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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

Klos, K. J., Bower, J. H., Josephs, K. A., Matsumoto, J. Y., & Ahlskog, J. E. (2005). Pathological hypersexuality predominantly linked to adjuvant dopamine agonist therapy in Parkinson’s disease and multiple system atrophy. Parkinsonism and Related Disorders, 11, 381-386.

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

Nirenberg, M. J., & Waters, C. (2006). Compulsive eating and weight gain related to dopamine agonist use. Movement Disorders, 21, 524-529.

Pontone, G., Williams, J. R., Bassett, S. S., & Marsh, L. (2006). Clinical features associated with impulse control disorders in Parkinson disease. Neurology, 67, 1258-1261.

Voon, V., Hassan, K., Zurowski, M., De Souza, M., Thomsen, T., Fox, S.,…& Miyasaki, J. (2006). Prevalence of repetitive and reward-seeking behaviors in Parkinson disease. Neurology, 67, 1254-1257.

Scaling up: A brief look at the latest tool to assess addictive gaming

To date, there has been a lack of agreement among researchers as to the precise name and definition of video game addiction (both online and offline). However, there is a general consensus that excessive gaming can lead to a wide range of physical and psychological problems, and therefore necessary to explore the nature and the scale of the phenomenon. In doing so, it is important to use psychometrically validated measurement tools. Unfortunately, there is lack of these in the literature so far. Along with some colleagues (led by Dr. Daniel King), we recently published a paper examining all the instruments that have been used to assess problematic video gaming in the journal Clinical Psychology Review.

Our paper noted that pathological video-gaming, or its proposed DSM-V classification of “Internet Use Disorder”, is of increasing interest to scholars and practitioners in allied health disciplines. Our systematic review was designed to evaluate the standards in pathological video-gaming instrumentation and guidelines for sound psychometric assessment. We assessed a total of 63 quantitative studies, including eighteen instruments (representing 58,415 participants). Our findings indicated that the instruments were generally characterized as inconsistent. The strengths of available measures included: (i) short length and ease of scoring, (ii) excellent internal consistency and convergent validity, and (iii) potentially adequate data for development of standardized norms for adolescent populations. However, the key limitations included: (a) inconsistent coverage of core addiction indicators, (b) varying cut-off scores to indicate clinical status, (c) a lack of a temporal dimension, (d) untested or inconsistent dimensionality, and (e) inadequate data on predictive validity and inter-rater reliability. An emerging consensus suggested that pathological video-gaming is commonly defined by (1) withdrawal, (2) loss of control, and (3) conflict.

Most of the tools in current use have been modified from other questionnaires without their reliability and validity being tested. This includes those based on internet addiction (e.g., Kimberley Young’s Internet Addiction Test), pathological gambling (using the DSM–IV criteria), or behavioural addictions. An additional problem is that many of the measures focus exclusively on Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) users. In order to cover the whole range of online gamers, I recently helped co-develop an empirically based questionnaire consisting of 18 items called the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire (POGQ) that we published in the journal PLoS ONE.

In a recent 2011 study, some of my Hungarian colleagues (led by Dr. Koronczai) claimed in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking that a suitable measure should fit the following six criteria. It should have: (i) comprehensiveness (i.e., examining more, possibly all, aspects of problematic online gaming); (ii) brevity (in order to assess the more impulsive population as well and to facilitate incorporation into time-limited surveys); (iii) reliability and validity for different methods of data collection (e.g., online, paper-and-pencil self-rating, face-to-face); (iv) reliability and validity for different age groups (e.g., adolescents and adults); (v) cross-cultural reliability and validity; (vi) been validated on clinical samples. The measure should also serve as a basis for defining cutoff scores for dependence.

The POGQ is a short comprehensive measure and therefore fits to the first two requirements. It was also found to be a psychometrically adequate measure in a large convenience sample of adult online gamers. However, there is great need for a measure that is also suitable for survey type research in an offline data collection setting, and is reliable and valid for adolescents. Therefore, we modified the original POGQ to a 12-item version and applied it to an offline adolescent sample using pen-and-pencil data collection method (and published the findings in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking). This way both the third and the fourth points of the six criteria above were fulfilled.

The aim of or most recent study was twofold. The first goal was to explore the psychometric properties of the POGQ on a nationally representative adolescent sample as until recently it had only been used on adult gamer samples. The second goal was to assess the prevalence of problematic online gaming in a nationwide adolescent sample, as there have been only two nationally representative studies carried out on adolescents in the US and Germany.

The results of or study showed that the 12-item POGQ-SF had appropriate psychometric properties according to the statistical analysis performed on a nationally representative sample of adolescents. The analysis showed that 8.2% of gamers (4.6% of the whole sample) belonged to the at-risk group. We also found an additional 13.3% of adolescents (23.9% of gamers) showed symptoms of problematic online gaming above the average. Gamers belonging to the at-risk class were more likely to be male, more likely to play for five or more hours a day, have lower grade point average, have lower self-esteem, and higher depression score than gamers belonging to the other two classes. All these results are in line with findings of other studies confirming the validity of the measurement tool.

Despite the robustness of the study, an important limitation was that it was only carried out among Hungarian adolescents. For generalizability it must be applied and psychometrically tested on cross-cultural samples as well (see the aforementioned Criterion 5). It is also a future goal to confirm the POGQ on clinical samples (Criterion 6). This would allow all the six criteria requirements presented in the introduction to be met. The current POGQ is both short (Criterion 2) and comprehensive (Criterion 1), and assesses problematic online gaming in different age groups (Criterion 4) with different data collection methods (Criterion 3). We hope that the POGQ will facilitate future research and will serve as an adequate tool for assessing problematic online gaming.

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

Further reading

Demetrovics, Z., Urbán, R., Nagygyörgy, K., Farkas, J., Griffiths, M.D., Pápay, O. & Oláh, A. (2012). The development of the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire (POGQ). PLoS ONE, 7(5): e36417. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036417.

Gentile, D. (2009). Pathological video-game use among youth ages 8 to 18: A national study. Psychological Science, 20, 594-602.

Gentile, D.A., Choo, H., Liau, A., et al. (2011). Pathological video game use among youths: A two-year longitudinal study. Pediatrics, 127, E319-E329.

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

Koronczai, B., Urban, R., Kokonyei, G., et al. (2011). Confirmation of the three-factor model of problematic internet use on off-line adolescent and adult samples. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 14, 657–664.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in children and adolescents: A review of empirical reearch. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.

Pápay, O., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D., Nagygyörgy, K., Farkas, J. Kökönyei, G., Felvinczi, K., Oláh, A., Elekes, Z., Demetrovics, Z. (2013). Psychometric properties of the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire Short-Form (POGQ-SF) and prevalence of problematic online gaming in a national sample of adolescents. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0484.

Rehbein, F., Kleimann, M, & Mossle, T. (2010). Prevalence and risk factors of video game dependency in adolescence: results of a German nationwide survey. CyberPsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 13, 269–277.