavior carried out a content analysis of MySpace blogs and concluded that “most blogs were written in a positive tone, and the main motivations for blogging appeared to be writing a diary and as an emotional outlet”. They found no significant gender differences but reported that the blog’s purpose and style differed across age groups. For instance, bloggers aged over 50 years were more likely to use their blog as “an emotional outlet with a negative tone”. Those aged between 18 and 29 years “used a semiformal language style” on their blog. A 2007 paper by Dr. Rong-An Shang and colleagues published in the PACIS Proceedings examined why people blog by investigating the impacts of task and technology characteristics on user evaluation of blogs and blog usage. They found that self-presentation, need for sociality, and the perception of social presence best explained why people blogged.

Despite the academic research into why people blog, the topic has been covered in dozens of online articles often with much longer lists of motivations as to why people blog and the benefits that can be got from blogging. (I include my own online article on this topic as to why I blog, and I would also draw you attention to the published articles I have had on the benefits of blogging – see ‘Further reading’ below). So here is a more definitive list that I have compiled from many different websites:

  • To express thoughts and opinions – Blogs provide one of the easiest ways to write things for a potentially global audience. I often use my blogs to establish initial thoughts and ideas that can then be finessed and built upon more rigorously in more formal later published work. The best thing about blogs is that they are free, easy to set up, and you can publish something within seconds of finishing what you write.
  • To connect and network with like-minded people – Blogs on specific topics can help in making contact with individuals that have similar thoughts and opinions. In short, blogs can be an aid to online networking. If you run a business, blogs can also be used to connect with your customers.
  • To be free and creative – Writing blogs should be fun to do but they can also be an exercise in creativity and freedom. Similarly, blogs can be an extra creative outlet in which you can put into words thoughts and ideas that are hard to put into use elsewhere in your life.
  • To become a more organized and better communicator, thinker and writer – Blog writing is a skill that can be developed and they can be used to become a better communicator. How you write something can sometimes be more important than what you want to say. Increased writing can also help you to become more organized in your thinking.
  • To help focus thinking – Not only can blog writing make thinking become more organized, it can help making thinking more focused. Once I have chosen a topic to write about, my thinking becomes very focused and while writing everything else is in the periphery. I would also argue that your mindset becomes more objective and ‘well rounded’ the more blogs that you write.
  • To help and inspire other people – Blogs can provide informative help to almost anything you can think of. Although a small amount of the feedback I get about my blog is negative the overwhelming majority is supportive and celebratory. It’s even better if someone says that your blog inspired that person to do something positive.
  • To advertise and promote something – Blogs can be used to promote or market a product, a business and/or even yourself. Blogs can be an excellent vehicle for self-promotion and personal branding. Good blogs get you noticed and could be good for your career. Your next employer might even be one of your regular blog readers. I have also realized that blogs can be a great way to attract potential clients for consultancy opportunities.
  • To establish expertise and create awareness – Blogs are a great way to help individuals establish themselves as an expert in a specific topic or area and can help in creating awareness of specific issues. One of the side benefits is that you also become more expert in researching a topic. Reading your old blogs can also help you in becoming more reflective and critical about your thinking.
  • To make a difference (to oneself and/or others) Blogs that are specific and issue-based can be used to educate and/or change opinion in someone else. Your writing might help make a difference in their lives (such as learning about something they didn’t know before reading your blog). Writing can be therapeutic and some people write blogs as a journal or diary. Sometimes ‘making a difference’ can be to the bloggers themselves. For instance, my blogs on survivor guilt and the death of David Bowie were primarily to help myself rather than anyone else reading.
  • To keep up to date with a specific interest or topic and gain knowledge – Being a regular blogger means that you have to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the area being written about. At the same time it increases your knowledge base.
  • To make money – Making money from blogs may not be at the top of people’s lists but good bloggers can get paid for some of their efforts.
  • To help time management and other life skills – Writing a regular blog takes time and dedication but can also help you become better in time management. My blogs complement the other things I do in my life (both professionally and personally) and I plan my blog writing around other areas of my life. Why watch a dull TV show when I could be bettering myself writing a blog? In short, it could lead to some healthier life habits.
  • To boost self-esteem and ego needs – The one thing I love about blogging is that I have a running record of how many people have accessed my blog, which articles they are reading, where they were referred from, and who has re-blogged my writing. This all contributes to my overall sense of self-worth and helps raise my self-esteem. Positive feedback makes you feel good. In short, blog ‘success’ is measurable.

Many of the reasons I’ve listed above form part of my own motivations for blogging but the main reason I write my blogs is that I love writing them because others seem to like reading them. In short I have a passion for it. 

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

Further reading

Becker, J. (2016). 15 reasons I think you should blog. Becoming Minimalist, January 14. Located at: http://www.becomingminimalist.com/15-reasons-i-think-you-should-blog/

Bullas, J. (2010). 12 reasons why people blog. jeffbullas.com. Located at: http://www.jeffbullas.com/2010/07/23/12-reasons-why-people-blog/

Fullwood, C., Sheehan, N., & Nicholls, W. (2009). Blog function revisited: A content analysis of MySpace blogs. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12(6), 685-689.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). How writing blogs can help your academic career. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 87, 39-40.

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Top tips on…Writing blogs. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 90, 13-14.

Gunnellus, S. (2014). Top 10 reasons to start  blog. About Tech, December 16. Located at: http://weblogs.about.com/od/startingablog/tp/Top-Ten-Reasons-to-Blog.htm

Hsu, C.L., & Lin, J.C.C. (2008). Acceptance of blog usage: The roles of technology acceptance, social influence and knowledge sharing motivation. Information and Management, 45(1), 65-74.

Kim, H.N. (2008). The phenomenon of blogs and theoretical model of blog use in educational contexts. Computers and Education, 51(3), 1342-1352.

Li, J., & Chignell, M. (2010). Birds of a feather: How personality influences blog writing and reading. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 68(9), 589-602.

Liu, S.H., Liao, H.L., & Zeng, Y.T. (2007). Why people blog: an expectancy theory analysis. Issues in Information Systems, 8(2), 232-237.

Nardi, B.A., Schiano, D. J., & Gumbrecht, M. (2004). Blogging as social activity, or, would you let 900 million people read your diary? In Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work (pp. 222-231). ACM.

Reich, D. (2011). 9 reasons you should blog. Forbes, October 15. Located at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/danreich/2011/10/15/9-reasons-you-should-blog/#616c4f2a5ab0

Shang, R.A., Chen, Y.C., & Chen, C.M. (2007). Why people blog? An empirical investigation of the task technology fit model. PACIS 2007 Proceedings, 5. PACIS.

Suyeoka, B. (2016). 6 things that blogging can do for you. Huffington Post, September 25. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brandon-suyeoka/6-things-that-blogging-ca_b_3973092.html

Thacker, N. (2011). 10 reasons why you need a blog. Life Hack, October 15. Located at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/danreich/2011/10/15/9-reasons-you-should-blog/#616c4f2a5ab0

Websudasa (2015). Top 10 reasons why people blog. Shout Me Loud, July 16. Located at: http://www.shoutmeloud.com/top-10-reasons-why-people-blog.html

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Adolescent lottery and scratchcard players: Do their attitudes influence their gambling behaviour? Journal of Adolescence, 27, 467-475.

Sense and sense-ability: A brief look at ‘virtual reality addiction’

Ever since I started researching into technological addictions, I have always speculated that ‘virtual reality addiction’ was something that psychologists would need to keep an eye on. In 1995, I coined the term ‘technological addictions’ in a paper of the same name in the journal Clinical Psychology Forum. In the conclusions of that paper I asserted:

“There is little doubt that activities involving person-machine interactivity are here to stay and that with the introduction of such things [as] virtual reality consoles, the number of potential technological addictions (and addicts) will increase. Although there is little empirical evidence for technological addictions as clinical entities at present, extrapolations from research into fruit machine addiction and the exploratory research into video game addiction suggest that they do (and will) exist”.

Although I wrote the paper over 20 years ago, there is little scientific evidence (as yet) that individuals have become addicted to virtual reality (VR). However, that is probably more to do with the fact that – until very recently – there had been little in the way of affordable VR headsets. (I ought to just add that when I use the term ‘VR addiction’ what I am really talking about is addiction to the applications that can be utilized via VR hardware rather than the VR hardware itself).

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VR’s potential in mass commercial markets appears to be finally taking off because of mass-produced affordable hardware such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and the (ultra-cheap) Google Cardboard (in which a smartphone can be inserted into cardboard VR headset frame). Last year, a report by the marketing and consulting company Tractica claimed that spending on virtual reality hardware could be as much as $21.8 billion (US) by 2020. A more recent report by online and digital market research company Juniper estimated that global sales of VR headsets would rise from 3 million in 2016 to 30 million by 2020. Three markets are likely drive sales, and they all happen to be areas that I research into from an addiction perspective – video gaming, gambling, and sex. I’ve noted in many of my academic papers over the years (particularly my early papers on online gambling addiction and online sex addiction) that when new technological advances occur, the sex and gambling industries always appear to be the first to invest and produce commercial products and services using such technologies, and VR is no different. As an online article in Wareable by Dan Sung on VR sex noted:

“What [VR] headsets offer is immersion; 180-degree (or more), stereoscopic action with you as the star of the show and the adult actors and actresses looking deep and lustfully into your eyes as they tend to your genitalia. It’s small wonder that users have been donning their headsets and earphones in numbers and praying to their god that nobody walks in. Yet gambling and porn are synonymous with addiction, and increasingly, questions are being asked about whether the VR revolution could finally ensnare us humans into virtual worlds”.

I was interviewed by Sung for the same article and I made a number of different observations about VR sex. I commented that in terms of people feeling reinforced, aroused, rewarded, sex is the ultimate in things that are potentially addictive. Sex is one of those activities that is highly reinforcing, it’s highly rewarding and how people feel is probably better than the highs and buzzes from other behaviours. Theoretically, I can see that VR sex addiction would be possible but I don’t think it’s going to be on the same scale as other more traditional addictions. The thing about VR (and VR sex) – and similarly to the internet – is that it’s non-face-to-face, it’s non-threatening, it’s destigmatising, and it’s non-alienating. VR sex could be like that whether it’s with fictitious partners, someone that you’re actually into, or someone that you’ve never met before. Where VR sex is concerned, if you can create a celebrity in a totally fictitious way, that will happen. There may be celebrities out there that will actually endorse this and can make money and commercialise themselves to do that. It can work both ways. Some people might find it creepy while others might see something they can make money from.

In one of my previous blogs I looked at the area of ‘teledildonics’, a VR technology that has been around for over two decades (in fact I was first interviewed on this topic on a 1993 Channel 4 television programme called Checkout ’93). Dan Sung also interviewed Kyle Machulis who runs the Metafetish teledildonics website for his article. He said that in relation to VR sex there is a problem with haptics (i.e., the science of applying tactile sensation and control to interaction with computer applications):

 “We’re good on video and audio but haptics is a really, really hard problem…A lot of toys out there right now are horrible and it’s very hard to come up with something quality. So, instead, what the porn industry is aiming for right now is immersion. It may not feel better but they’re so much closer to the action that it may be better, and I think we’re on the cusp of that right now.” First, we need consumer hardware. We need things to be released and available to customers to see if it’s really going to take off or not. But when this happens – late this year, the beginning of next – as soon as the headsets are available, the media is ready and waiting…Of course, there’s straight women, gay men and gay women to develop for too but, for a lot of people, the perfect porn experience is doing something that’s not even physically possible – either through the laws of physics or the laws of land, and that’s something that only VR can solve…Even so, what we saw in teledildonics in gaming is that people used them to begin with but there’s always a lot of fall off with new technologies like this. So, there’s going to be a hardcore set of people who stay with VR porn but it’s hard to say how popular it will be beyond that. We’re all still guessing at the moment. This time next year it will be a completely different story”.

Another area that we will need to monitor is how the gambling industry will harness VR technology. The most obvious application of VR in the gambling world is in the online gambling sector. I can imagine some online gamblers wanting their gambling experiences to be more immersive and for their online gambling sessions to be more akin to gambling offline surrounded by the sights and sounds of an offline gambling venue. There is no technical reason that I know of why people that gamble via their computers, laptops, smartphones or tablets could not wear VR headsets and be playing poker opposite a virtual opponent while still sat on the sofa at home. As Paul Swaddle (CEO of Pocket App) noted in a recent issue of Gambling Insider:

We already know that participation in online gambling is snowballing, so if the entertainment industry can use VR to simulate the experience of being inside a video game, or social media sites can give you the opportunity to not just see your friends’ pictures, but to walk through them, why shouldn’t online casinos be able to do the same? VR may actually be the hook that mobile and online casinos need to draw in more millennials, with the average age of players in mobile casinos currently being 40 [years old], and the average age of mobile gamblers in general being 35 [years old]. Millennials simply aren’t engaging with mobile and online casinos to the same extent as older generations, and I suspect that this is down to younger players being much more used to immersive and sociable gaming, as a result of the cutting-edge developments that are being constantly rolled out in the video gaming industry”.

I agree with Swaddle’s observations as the gambling industry are constantly thinking about the ways to bring in newer players. Today’s modern screenagers love technology and do not appear to have any hang-ups about using wearable technology including Fitbit and the Apple Watch. As Swaddle goes on to say:

“By using 
VR technology to transport players and their friends to exciting locations for their online gambling experience, such as a famous casino in Las Vegas, or a smoky basement room in 1920s New York, or even to the poker table in the James Bond film Casino Royale, mobile and online casinos may stand a better chance of drawing in younger audiences if they use VR to gamify the casino experience”.

Again, this makes a lot of sense to me and I wouldn’t bet against this happening. Swaddle thinks that such VR gambling experiences will become commonplace in the years to come and that the gambling industry needs to get on the VR bandwagon now. 

Perhaps of most psychological concern is the use of VR in video gaming. There is a small minority of players out there who are already experiencing genuine addictions to online gaming. VR takes immersive gaming to the next level, and for those that use games as a method of coping and escape from the problems they have in the real world it’s not hard to see how a minority of individuals will prefer to spend a significant amount of their waking time in VR environments rather than their real life.

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

Further reading

Ashcroft, S. (2015). VR revenue to hit $21.8 billion by 2020. Wareable, July 29. Located at: http://www.wareable.com/vr/vr-revenues-could-reach-dollar-218-billion-by-2020-1451

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

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Gambling on the internet: A brief note. Journal of Gambling Studies, 12, 471-474.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet gambling: Issues, concerns and recommendations. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 557-568.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Griffiths, M.D., Király, O., M. Pontes, H.M. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). An overview of problematic gaming. In Starcevic, V. & Aboujaoude, E. (Eds.), Mental Health in the Digital Age: Grave Dangers, Great Promise (pp.27-55). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Juniper Research (2016). White paper: The rise of virtual reality. Available from: http://www.juniperresearch.com/document-library/white-papers/the-rise-of-virtual-reality

Király, O., Nagygyörgy, K., Koronczai, B., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Assessment of problematic internet use and online video gaming. An overview of problematic gaming. In Starcevic, V. & Aboujaoude, E. (Eds.), Mental Health in the Digital Age: Grave Dangers, Great Promise (pp.46-68). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stables, J. (2016).  Gambling, gaming and porn: Research says VR is set to blast off. Wareable, September 15. Located at: http://www.wareable.com/vr/gaming-gambling-and-porn-research-says-vr-is-set-to-blast-off-1682

Swaddle, P. (2016). Is virtual reality the future of mobile and online gambling? Gambling Insider, 23, June 3, p.9

Sung, D. (2015). VR and vice: Are we heading for mass addiction to virtual reality fantasies? Wareable, October 15. Located at: http://www.wareable.com/vr/vr-and-vice-9232

Tractica (2015). Virtual reality for consumer markets. Available at: https://www.tractica.com/research/virtual-reality-for-consumer-markets/

Stars in their eyes: Another look at Celebrity Worship Syndrome

Last week I did a number of media interviews about Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS) including the Metro newspaper (‘From Beyonce to Elvis, here’s the ugly truth about why we worship celebrities’) and the International Business Times (‘Crazy about Kylie Jenner? Professor of Behavioural Addiction explains celebrity obsession’). I also wrote an article for the Huffington Post. The ‘hook’ for all these stories was the DVD release of the film Kill The King (also known by the title Shangri La Suite) which tells the story of two 20-year old damaged lovers – Jack and Karen (played by Luke Grimes and Emily Browning) – who head to Los Angeles to kill rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley in the summer of 1974. While Jack’s obsession with Elvis is somewhat extreme, over the last two decades there has been an increasing amount of research into CWS.

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CWS has been described as an obsessiveaddictive disorder where an individual becomes overly involved and interested (in short, completely obsessed) with the details of the personal life of a celebrity. Any person who is ‘in the public eye’ can be the object of a person’s obsession (e.g., authors, politicians, journalists), but research and criminal prosecutions suggest they are more likely to be someone from the world of television, film and/or pop music. Research suggests that CWS exists and that according to Dr. John Maltby and his colleagues (see ‘Further reading’ below) there are three independent dimensions of celebrity worship. These are on a continuum and named (i) entertainment-social, (ii) intense-personal, and (iii) borderline pathological.

  • The entertainment-social dimension relates to attitudes where individuals are attracted to a celebrity because of their perceived ability to entertain and to become a social focus of conversation with likeminded others.
  • The intense-personal dimension relates to individuals that have intensive and compulsive feelings about a celebrity.
  • The borderline-pathological dimension relates to individuals who display uncontrollable behaviours and fantasies relating to a celebrity.

Among adults, their research has shown that there is a correlation between the pathological aspects of CWS and poor mental health such as high anxiety, more depression, high stress levels, increased illness, and poorer body image. Among teenage females there is a relationship between intense-personal celebrity worship and body image (basically, teenage girls who identify with celebrities have much poorer body image compared to other groups). In addition, most celebrity-obsessed individuals often suffer high levels of dissociation and fantasy-proneness. Maltby’s research suggests about 1% of his participants have obsessional tendencies towards celebrities.

Research has also shown that worshipping celebrities can have both positive and negative consequences. People who worship celebrities for entertainment and social reasons have been found to be more optimistic, outgoing, and happy. Those who worship celebrities for personal reasons have been found to be more obsessive, more depressed, more anxious, more solitary, more impulsive, more anti-social and more troublesome. My own thoughts on CWS and celebrity culture are provided below and are from the interviews I did with the Metro and the International Business Times (IBT).

IBT: In a world filled with Kardashians, social media and vast consumerism, why do you think people are more obsessed with celebrities than ever?

MG: The first thing I would say is that most people are not obsessed with celebrities but there are probably a lot more people who are obsessed compared to a couple of decades ago (although this is speculation on my part as no research has ever examined the prevalence of celebrity obsession among a nationally representative sample). One study did estimate about 1% of their sample being obsessed with celebrities but there is no comparative study prior to that. However, I do think that the numbers of people who have celebrity obsessions has increased over the last 20 years and much of this is most likely due to the rise of celebrities using social media (and the fact that celebrities can now interact – if they want – hour by hour with their fan base) and the increase in general media coverage surrounding celebrity and celebrity lives (including a large increase in reality TV starring celebrities and an increase in the number of celebrity gossip magazines). These types of media and social media can give rise to what we psychologists call parasocial relationships. With respect to celebrities, parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships, where fans express interest, time, money, and/or emotion in and/or on the celebrity (while the celebrity is totally unaware of the fan in any singular or specific sense).

IBT: Do you know what happens in the mind when we form an obsession or infatuation with some things? 

MG: Celebrity infatuations are nothing to particularly worry about because they tend to be intense but relatively short-lived admiration for the person. Celebrity obsessions can be of a lot more concern. At their simplest level, a celebrity obsession is when someone constantly thinks about a particular celebrity in a way that most people would describe as abnormal. This can be to the point where the obsession conflicts with most other things in the individual’s life including job or education, other relationships, and other hobbies. A person’s whole life can revolve around the celebrity and such individuals can end up spending way beyond their disposable income by buying their merchandise (CDs, DVDs, books, perfumes, clothing lines, etc.) and/or seeing them live on stage (singing, acting, etc.). There is no single explanation as to why someone might develop a celebrity obsession but many appear to start with a sexual attraction to the celebrity in question and have fantasies of what they would do if they met the object of their desire. Research has shown that there is a correlation between the pathological aspects of celebrity worship and poor mental health such as high anxiety, more depression, high stress levels, increased illness, and poorer body image. Among teenage females there is a relationship between intense-personal celebrity worship and body image (basically, teenage girls who identify with celebrities have much poorer body image compared to other groups). In addition, most celebrity-obsessed individuals often suffer high levels of dissociation and fantasy-proneness.

IBT: What does it have to take about a ‘celebrity’ for people to become obsessed?

MG: At a micro-level, any person who is ‘in the public eye’ can be the object of a person’s obsession (e.g., authors, politicians, journalists), but research and criminal prosecutions suggest they are more likely to be someone from the world of television, film and/or pop music. This is most likely because such celebrities tend to be more popular and have bigger followings in the public eye in media and on social media. At a micro-level, we are all individuals it could be something very idiosyncratic but given that the little research carried out tends to report that celebrity worshippers are sexually attracted to their celebrity of choice, then being good looking (at least in the eyes of the beholder) appears to be a common denominator.

IBT: How do you think today’s modern obsession with celebrity influenced and resounded throughout Kill the King?

MG: One of Jack’s reasons for being sent to a rehab centre – in addition to a drug addiction problem – is because of his “increasingly abnormal obsession” with Elvis Presley. While Jack’s obsession with Elvis is somewhat extreme and arguably a type of ‘Celebrity Worship Syndrome’, his character doesn’t seem to overlap too much with modern day celebrity worshippers. Jack’s character is more akin to celebrity stalkers or celebrity assassins (like John Lennon’s killer Mark Chapman) than the archetypal young female totally obsessed and besotted with their favourite pop star or actor. Given that Kill The King was set in 1974 and celebrity obsession (and Celebrity Worship Syndrome) is a more modern day phenomenon, I wouldn’t have expected that much overlap anyway.

Metro: Should we be worried about this kind of social media ‘bond’, seeing as icons like John Lennon were assassinated by fans who became obsessed with them?

MG: The chances of those things happening are few and far between. If someone is absolutely hooked on the idea of killing a celebrity, they’ll go and do it. I don’t think it’s to do with the rise of the mass media or anything like that. Most research says fandom is actually good for people. It gives them a hobby. Fans talk to other fans. It brings us together, and it can be life-affirming. I’m a massive, massive David Bowie fan. I’m a record collector, too and I’m probably more on the obsessive side than most people. But I don’t think I’m a worse person for that.

Metro: So what’s the difference between you and someone who spends thousands and thousands of pounds on plastic surgery to look more like their idol?

MG: Those are the real extreme cases. The good news is that recent research has shown that less than one per cent of people are really unhealthily obsessed with stars. And of those people, most are not going to do things that have negative effects on their life. In my opinion, the difference between a healthy enthusiasm and an unhealthy obsession is that enthusiasm adds to life, and addictions or obsessions take away from it. For most people, even those who have a compulsive element to their fandom like myself, it doesn’t have a negative effect on their quality of life. It’s probably better to buy records and memorabilia than designer handbags. Sometimes it’s not just about money, it’s about the time you spend as well. For one person, an obsession can be fine, and for another it can be very problematic. If a fan works in Tesco and they’re following their hero around the country, watching them night after night on tour and buying merchandise, they just don’t have the disposable income to do it. I could do that, thanks to my salary, but I can’t afford the time.

Metro: Is there a link between someone’s social background and their preference for celebrity culture?

MG: I don’t know the scientific link there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the lower the socio-economic class you’re in the more likely you are to be involved and like celebrity culture. ‘Gogglebox’ stars, for instance. The middle class, well-to-do people like current affairs, news and politics and those who are less well-off are probably more interested in EastEnders and things like that.

Metro: Are there any psychological issues that lead to celebrity worship?

MG: Those with celebrity worship syndrome tend to have worse mental health. They’re more likely to be anxious, depressed, to have high stress levels, increased bouts of illness and a poor body image. But it’s a case of the chicken or the egg, because these people might self-medicate through these parasocial relationships with celebs they’ll never even meet. 

Metro: What are the effects of celebrity culture? Particularly for young people?

MG: We know that young people are not as engaged with politics. They just don’t trust politicians, and it’s linked to the rise of social media. Celebrities have more pull, and followers, than [British Prime Minister] Theresa May or [leader of the Labour Party] Jeremy Corbyn will ever have. I’m not in a position to say whether people should be more interested in X or Y. Certain things in life make people feel good. As humans we seek out things that get us high, aroused, excited –  or we seek out things which tranquilise and numb us. Celebrities tend to give us a thrill. 

Metro: Are celebrities vulnerable themselves?

MG: I certainly wouldn’t like to be in a position where cameras are waiting outside my house. Stardom can bring positive things, but also a lot of unexpected negatives too. We have to remember at the end of the day that celebrities are just human beings, with all the same emotional foibles and weaknesses we have – and sometimes they’re magnified times a hundred because of the pressure and stress of the spotlight. And the internet, too. It’s no wonder some of them fall prey to serious addictions. 

Metro: People like Amy Winehouse? She’s the most recent example I can think of.

MG: Before she died, Amy Winehouse had got to that stage where she was very famous, and she was earning a lot of money. And that meant she was surrounded by sycophants and ‘yes’ people. Those kinds of people say things they think you want to hear, and they’re not necessarily looking out for you. Amy was surrounded by people thinking about their own wages and careers. No, it’s not a surprise when these things happen, and people could see it coming. Like with Kurt Cobain’s death. Amy didn’t get the help she needed. We can say that in hindsight.’

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

Further reading

BBC News (2003). Worshipping celebrities ‘brings success. August 13. Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3147343.stm

Chapman, J. (2003). Do you worship the celebs? Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-176598/Do-worship-celebs.html

Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Does ‘Celebrity Worship Syndrome’ really exist? Huffington Post, November 18. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-mark-griffiths/does-celebrity-worship-sy_b_13012170.html

McCutcheon, L.E., Lange, R., & Houran, J. (2002). Conceptualization and measurement of celebrity worship. British Journal of Psychology, 93, 67-87.

Maltby, J., Houran, M.A., & McCutcheon, L.E. (2003). A Clinical Interpretation of Attitudes and Behaviors Associated with Celebrity Worship. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 191, 25-29.

Maltby, J., Houran, J., Ashe, D., & McCutcheon, L.E. (2001). The self-reported psychological well-being of celebrity worshippers. North American Journal of Psychology, 3, 441-452.

Maltby, J., Day, L., McCutcheon, L.E., Gillett, R., Houran, J., & Ashe, D. (2004). Celebrity Worship using an adaptational-continuum model of personality and coping. British Journal of Psychology. 95, 411-428.

Maltby, J., Giles, D., Barber, L. & McCutcheon, L.E. (2005). Intense-personal Celebrity Worship and Body Image: Evidence of a link among female adolescents. British Journal of Health Psychology, 10, 17-32.

Maltby, J., Day, L., McCutcheon, L.E,. Gilett, R., Houran, J. & Ashe, D.D. (2004), ‘Personality and Coping: A Context for Examining Celebrity Worship and Mental Health. British Journal of Psychology, 95, 411-428.

Maltby, J., Day, L., McCutcheon, L.E., Houran, J. & Ashe, D. (2006). Extreme celebrity worship, fantasy proneness and dissociation: Developing the measurement and understanding of celebrity worship within a clinical personality context. Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 273-283.

Wikipedia (2012). Celebrity Worship Syndrome. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celebrity_Worship_Syndrome

More cock tales: A brief look at genital drug injection

The idea for this blog was initiated when I read a snippet in The Fortean Times about a 34-year old man from New York who injected cocaine into his penis and ended up with gangrene and further medical complications. It turns out that this report was based on a letter published in a 1988 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association by Drs. John Mahler, Samuel Perry and Bruce Sutton (and subsequently reported in a June 1988 issue of the New York Times).

The man in question came in for medical treatment following three days of priapism (i.e., prolonged and painful penile erection) and paraphimosis (i.e., foreskin in uncircumcised males can no longer be pulled over the tip of the penis). To enhance his sexual performance, he had administered cocaine directly into his urethra. After three days, both the priapism and the paraphimosis “spontaneously resolved”. However, the blood that had caused the priapism then leaked to other areas of his body over the next 12 hours (including his feet, hands, genitals, chest, and back). To stop the spread of gangrene, the medics had to partially amputate both of his legs (above the knee), and nine of his fingers. Following this, his penis also developed gangrene and fell off by itself while he was taking a bath. The exact reason for the spread of gangrene was unknown but sexologists (such as Professor John Money) speculated that it may have been because of impure cocaine being used.

images

When I started to search for medical literature on the topic of injecting drugs directly into male genitalia I was surprised to find quite a few papers on the topic (but unsurprisingly all case study reports given the rarity of such behaviour). One of the earliest I located was one from 1986 in the Journal of Urology by Dr. W. Somers and Dr. F. Lowe. They reported the cases of four heroin abusers with localized gangrene of the genitalia, although only one of these had actually injected heroin directly into his genitalia, in this case his scrotum and perineum (the area between the anus and the scrotum). This latter case developed more severe gangrene and was described as a “more lethal entity” than the gangrene in the other three heroin users’ genitalia.

Later, in a 1999 issue of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, Dr. Charles Winek and his colleagues reported the rare case of a fatality due to a male injecting heroin directly into his penis. The cause of death was determined to be due to heroin and ethanol intoxication. More recently, in a 2005 issue of the Medical Journal of the Iranian Red Crescent, Dr. Z. Ahmadinezhad and his colleagues reported a case of heroin-associated priapism. In their paper, they reported the case of a 32-year old man who was admitted to hospital following pain and swelling after injecting heroin into his penis two weeks earlier. Unfortunately, the person left the hospital following initial consultation and never came back so the outcome of the treatment provided is unknown.

In a 2011 issue of the Internet Journal of Surgery, Dr. I. Malek and colleagues reported the case of a 35-year old long-term intra-venous drug user who injected citric acid laced with heroin into the dorsal vein of his penis. This caused worsening pain and his penis developed gangrene. Over the (non-operative) treatment period, the man’s pain became worse and he had trouble urinating (so he was catheterised). Eventually, the treatment with antibiotics led to a good recovery at three-month follow-up.

Another unusual case was reported by Dr. Francois Brecheteau and his colleagues in a 2013 issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine. They reported the successful treatment of a 26-year old male drug addict who had injected the opiate drug buprenorphine directly into the dorsal vein of his penis. After unsuccessful antibiotic treatment on its own, they then used a number of simultaneous treatments including heparin, anti-platelet drugs, antibiotics, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the man made a successful recovery.

Returning to cocaine rather than opiates, a case report by Dr. V. B. Mouraviev and his colleagues in a 2002 issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Urology and Nephrology reported the case of a 31-year-old Canadian man who had injected cocaine directly into his penis. He turned up at the emergency having endured penile pain for 22 hours following the injection. Twelve hours after injecting the cocaine, the man noticed swelling and bruising starting to appear on the right side of his penis where he had made the injection. As a consequence, his penis developed gangrene (localized death and decomposition of body tissue, resulting from obstructed circulation or bacterial infection”) most probably from bacterial infection via the injection. He had to undergo reconstructive skin graft surgery and was given antibiotics. In this particular case, the treatment was successful. Other similar reports of medical complications (usually gangrene) following the injection of cocaine into the penis have since appeared in a number of papers including a 2013 paper by Dr. Fahd Khan and colleagues in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Cocaine and heroin aren’t the only recreational drugs to have been injected into male genitalia. A paper in a 2014 issue of Urology Case Reports by Dr. Cindy Garcia and her colleagues reported the case of a 45-year-old male intravenous drug user who developed an abscess after he injected amphetamine into his penis. The man chose a penile vein after being unable to find any other suitable peripheral vein. He was treated with intravenous antibiotics and had to have his abscess drained via a penile incision. Within a month he had been all but successfully treated. In their paper (which also included a review of the literature on penile abscesses), they concluded that:

Penile abscesses are an uncommon condition. There are multiple aetiologies of penile abscesses, including penile injection, penile trauma, and disseminated infection. Penile abscesses might also occur in the absence of an underlying cause. The treatment of penile abscesses should depend on the extent of infection and the cause of the abscess. Most cases of penile abscess necessitate surgical debridement [removal of dead or infected tissue]”.

Similarly, in a 2015 issue of Case Reports in Urology, Dr. Thomas W. Gaither and his colleagues reported two cases of men who had injected metamphetamine into their penis. The first case was a 47-year-old gay man who had a history of “methamphetamine use, prior penile abscesses, urethral foreign body insertions, HIV, hepatitis C, and diabetes mellitus”. He attended the hospital emergency department suffering from severe penile pain and scrotal swelling having injected methamphetamine into the shaft of his penis a few days before. On the same day that he went to the emergency department he was immediately taken into the operating room where an incision was made in his penis, and the abscess was drained of its “purulent foul-smelling fluid” and washed out with saline solution. The second case was a 33-year-old heterosexual male with no previous medical history (apart from a history of depression) turned up at the hospital emergency department with acute penile pain, a day after he had injected methamphetamine directly into his penis. Again, he was immediately taken to the operating room where his penile abscess was drained after an incision. Neither of the cases involved any penile gangrene and both men were also given antibiotics to treat the infected area. In both cases, the authors speculated that the abscesses formed as a result of direct contamination from repeated penile injections.

Finally, Dr. Lucas Prado and his colleagues reported a case study in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Andrology of a 31-year-old man who was admitted to the emergency department after he had injected 10ml of methadone into his penis in an attempt to commit suicide (the first case of penile methadone injection). The man had a 15-year history of drug abuse over the past year and had attempted a drug-related suicide three times. This particular suicide attempt led to acute liver and renal failure as well as erectile dysfunction. Although the man survived, ten months after the suicide attempt, the man still had complete erectile dysfunction.

Although I didn’t do a systematic review of all the literature, it is clear that the injection of recreational drugs directly into male genitalia appears to be relatively rare although all the literature I located was based on those who end up seeking treatment for when things go horribly wrong. There could of course be many hundreds or thousands of people out there that have engaged in such practices but don’t end up in a hospital emergency ward. However, I certainly wouldn’t recommend such a practice to anyone.

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

Further reading

Ahmadinezhad, Z., Jabbari, B.H., Saberi, H., Khaledi, F., & Safavi, F. (2005). Heroin associated priapism. Medical Journal of the Iranian Red Crescent, 7(3), 67-68.

Brecheteau, F., Grison, P., Abraham, P., Lebdai, S., Kemgang, S., Souday, V., … & Bigot, P. (2013). Successful medical treatment of glans ischemia after voluntary buprenorphine injection. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10(11), 2866-2870.

Cunningham, D.L., & Persky, L. (1989). Penile ecthyma gangrenosum: Complication of drug addiction. Urology, 34(2), 109-110.

Gaither, T.W., Osterberg, E.C., Awad, M. A., & Breyer, B.N. (2015). Surgical intervention for penile methamphetamine injections. Case Reports in Urology, 467683, doi.org/10.1155/2015/467683

Garcia, C., Winter, M., Chalasani, V., & Dean, T. (2014). Penile abscess: a case report and review of literature. Urology Case Reports, 2(1), 17-19.

Khan, F., Mukhtar, S., Anjum, F., Tripathi, B., Sriprasad, S., Dickinson, I. K., & Madaan, S. (2013). Fournier’s gangrene associated with intradermal injection of cocaine. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10(4), 1184-1186.

Malek, I., Parmar, C., McCabe, J., & Irwin, P. (2011). Successful non-operative management of penile wet gangrene following self-injection of heroin in dorsal vein of penis. Internet Journal of Surgery, 11(1), 1-3.

Mireku-Boateng, A.O., & Tasie, B. (2001). Priapism associated with intracavernosal injection of cocaine. Urologia Internationalis, 67(1), 109-110.

Mouraviev, V. B., Pautler, S. E., & Hayman, W. P. (2002). Fournier’s gangrene following penile self-injection with cocaine. Scandinavian Journal of Urology and Nephrology, 36(4), 317-318.

Munarriz, R., Hwang, J., Goldstein, I., Traish, A.M., & Kim, N.N. (2003). Cocaine and ephedrine-induced priapism: case reports and investigation of potential adrenergic mechanisms. Urology, 62(1), 187-192.

Prado, L. G., Huber, J., Huber, C. G., Mogler, C., Ehrenheim, J., Nyarangi‐Dix, J., … & Hohenfellner, M. (2012). Penile methadone injection in suicidal intent: Life‐threatening and fatal for erectile function. Journal of Andrology, 33(5), 801-804.

Singh, V., Sinha, R. J., & Sankhwar, S. N. (2011). Penile gangrene: A devastating and lethal entity. Saudi Journal of Kidney Diseases and Transplantation, 22(2), 359.

Somers, W.J., & Lowe, F.C. (1986). Localized gangrene of the scrotum and penis: A complication of heroin injection into the femoral vessels. Journal of Urology, 136, 111-113.

Winek, C. L., Wahba, W. W., & Rozin, L. (1999). Heroin fatality due to penile injection. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 20(1), 90-92.

Specific limb: A brief look at ‘restless legs syndrome’

Those that know me well often comment that I have a general inability to sit still and that I am a ‘fidget’. (This is not necessarily a bad thing and in fact there are some positives to fidgeting that I outlined in a previous blog on bad behaviours that are sometimes good for you). There is certainly some truth to the observation that I fidget but sometimes the fidgeting is out of my control. Every few weeks my right lower leg appears to take on a life of its own and I will get strange (uncomfortable) sensations (such as tingling, itching, and aching, and occasionally cramp-like feelings) that force me to move my right leg and foot around. It only happens when I am in a resting and relaxing state and usually lasts about 30 minutes (but can occasionally last much longer). On occasions it disrupts my work and sleep but I find that just getting up and moving around is sometimes enough to alleviate the uncomfortable feelings.

unknown

A few years ago I Googled my ‘symptoms’ and was surprised to find that I am not the only person who appears to experience such effects and that there is a whole medical literature on what has been termed ‘restless legs syndrome’ although in my case it would be in a singular rather than plural form). I’ve had the condition for about 15 years now and it may be related to some of the medication I take for an unrelated chronic degenerative health condition that I have. According to the Wikipedia entry on restless legs syndrome (RLS):

“The first known medical description of RLS was by Sir Thomas Willis in 1672. Willis emphasized the sleep disruption and limb movements experienced by people with RLS…The term ‘fidgets in the legs’ has also been used as early as the early nineteenth century. Subsequently, other descriptions of RLS were published, including those by Francois Boissier de Sauvages (1763), Magnus Huss (1849), Theodur Wittmaack (1861), George Miller Beard (1880), Georges Gilles de la Tourette (1898), Hermann Oppenheim (1923) and Frederick Gerard Allison (1943). However, it was not until almost three centuries after Willis, in 1945, that Karl-Axel Ekbom (1907–1977) provided a detailed and comprehensive report of this condition in his doctoral thesis, Restless legs: clinical study of hitherto overlooked disease. Ekbom coined the term “restless legs” and continued work on this disorder throughout his career. He described the essential diagnostic symptoms, differential diagnosis from other conditions, prevalence, relation to anemia, and common occurrence during pregnancy. Ekbom’s work was largely ignored until it was rediscovered by Arthur S. Walters and Wayne A. Hening in the 1980s. Subsequent landmark publications include 1995 and 2003 papers, which revised and updated the diagnostic criteria”.

As well as being referred to as RLS, it is sometimes referred to as Willis-Ekbom Disease or Willis-Ekbom Syndrome. Since being ‘rediscovered’ in the 1980s, there have been a lot of scientific papers published on the phenomenon although many of these are medical case studies (I don’t think my own experiences are extreme enough or strong enough to appear in any medical textbook. The Wikipedia entry on RLS provides a good summary of what is known medically and empirically:

“Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder that causes a strong urge to move one’s legs. There is often an unpleasant feeling in the legs that improves somewhat with moving them. Occasionally the arms may also be affected. The feelings generally happen when at rest and therefore can make it hard to sleep. Due to the disturbance in sleep, people with RLS may have daytime sleepiness, low energy, irritability, and a depressed mood. Additionally, many have limb twitching during sleep. Risk factors for RLS include low iron levels, kidney failure, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and pregnancy. A number of medications may also trigger the disorder including antidepressants, antipsychotics, antihistamines, and calcium channel blockers. There are two main types. One is early onset RLS which starts before age 45 [years], runs in families and worsens over time. The other is late onset RLS which begins after age 45 [years], starts suddenly, and does not worsen. Diagnosis is generally based on a person’s symptoms after ruling out other potential causes… Females are more commonly affected than males and it becomes more common with age…Some doctors express the view that the incidence of restless leg syndrome is exaggerated by manufacturers of drugs used to treat it. Others believe it is an under-recognized and undertreated disorder…An association has been observed between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and RLS or periodic limb movement disorder. Both conditions appear to have links to dysfunctions related to the neurotransmitter dopamine, and common medications for both conditions among other systems, affect dopamine levels in the brain”.

According to a review by Dr. Richard Allen and Dr. Christopher Earley in the Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology, RLS affects 2.5-15% of the US population. In another review on sleep disorder in the journal American Family Physician, Dr. Kannan Ramar and Dr. Eric Olson reported that RLS is typically characterized by four essential features: These are:

“(1) the intense urge to move the legs, usually accompanied or caused by uncomfortable sensations (e.g., “creepy crawly,” aching) in the legs; (2) symptoms that begin or worsen during periods of rest or inactivity; (3) symptoms that are partially or totally relieved by movements such as walking or stretching; and (4) symptoms that are worse or only occur in the evening or at night”.

Various online articles and papers report a variety of potential treatments based on the notion that RLS might be caused by a dopamine imbalance in the body. Some medics advise a regular sleep routine (such as that advised for those with insomnia), and cutting out the drinking of alcohol and the smoking of cigarettes. Pharmacological treatments include the use of drugs that are also used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease such as L-DOPA and pramipexole, and the use of magnesium sulphate therapy (as reported in a 2006 paper in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine – magnesium is known to be a natural muscle relaxant). In a 2011 issue of the journal Sleep Medicine, In an online article about RLS, Dr Michael Platt, author of the 2014 book Adrenalin Dominance, claims that RLS sufferers can be treated using a progesterone cream:

“Excess adrenalin during the night can cause restless leg syndrome. People often have associated symptoms also resulting from elevated adrenalin, such as teeth grinding, the need to urinate, and tossing and turning, and they often awaken in the morning with low back pain. Characteristically, RLS patients have an excess of adrenaline, may toss and turn all night, be quick to anger, might be workaholics, will usually have fibromyalgia (aches and pains – low back, side of the hips, and grind their teeth), they might drink too much, and will be hypoglycemic (sleepy between 3-4 p.m. or when in a car), and so on. There is an associated over-production of insulin and an under-production of progesterone…[By using a progesterone cream] I have had 100% success with eliminating RLS by getting hormones into balance, often within the first week. Patients feel more relaxed, they can sleep at night, rage disappears, and they can focus more easily”.

Dr. Luis Marin and his colleagues reported a different treatment for RLS altogether. They reported the case of a 41-year-old male RLS sufferer who after being on medication for RLS discovered his own solution – having sex. Following sex, the man reported that all RLS symptoms would disappear. Marin and colleagues speculated that the release of dopamine following orgasm might alleviate RLS symptoms. This appears to be a reasonable speculation given the findings of research published in the Journal of Neuroscience by Dr. Gert Holstege and his colleagues who examined brain activation at the point of ejaculation. In their paper they reported the similarity between ejaculation and using heroin in terms of brain activation:

“We used positron emission tomography to measure increases in regional cerebral blood flow during ejaculation compared with sexual stimulation in heterosexual male volunteers. Manual penile stimulation was performed by the volunteer’s female partner. Primary activation was found in the mesodiencephalic transition zone, including the ventral tegmental area, which is involved in a wide variety of rewarding behaviors. Parallels are drawn between ejaculation and heroin rush”.

It could well be that the increase in dopamine following ejaculation acts in a similar way to the medications that are given to RLS sufferers. Of all the treatments for RLS that I have read about, I think I know which one I would prefer!

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

Further reading

Allen, R.P., & Earley, C.J. (2001). Restless legs syndrome: A review of clinical and pathophysiologic features. Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology, 18(2), 128-147.

Bartell S1, Zallek S. Intravenous magnesium sulfate may relieve restless legs syndrome in pregnancy. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 15, 187-188.

Chaudhuri, K.R., Appiah-Kubi, L.S., & Trenkwalder, C. (2001). Restless legs syndrome. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 71(2), 143-146.

Ekbom, K., & Ulfberg, J. (2009). Restless legs syndrome. Journal of Internal Medicine, 266(5), 419-431.

Holstege, G., Georgiadis, J. R., Paans, A. M., Meiners, L. C., van der Graaf, F. H., & Reinders, A. S. (2003). Brain activation during human male ejaculation. Journal of Neuroscience, 23(27), 9185-9193

Leschziner, G., & Gringras, P. (2012). Restless legs syndrome. British Medical Journal, 344, e3056.

Marin, L.F., Felicio, A.C., & Prado, G.F. (2011). Sexual intercourse and masturbation: Potential relief factors for restless legs syndrome? Sleep Medicine, 12(4), 422.

Ondo, W. G. (2009). Restless legs syndrome. Neurologic Clinics, 27(3), 779-799.

Ramar, K; Olson, EJ (Aug 15, 2013). Management of common sleep disorders. American Family Physician, 88, 231–238.

Satija, P., & Ondo, W. G. (2008). Restless legs syndrome. CNS Drugs, 22(6), 497-518.

Stitches brew: A brief look at self-harm lip sewing

In previous blogs I have examined both self-harming behaviour (such as cutting off one’s own genitals, removing one’s own eye, removing one’s own ear, self-asphyxial risk taking in adolescence, and religious self-flagellation) and extreme body modification. One area where these two areas intersect is lip sewing. According to the Wikipedia entry on lip sewing:

“Lip sewing or mouth sewing, the operation of stitching together human lips, is a form of body modification. It may be carried out for aesthetic or religious reasons; as a play piercing practice; or as a form of protest. Sutures are often used to stitch the lips together, though sometimes piercings are made with needle blades or cannulas and monofilament is threaded through the holes. There is usually a fair amount of swelling, but permanent scarring is rare. Lip sewing may be done for aesthetic reasons, or to aid meditation by helping the mind to focus by removing the temptation to speak. BMEzine, an online magazine for body modification culture, published an article about a 23-year-old film student Inza, whose quest for body modifications was very varied. She spoke about her experiences with lip sewing as a form of play piercing”.

My reason for writing this blog was prompted by a case study published by Dr. Safak Taktak and his colleagues in the journal Health Care Current Reviews. (I ought to add that I have read a number of papers by Taktak and his colleagues as they have reported some interesting other interesting case studies including those on shoe fetishism, semen fetishism, and fetishes more generally – see ‘Further reading’ below). In this particular paper, they reported the case of a male prisoner who had continually sewed his lips together. Although they were aware of cases of sewing lips together as a form of protest, they claimed that there had never been any case reported in the medical literature.

lip-sewing

The case report involved a male 37-year old Turkish (imprisoned) farmer, father of two children, with only basic education. After sewing his lips together, the man was brought into the hospital by the police, along with a handwritten note that read: “My jinns imposed speech ban to me and they made me sew my lips unwillingly. Otherwise, they threaten me with my children. I want to meet a psychiatrist urgently”. (Jinns I later learned are – in Arabian and Muslim mythology – intelligent spirits of lower rank than the angels, able to appear in human and animal forms and are able to possess humans). Not only were his lips sown together with black thread but he had also sewn both of his ears to the side of his head (these are also photographed in the paper and you can download the report free from here). This was actually the fourth time the man had sewed his lips together (but the first that he had sewn his ears). Each time, the doctors took out the stitches and dressed the wounds. The authors examined previous documentation about the man and reported that the man had been in prison for four years after injuring someone (no details were provided) and had been diagnosed with both anxiety disorder and anti-social personality disorder. On a prison ward comprising ten other prisoners, he had attempted suicide when trying to hang himself (in fact, you can clearly see the marks on his neck in the paper’s photographs). The authors reported that:

[The man] had blunted affect. He wasn’t able to stay in the [prison] ward because of the directive voices in his head. He declared he needed to stay in the ward alone. He heard all the words as swearing and he was punished by some people as well as some entities. He also said that some jinns in the form of animals threatened him not to speak and listen to anyone; otherwise they were going to kill his kids. He wanted to protect his children [and] he stitched his lips not to speak anyone and stitched his ears not to hear anyone. In his family history, he stated that his uncle committed suicide by hanging himself and saying ‘the birds are calling me’; his father was schizophrenia-diagnosed”.

The authors then reported:

“The patient stated that he sewed his lips with any colour of thread he could find. He had approximately fifteen pinholes on his upper and lower lips. He tended to suicide with directive auditory and visual hallucination (sic) and reference paranoid delirium. As he was imprisoned, he wasn’t able to use drugs. The patient who was thought to have a psychotic disorder was injected [with] 10 mg haloperidol intramuscularly and he was sent to a safe psychiatry hospital”.

As I have noted in my previous blogs on self-harming behaviour (and as noted in this particular paper), there are many different definitions of what constitutes self-destructive behaviour. This particular case was said to be suited to the psychotic behaviours characterised by Dr. Armando Favazza’s three self-destructive behaviours (i.e., compulsive, typical, and psychotic) outlined in his 1992 paper ‘Repetitive self-mutilation’ (published in the journal Psychiatry Annals). In their discussion of the case, the authors noted:

“The cases like sewing one’s own lips which we observe as a different type of destructing oneself in our case are mostly regarded as intercultural expression of feelings. The ones, who sew their lips in order to protest something, show their reactions by blocking the nutrition intake organ to the ones who want to continue their superiority. It can be expected in psychotic cases that the patients or his beloved ones might be harmed, damaged or affected emotionally. Thus, the patient who is furious and anxious might react by [attempting] violence as a reaction to these repetitive threats. Auditory hallucinations giving orders can cause the aggressive behaviours to start…In our psychotic case, this kind of behaviour is a way to prevent the voices coming from his inner world, not to answer them and hence making passive defending to world which he does not want to interact. By this means, he may harmonise with the secret natural powers which affect him and he may protect himself his children…[also] there can be a relief through sewing lips and ears or strangulation against the oppression created by the person not being able to adapt the prison…It should not be forgotten that the prison is a stressful environment and stressful living [increases] the disposition to psychopathologic behaviour that the living difficulties in prisons can affect the way of thinking and the capacity of coping and it may cause different psychiatric incidences”.

As noted at the start of this article, lip sewing is typically attributed to religious reasons, reasons of protest or aesthetic reasons. In this particular case, none of these reasons was apparent (and therefore notable – in the medical and psychiatric literature at the very least). The addition of sewing his ears appears to be even more rare, and thus warrants further research.

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

Further reading

Favazza, A.R. (1992). Repetitive self-mutilation. Psychiatric Annals, 22(2), 60-63.

Taktak, S., Ersoy, S., Ünsal, A., & Yetkiner, M. (2014). The man who sewed his mouth and ears: A case report. Health Care Current Reviews, 2(121), 2.

Taktak, S., Karakus, M., & Eke, S. M. (2015). The man whose fetish object is ejaculate: A case report. Journal of Psychiatry, 18(276), 2.

Taktak, S., Karakuş, M., Kaplan, A., & Eke, S. M. (2015). Shoe fetishism and kleptomania comorbidity: A case report. European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research, 2, 14-19.

Taktak, S., Yılmaz, E., Karamustafalıoglu, O., & Ünsal, A. (2016). Characteristics of paraphilics in Turkey: A retrospective study – 20years. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, in press.

Wikipedia (2016). Lip sewing. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lip_sewing