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.
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
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.
In a previous blog I examined ‘medical fetishism’. One of the sub-types of medical fetishism comprises individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from being the recipients of a medical or clinical procedure (typically some kind of bodily examination). This includes genital and urological examinations (e.g., a gynaecological examination), genital procedures (e.g., fitting a catheter or menstrual cup), rectal procedures (e.g., inserting suppositories, taking a rectal temperature, prostate massage), the application of medical dressings and accessories (e.g., putting on a bandage or nappy, fitting a dental retainer, putting someone’s arm in plaster), and the application and fitting of medical devices (e.g., fitting a splint, orthopaedic cast or brace).
One type of medical fetish that I did not mention was that involving individuals that have ‘injection fetishes’. Obviously this fetish appears to be a very niche sexual behaviour within medical fetishism but there are various online forums and websites that cater for individuals who derive sexual pleasure from the giving or receiving of injections (or watching such acts). For instance, there is a dedicated forum within the Voy.com website where individuals share their injection stories, the Real Injection website (which features stories and clips from films and news stories where injections are administered), the Needing Needles page on Tumblr (which mainly consists of photographic pictures featuring hypodermic needles), The Injection Girls website (which doesn’t appear to be overtly sexual but would be highly arousing for those with an injection fetish), the Fetish Clinic website (featuring lots of medical fetish videos including injections), and even a dedicated Facebook page on the topic.
In researching this article I came across many online accounts (of various degrees of detail) of people claiming to have an injection fetish. I can’t vouch for the veracity of the statements but they appeared genuine to me:
- Extract 1: “I am an injection fetish person. [I] Iike to watch injection pictures [and] videos particularly a female being the administrator”.
- Extract 2: “At [the] age of 18 [years] I was hospitalized for a week. I had to [have an] injection every day [from a] nurse…On [the] first two days she told me to lower my pants [to give the] injection. [She] slowly injected the needle in my fatty butt. On [the] third day I told her to [take] down my jeans by herself. First she hesitated, but [did] it. [The] next day she came and [did it without me asking]. She lowered my jeans…[and] gave [me the] injection on [my] butt…She gave me injections and then made me horny by keeping her hand & finger on [where she had injected me. It felt] uncomfortable. but she still smiled. She obviously teased me and on the same day I [returned] home with an injection fetish”.
- Extract 3: “I ejaculate [and am] more happy if a nice woman dressed in nurse [gives] me an injection…I like very much the preparation protocol before injection…I have [had] this fetish since I received [my] first injection made by a nurse when I was 10 years old…This is a nice fetish. I know that is not very common but I know some people [who] like it, so we are not alone [in having] curious pleasures”.
- Extract 4: “I have an injection fetish…When I was younger I got a shot from a nurse and after injected she was getting very fresh and touchy with me. I could not turn her down when she said we must go somewhere and get it on…I have never felt so satisfied after she [injected] me. That’s where it started. She was forceful and demanding. The [injection] shot was large and scary. I wasn’t real thrilled about getting it but she said it [was in my] best interest. So I bent over. She swabbed me. I was a bit resistant. She was persuasive in her words…It was hurting. Then while she was injecting that was hurting too. I was squirming and moaning. But I would love for this to happen again someday”
- Extract 5: “I have an ‘injection fetish’. That means that I get only sexually attracted when thinking about women getting injections in their butt. I also like to have fantasies about myself getting injections in the butt by woman. This fetish is apparently rare, but also not that uncommon…As such, a fetish might not be something bad, but this one prevents me from having orgasm in normal sexual intercourse. The female vagina does not sexually really attract me…It basically destroys any relationship because I cannot have an orgasm or ejaculate during normal sexual intercourse…Has this specific type of medical fetish (or similar ones…suppositories, enemas, gyno) been researched in medical/psychological science? Once I know where this [fetish] is from, I can understand it and I can control it…To me, it appears I had this fetish from day one (of course, that was not the case, but [that is how] it feels)”.
Unlike the others quoted here, this last extract is from a person also provided further description about himself. He was 39 years of age when he posted his comments and claimed to have developed the fetish in childhood some time between the ages of six to eight years. He claims not to know where the fetish originated, and his only description of his childhood was that he had a father who used to beat him and who wouldn’t let him bring any friends to his house (including girlfriends). Although the accounts here are brief, all five are males, and three of the five extracts mention getting an injection from a nurse at some point on their lives had kick-started their injection fetish and would appear to suggest that associative pairing took place and that their sexual arousal from injections arises as a result of classical conditioning.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are also hard-core pornographic films where injections are central to the ‘plot’ – the 2011 film Lethal Injection being the most infamous example. (I say “infamous” because many newspapers – such as a piece in the Daily Mail – reported that China’s leading state-run news agency Xinhua posted the screen shots from the film on its website under the headline ‘Actual Record of Female Inmate’s Execution – Exposing the World’s Darkest Side’ and claimed it showed a real execution by lethal injection in the United States. In the film itself, a doctor has sex with a woman after she has been given a lethal injection and arguably is more about necrophilia and lust murders than it is about injection fetishes).
Academically, I’m not aware of any research specifically focusing on injection fetishes although a paper by Dr. Allen Bartholomew published back in 1973 in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry alluded to behaviours that have similarities to injection fetishes. Bartholomew was studying the characteristics of intravenous drug users and noted three cases of autohaemofetishism (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure from sight of blood drawn into a syringe during intravenous drug practice, something that I briefly mentioned in a previous blog on vampirism as a sexual paraphilia). He also noted three cases of ‘injection masochism’ in which users were sexually aroused from giving themselves injections. In both of these two features, it was argued by Bartholomew that both of the two features were considered to be brought about by classical conditioning.
More recently, in 2012 issue of the journal Rhizomes in Emerging Knowledge, Dr. Varpu Rantala examined the recurrence of drug injection scenes in contemporary mainstream cinema from a cultural studies perspective. She argued that in cinematic terms:
“Injection is a fetish – not only of drug users but a collective one. The injection shots momentarily fix the images of what is thinkable and sayable about intravenous drug use, centering it on an overindulgence in injection and reducing ‘addicted bodies”.
However, the word ‘fetish’ in this context is not being used in any sexual sense. She also makes reference to the portrayal of drug addicts in the work of US writer William Burroughs. Again, this is not used in a sexual sense but she does make some interesting observations about obsession and addiction:
“The coolness in Burroughs’s description of a junkie is paradoxically both ice-cold and mobilizing, or attractive, as understood in relation to the attraction image. These images may also be fetishized. Intravenous drug users may develop a fetish for injection, the ‘needle fixation’, an addiction to the injection itself that is often experienced as both repulsive and seductive (Pates et al 2001). But, it seems that “needle fixation” is not only about intravenous drug users: this kind of ambiguous fascination with the injection image as part of late modern mainstream everyday audiovisual culture may even be described a ‘cinematic obsession’: as the ‘hold [of drugs] on the modern imagination [is] seemingly as strong as the hold it has over those addicted to it’ (Boothroyd 2007, 9), ‘it is the ambiguity and duality of the symbolism [of the syringe] that is the source for conflict, and intense pleasurable obsession’ (Fitzgerald 2010, 205). The recurrence of these images in their over-indulgence of sensuous material of extreme explicitness reminds one of the processes of addiction as unwilled repetition of excessive sensual experience: a cinematic addiction…Repetitive, fixed and fetishized, late modern drug injection images are clichés that may ‘penetrate each one of us’ (Deleuze 2005, 212). This may also be about an intense encounter that moves us. In case of the injection shot, they form a place of intensity in a film; an attraction image (Gunning 1990) that reaches towards the viewer and that Williams (1991) has further discussed with respect to porn, horror and melodrama”
Finally, (and staying with films), a few years ago there was an interesting article on the Hannibal Studio Lo website (a site dedicated to critical analysis of all things Hannibal Lecter). Unfortunately, the website is no longer on the internet but one of the contributors to the site made the observation that the author of all the ‘Hannibal Lecter’ books (Thomas Harris) has (in his writing) a “fetish for injections, a love-hate relationship for the meaning of getting an injection and its purpose”. The article made references to the many passages in Harris’ books that concern injections but asserts that:
“The most impressive descriptions of injections in the [novel] of ‘Hannibal’ are those given by Dr. Lecter to Clarice Starling. Appearing in Chapter 94 there is a ‘Tiny sting of the finest needle – Starling did not even look down’ and in Chapter 91 there is ‘Day and evening again, the smell of fresh flowers in the house, and once the faint sting of a needle’. The essence of those injections, which would lead her from one life to another and help her cross the final threshold to her transformation. So what do you think is the significance of injections according to the Harris realm? Could it be that one of the ingredients of a dark and profound romance is the intimate enigmatic comfort of Hannibal’s injections? I think it is very interesting to note how Harris’s equation promises that from an ambiguous act that could be considered controlling, true freedom and tranquility are born”.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
(Note: the original weblink for the article concerning Thomas Harris’ “fetish for injections” was at: http://www.hannibalstudiolo.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1095&start=-1&sid=0f25ca4b4c2dca0bd9f85038ae600a03)
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Bartholomew, A. A. (1973). Two features occasionally associated with intravenous drug users: A note. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 7(3), 206-207.
Bizarre Magazine (2010). Medical fetishism. December 1. Located at: http://www.bizarremag.com/fetish/fetish/10393/medical_fetish.html?xc=1
Boothroyd, D. (2007). Cinematic heroin and narcotic modernity. In Ahrens, R. and Stierstorfer, K. (eds.), Symbolism: An International Annual of Critical Aesthetics (pp. 7-28). New York: AMS Press.
Deleuze, G. (2005a) Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. London: Continuum.
Fitzgerald, J. (2010). Images of the desire for drugs. Health Sociology Review, 12(2), 205-217.
Pates, R.M., McBride, A.J., Ball, N. & Arnold, K (2001). Towards an holistic understanding of injecting drug use: An overview of needle fixation. Addiction Research and Theory, 9, 3-17.
Rantala, V. (2012). Hardcore: Schizoanalysis as audiovisual thinking of cinematic drug injection images. Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, 24, 1-12
Wikipedia (2012). Medical fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_fetishism
Williams, L. (1991). Film bodies: Gender, genre and excess. Film Quarterly, 44(4), 2-13.
In 2014, I was the resident psychologist on 12-episode television series called Forbidden made for the Discovery Channel. One of the strangest stories that the series reported on was ‘cane therapy’ for the ‘Twisted Treatments’ episode. Before I was interviewed for the story, I had to research the story and was also given some production notes as background material. According to the material I was provided with:
“Caning treatment was pioneered in Siberia by Dr Sergei Speransky a biologist from the Novosibirsk Institute of Medicine who together with Dr Marina Chuhrova released a research report in 2005 on whipping as a therapy. Dr Speransky and Dr Chukhrova developed the medical theory behind caning. Importantly Dr Chukhrova notes that, ‘It is not some warped sado-masochistic activity,’ but has a clear medical purpose. Apparently, there are some sound scientific principles behind these beatings. Namely the theory that pain activates the body’s immune system, causing it to perform much more effectively than under ‘normal circumstances.’ Dr Chukhrova taught [Dr. German Pilipenko] the theory as a student at university and controversially he has taken her theory and put it into practice, combining it with his own unique psychology treatment. 50-year old German Pilipenko has been caning people for nine years. In his spare time German enjoys the blissful serenity of mountain skiing in his local town. But in his professional life German has to bear the yelps, tears and groans of his patients – German canes and whips people for a living. German started to practice cane therapy in a medical clinic in 2004. Though the clinic no longer exists he’s continued the controversial practice as a private psychologist in a rented 14 square meter room in Novosibirsk’s Business Centre”.
Dr. Pilipenko is a psychotherapist and a hypnotist and claims that cane therapy can cure addictions (both chemical addictions such as alcohol and other drug addictions, and behavioural addictions such as sex addiction and work addiction), depression, phobias and neuroses. Along with Dr. Chukhrova, they have successfully treated over 1000 individuals (aged between 17 and 70 years) of their problems. The therapy appears to be arguably similar to primal therapy (which I briefly examined in a previous blog) and according to Pilipenko “can be used as a kind of anti-stress injection”. Via intense caning sessions Pilipenko not only draws physical pain from his clients but also their emotional reactions. It is the release of these emotions (as with primal therapy) is what he believes cures his patients of their addictions, stresses, depression, and anxieties. (If you are a journalist or an artist he offers the therapy free as a way of promoting his therapeutic practice). For the television programme, one of Dr. Pilipenko’s female clients (Anzhelika Alexeyev, a 22-year old, fifth-year medical student) was interviewed. The production notes I was given noted:
“Anzhelika is only at the beginning of her life, but she’s already experienced hardship and emotional difficulties. Receiving a beating from Dr Pilipenko has been her solution. She’s already visited him once but German believes there is more work to be done. [The programme will] follow Anzhelika through pain and tears as she returns for more caning. She also introduces her father to the treatment and we see her bring him for a session…Her first caning experience was at the start of [the] year…Anzhelika had been suffering stress after miraculously surviving a car crash. German’s advice was that ‘she really needed a lashing.’ She agreed. Initially at the start of the session Anzhelika wanted to leave. She suffered through the first beating in tears, though she persisted, knowing the pain was temporary. She believes the treatment has been successful in curing her trauma and stress related to the accident. In fact she is a big supporter of German’s caning and believes it helps to get rid of emotions that are deeply hidden, unacknowledged and out of control”.
Many newspaper reports have covered the ‘therapy’ over the last few years but nothing has been published on it in peer-reviewed scientific journals. According to one report on the Alternet news site:
“Practitioners Dr. German Pilipenko and Professor Marina Chukhrova say that their treatment is grounded in science: ‘We cane the patients on the buttocks with a clear and definite medical purpose’…The pair say that addicts suffer from a lack of endorphins, and that pain can stimulate the brain to release the feel-good chemicals, ‘making patients feel happier in their own skins.’ Mainstream doctors dismiss the practice, saying that exercise, acupuncture, massage, chocolate or sex are all better at stimulating endorphin secretion. Dr. Pilipenko admits, ‘we get a lot of skepticism…but so do all pioneers.’ The Siberian Times reports that ‘the reaction of most people is predictable: to snigger, scoff or make jokes loaded with sexual innuendo.’ And one recipient of the treatment, 41-year-old recovering alcoholic Yuri, says his girlfriend accused him of simply visiting a dominatrix. But he adds that although ‘the first strike was sickening…Somehow I got through all 30 lashes. The next day I got up with a stinging backside but no desire at all to touch the vodka in the fridge. The bottle has stayed there now for a year’.”
The Alternet story also interviewed another patient (Natasha, a 22-year-old recovering heroin addict with several months clean) who had been paying $100 for a two-hour session and claimed:
“I am the proof that this controversial treatment works, and I recommend it to anyone suffering from an addiction or depression. It hurts like crazy – but it’s given me back my life…With each lash, I scream and grip tight to the end of the surgical table. It’s a stinging pain, real agony, and my whole body jolts…I’m not a masochist. My parents never beat me or even slapped me, so this was my first real physical pain and it was truly shocking. If people think there’s anything sexual about it, then it’s nonsense.”
The article reported that Natasha had received 60 strokes of the cane per session (noting that drug addicts get double the number of lashes than alcoholics). Professor Chukhrova was then quoted as saying that extreme care is taken to ensure patient safety, and that:
“The beating is really the end of the treatment. We do a lot of psychological counseling first, and also use detox. It is only after all the counseling, and heart and pain resistance checks, that we start with the beating. [We use willow branches because they] are flexible and can’t be broken nor cause bleeding…If any patients get sexual pleasure from the beatings, we stop immediately…This is not what our treatment is about. If they’re looking for that, there are plenty of other places to go.”
According to Dr Pilipenko, the unusual combination of psychology and corporal-style punishment is designed to train patients in endurance, tolerance and resistance as ways of coping with stress. Pilipenko believes he provides his clients with the tools to deal with stress and problems in their lives. More specifically he claims that:
“Psychological stimulation is aimed to convince a patient that aggression, idleness and depression will cause problems in life…Usually a patient is prescribed three separate visits, before they can be cured but it might be necessary for anything up to 10 sessions, depending on the severity of the individual case”.
Dr. Pilipenko also claims that cane therapy that was practiced by monks in the Middle Ages. However, I also noted that following each caning, his clients receive both psychotherapy and hypnotherapy. This begs the question as to whether it is these additional forms of intervention that are key to therapeutic success rather than the caning in and of itself.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Alternet (2013). Weird science: Siberian psychologists caning patients “on the buttocks” in new addiction treatment. January 7. Located at: http://www.alternet.org/weird-science-siberian-psychologists-caning-patients-buttocks-new-addiction-treatment
Daily News (2014). Russian patients pay therapists to cane them in bizarre treatment. October 2. Located at: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/russian-patients-pay-therapists-cane-article-1.1960979
Siberian Times (2013). Beating the addiction out of you – literally. January 7. Located at: http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/features/beating-addiction-out-of-you-literally/
Stewart, W. (2013). How to beat your demons, literally: Siberian psychologists thrash patients with sticks to help them kick their addictions. Daily Mail, January 7. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2258395/How-beat-addictions-literally-Siberian-psychologists-thrash-patients-sticks-help-kick-habits.html
A few weeks ago, three independent things happened that has led me to writing this article. Firstly, I received an email from one of my blog readers who wrote:
“I’m a recovering addict. I still find that hard to admit even after time in therapy and the support of my loved ones, but to say it out loud can sometimes be a help. One part of my therapy, which really did strike a chord was something called ‘Chaos Addiction’. It was suggested to me that my addictive behaviors were fueled by a need to constantly have things in my life that were ‘in flux’ – to experience the ‘predictably unpredictable’. Looking back over my life, it hit home…I’d love it if you might think about sharing this with your site’s readership”.
Secondly, a couple of days later I was given a CD-R by one of my friends that included the song ‘Addicted to Chaos’ by the group Megadeth (from their 1994 album Youthanasia). Thirdly, a couple of days after that I was watching the film Chasing Lanes where the lead character in the film Doyle Gipson (played by Samuel L Jackson) is told by his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor (played by William Hurt) that he was ‘addicted to chaos’ rather than alcohol.
I have never come across the term ‘chaos addiction’ prior to the email I was sent. As far as I am aware, there has never been any empirical research on the topic although Dr. Keith Lee did write a 2007 book (Addicted to chaos: The journey from extreme to serene) of his own experiences on the topic. Using case studies, the book examines individuals that have become “addicted to intensity out of the chaos and toward mind/body harmony, higher consciousness, and a deeply spiritual transformation”. More specifically:
“In a culture where the ‘extreme theme’ has become the norm, people are increasingly seduced into believing that intensity equals being alive. When that happens, the mind becomes wired for drama and the soul is starved of meaningful purpose. This type of life may produce heart-pounding excitement, but the absence of this addictive energy can bring about withdrawal, fear, and restlessness that is unbearable”.
In researching this article I came across a number of online articles dealing with ‘addiction to chaos’. The term has been applied to the actress Lindsay Lohan following a television interview with Oprah Winfrey (and the many articles that followed that honed in on her ‘addiction to chaos).
A short piece in Business Week by Clate Mask claimed that it is entrepreneurs that are frequently addicted to chaos (based on his “experiences and observations working with thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs over the years” along with his top three signs he sees as being addicted to chaos: (i) their business life revolves around the in-box, (ii) they can’t step away from the business, (ii) they are strangely proud they have so little free time. Clate then goes on to claim that:
“If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, you are probably addicted to chaos. Get help. Business ownership should bring you more time, money, and control. If you’re not getting that, make some changes to your mindset and your business systems so you can find the freedom you were looking for when you started your business in the first place”.
An online article by Silvia Mordini discussed about her personal experiences and how she now uses yoga to provide grounding and stability in her life. (In fact, there are quite a few papers on treating addictions with yoga including a recent systematic review of randomized control trials by Paul Posadski and his colleagues in the journal Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies – see ‘Further reading’ below). As Mordini confessed:
“My past addiction to chaos simply hurt me too much. I got sick of the constant mental tug-o-war with myself. I’m not interested in feeling impatient with one thought and having to pull or push at the next one. Impatience promotes chaos and doesn’t feel good. The antidote to this is patience. Patience feels good. It feels like a return to mental stability no matter the chaos around us or what other people are thinking or doing…[The grounding that yoga brings] serves us as a simplifying force in order to stabilize our minds. When grounded, we plug back into our best selves and become fully present and balanced. Our energy stabilizes. Once centered, we are able to clearly see the circumstances of our lives. We no longer over-respond or over-worry because the static noise of chaos doesn’t pull us apart”.
She then goes on to provide her readers with five practical ways to promote stability and overcome addiction to chaos: (i) practice yoga, (ii) meditate, (iii) use a mantra (she suggests “I will let go of the need to be needed/I will let go of the need to be accepted/I will let go of the need to be accomplished), unplug from technology, and (v) get your hands and feet dirty (do some gardening, go for a walk on the beach, etc.). Obviously there is no clinical research confirming that these strategies would help overcome ‘chaos addiction’ but engaging in them certainly won’t do anyone any harm.
Another online article (‘Addicted to Chaos’) by addiction counselor Rita Barsky notes that many addicts grew up within dysfunctional families and noted:
“We never felt safe in our family of origin and the only thing we knew for sure was that nothing was for sure. Life was totally unpredictable and we became conditioned to living in chaos. When I talk about chaos in our lives, it was often not the kind that can be seen. In fact, many alcoholic/addict mothers were also super controllers and on the surface, our lives appeared to be perfect. The unsafe and chaotic living conditions of our lives were not visible or obvious to the outside world. Despite the appearance of everything being under control, we experienced continued chaos, developed a tolerance for chaos and I believe became addicted to chaos. I think it is important to say I have never done a scientific experiment to investigate this theory. It is based on observation of numerous alcoholic/addicts and their behavior”.
This was clearly written from experience and appears to have some face validity. Interestingly, Barsky then goes on to say:
“During the recovery process life becomes more manageable and less chaotic. The alcoholic/addict begins to feel a sense of autonomy and safety. A feeling of calm settles over their life. The paradox for the alcoholic/addict is that feeling calm is so unfamiliar it induces anxiety. There is a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop. When there is a crisis, whether real or perceived, we actually experience a physical exhilaration and it feels remarkably like being active. From there it can be a very short distance to a relapse. Even if we don’t pick up we are not in a sober frame of mind. Addiction to chaos can be very damaging. Once engaged in someone else’s crisis we abandon ourselves and often develop resentments, especially if it is someone we love or are close to. Family chaos is the ‘best’ because it’s so familiar and we can really get off on it. When there is a crisis with family or friends we feel compelled to listen to every sordid detail and/or take action. We are unable to let go, we need to be in the mix even though it is painful and upsetting. It requires tremendous effort to detach and not jump in with both feet to the detriment to our well being”.
I find this account compelling because it’s written by someone that appears to have gone through this herself, and has now applied her therapeutic expertise retrospectively to understand the underlying psychology of what was occurring at the height of the addiction. Another compelling account is at Molly Field’s Yoga Blog.
“My object of desire is Chaos. My therapist told me at the end of my first session ever that I have a Chaos addiction…I’m not kidding: this stuff’s insidious. If it weren’t for my awareness of my ability to lose my temper over little-seeming things (aka scars from my past), I’d never know about the Addiction to Chaos. It’s because I grew up with it, was surrounded by it and trained by some of the world’s finest Chaos foments that I became one myself…My relationship with Chaos had become so much a part of my fabric of being that if I didn’t sense it, I would make it”.
Finally, I’ll leave you with the only tool that I have come across that claims to provide a diagnostic indication of whether someone is addicted to chaos. I need to point out that this came from the website of former psychologist Phil McGraw, the US television host of Dr. Phil. I have reproduced everything below verbatim (so when it says that “you are addicted to chaos” if you endorsed five or more of the ten items, that is the view of Dr. Phil – whenever I have co-developed a scale, I at least add the words “You may have a problem” rather than “You have got a problem”).
“While most people try to avoid drama, research shows that others have figured out how to trigger the body’s stress response, just for the rush. Take the test and find out if you’re creating chaos in your everyday life!
Directions: Answer the following questions ‘True’ or ‘False’
- Do you usually yell and scream to make your point?
- Do you ramp things up to win every argument?
- If you get sick, do you feel that EVERYONE should know about it?
- When you argue, do you ever break things or knock them over?
- Does being calm or bored sound like the worst thing to you?
- Do you ever yell at strangers if you feel that they are in your way?
- Do you hate it when you are not the center of attention?
- Is there usually a crisis to solve in your life?
- Do you break up or threaten a break up with a mate often?
- Are you usually the one who starts fights?
Results: If you answered ‘True’ to five or more of the questions above, you are addicted to chaos”
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Barsky, R. (2007). Addicted to Chaos. A Sober Mind, December 2. Located at: http://asobermind.blogspot.co.uk/2007/12/addicted-to-chaos.html
Field, M. (2012). Recovering from an addiction to chaos. The Yoga Blog, April 7. Located at: http://www.theyogablog.com/recovering-from-addiction/
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Workaholism is still a useful construct Addiction Research and Theory, 13, 97-100.
Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Workaholism: A 21st century addiction. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 24, 740-744.
Griffiths, M.D. & Karanika-Murray, M. (2012). Contextualising over-engagement in work: Towards a more global understanding of workaholism as an addiction. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1(3), 87-95.
Jakub, L. Addicted to chaos: Oprah’s interview with Lindsay Lohan. Hello Giggles, August 19. Located at: http://hellogiggles.com/addicted-to-chaos-oprahs-interview-with-lindsay-lohan
Kramer, L. (2015). Are you addicted to chaos? Recovery.org, January, 15. Located at: http://www.recovery.org/pro/articles/are-you-addicted-to-chaos/
Lee, J.K. (2007). Addicted to chaos: The journey from extreme to serene. Transformational Life Coaching and Consultancy.
Mask, C. (2011). Three signs you’re addicted to chaos. Business Week, March 18. Located at: http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/tips/archives/2011/03/three_signs_you_are_addicted_to_chaos.html
Posadzki, P., Choi, J., Lee, M. S., & Ernst, E. (2014). Yoga for addictions: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 19(1), 1-8.
Mordini, S. (2013). Are you addicted to chaos and drama? Mind Body Green, January 15. Located at: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7395/are-you-addicted-to-chaos-and-drama.html
One of the recurring questions I am often asked to comment on by the media is whether celebrities are more prone to addiction than other groups of people. One of the problems in trying to answer what looks like an easy question is that the definition of ‘celebrity’ is different to different people. Most people would argue that celebrities are famous people, but are all famous people celebrities? Are well-known sportspeople and politicians ‘celebrities’? Are high profile criminals celebrities? While all of us would say that Hollywood A-Listers such as Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are ‘celebrities’, many of the people that end up on ‘celebrity’ reality shows are far from what I would call a celebrity. Being the girlfriend or relative of someone famous does not necessarily famous.
Another problem in trying to answer this question is what kinds of addiction are the media actually referring to? Implicitly, the question might be referring to alcohol and/or illicit drug addictions but why should other addictions such as nicotine addiction or addiction to prescription drugs not be included? In addition to this, I have often been asked to comment on celebrities that are addicted to sex or gambling. However, if we include behavioural addictions in this definition of addiction, then why not include addictions to shopping, eating, or exercise? If we take this to an extreme, how many celebrities are addicted to work?
Now that I’ve aired these problematic definitional issues (without necessarily trying to answer them), I will return to the question of whether celebrities are more prone to addiction. To me, when I think about what a celebrity is, I think of someone who is widely known by most people, is usually in the world of entertainment (actor, singer, musician, television presenter), and may have more financial income than most other people I know. When I think about these types of people, I’ve always said to the media that it doesn’t surprise me when such people develop addictions. Given these situations, I would argue that high profile celebrities may have greater access to some kinds of addictive substances.
Given that there is a general relationship between accessibility and addiction, it shouldn’t be a surprise if a higher proportion of celebrities succumbs to addictive behaviours compared with a member of the general public. The ‘availability hypothesis’ may also hold true for various behavioural addictions that celebrities have admitted having – most notably addictions to gambling and/or sex. It could perhaps be argued that high profile celebrities are richer than most of us (and could therefore afford to gamble more than you or I) or they have greater access to sexual partners because they are seen as more desirable (because of their perceived wealth and/or notoriety).
Firstly, when I think about celebrities that have ‘gone off the rails’ and admitted to having addiction problems (Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr, Alec Baldwin) and those that have died from their addiction (Whitney Houston, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse) I would argue that these types of high profile celebrity have the financial means to afford a drug habit like cocaine or heroin. For many in the entertainment business such as being the lead singer in a famous rock band, taking drugs may also be viewed as one of the defining behaviours of the stereotypical ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ lifestyle. In short, it’s almost expected. In an interview with an online magazine The Fix, Dr. Scott Teitelbaum, an American psychiatrist based at the University of Florida:
“Some people who become famous and get put on a pedestal begin to think of themselves differently and lose their sense of humility. And this is something you can see with addicts, too. Famous or not, people in the midst of their addiction will behave in a narcissistic, selfish way: they’ll be anti-social and have a disregard for rules and regulations. But that is part of who they as an addict – not necessarily who they would be as a sober person. Then there are some people who are narcissists outside of their disease, who don’t need a drug or alcohol addiction to make them feel like the rules don’t apply to them – and yes, I have seen in this in many athletes and actors. Of course, you also have non-famous people who struggle with both…People with addiction and people with narcissism share a similar emptiness inside. Those who are famous might fill it with achievement or with drugs and alcohol. That’s certainly not the case for everyone. But when you see people who are both famous and narcisstic – people who struggle with staying right-sized or they don’t have a real sense of who they are without the fame – you know that they’re in trouble… People with addiction and people with narcissism both seek outside sources for inside happiness. And ultimately neither the fame nor the drugs nor the drinking will work”.
The same article also pointed out that there is an increase in the number of people who (usually through reality television) are becoming (in)famous but have no discernable talent whatsoever. In my own writings on the psychology of fame, I have made the point that (historically) fame was a by-product of a particular role (e.g., country president, news anchorman) or talent (e.g., captain of the national sports team, a great actor). While the Andy Warhol maxim that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes will never be truly fulfilled, the large increase in the number of media outlets and number of reality television shows suggests that more people than ever are getting their 15 minutes of fame. In short, the intersection between fame and addiction is on the increase. US psychiatrist Dr. Dale Archer was also interviewed for The Fix article and was quoted as saying:
“Fame and addiction are definitely related. Those who are prone to addiction get a much higher high from things – whether it’s food, shopping, gambling or fame – which means it [the behavior or situation] will trigger cravings. When we get an addictive rush, we are getting a dopamine spike. If you talk to anyone who performs at all, they will talk about the ‘high’ of performing. And many people who experience that high report that when they’re not performing, they don’t feel as well. All of which is a good setup for addiction. People also get high from all the trappings that come with fame. The special treatment, the publicity, the ego. Fame has the potential to be incredibly addicting”.
I argued some of these same points in a previous blog on whether fame can be addictive in and of itself. Another related factor I am asked about is the effect of having fame from an early age and whether this can be a pre-cursor or risk factor for later addiction. Dr. Archer was also asked about this and claimed:
“The younger you are when you get famous, the greater the likelihood that you’re going to suffer consequences down the road. If you grow up as a child star, you realize that you can get away with things other people can’t. There is a loss of self and a loss of emotional growth and a loss of thinking that you need to work in relationship with other people”.
I’m broadly in agreement with this although my guess is that this only applies to a minority of child stars rather than being a general truism. However, trying to carry out scientific research examining early childhood experiences of fame amongst people that are now adult is difficult (to say the least). There also seems to be a lot of children and teenagers who’s only desire when young is “to be famous” when they are older. As most who have this aim will ultimately fail, there is always the concern that to cope with this failure, they will turn to addictive substances and/or behaviours.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Griffiths, M.D. & Joinson, A. (1998). Max-imum impact: The psychology of fame. Psychology Post, 6, 8-9.
Halpern, J. (2007). Fame Junkies. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
McGuinness, K. (2012). Are Celebrities More Prone to Addiction? The Fix, January, 18. Located at: http://www.thefix.com/content/fame-and-drug-addiction-celebrity-addicts100001
Rockwell, D. & Giles, D.C. (2009). Being a celebrity: A phenomenology of fame. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 40, 178-210.