When most of us talk about addiction we think of a person dependent on substances such as alcohol, marijuana or ice. Would you, however, consider excessive gambling an addiction? Or gaming? How about checking your smartphone? Yes, all that time you spend on Stalkerspace could be considered an addictive behaviour in the eyes of some specialists.
I’m not denying that behavioural addictions exist, or that they’re serious. If an activity is having a serious impact on your ability to function, but even thinking about stopping it causes you to panic, then of course you should seek professional help. However, I sometimes think that scientists and society as a whole, are too quick to label activities they perceive to be negative as an addiction.
Since criteria for behavioural addictions were first created, they’ve been criticised as ambiguous and too general, in that they can be applied to things we normally wouldn’t consider addictive. For example, in 2001 Beard and Wolf pointed out that when you take the Internet Addiction Test (a criteria used to diagnose internet addiction) and substitute the word internet for ‘baby’ you could diagnose the majority of new mothers as ‘baby addicts’. When you consider the chemicals swirling around a mother’s brain that are at least as powerful (and probably more so) as many drugs, the idea almost becomes plausible.
So why don’t we label babies as addictive? It is because we as people consider it completely normal for a new mother to spend an inordinate amount of time with her infant, to become anxious and fearful when they’re separated, and even to post 1000 photos of their child on Facebook by the time they’re 5. Yes, you read that right, 1000. Aren’t you glad you were potty trained before the rise of social media?
Not only is motherhood considered normal, it’s also seen as a positive behaviour. You can make the same comparison for just about any activity considered positive. My intense reading behaviours as a kid had me frequently late for school, occasionally sleep deprived, and arguably less social than my peers. The family photo of me fast asleep with a book on my face at 2am only reinforces this nerdy image. However, if it was online games that I was wasting my youth on, then my parents might’ve been more worried. After all, aren’t games meant to be bad for you? The evidence that says so is highly contested but that’s what we as a society have decided on. If gaming was causing me to lose sleep, then perhaps my parents would have taken me to a specialist to be diagnosed.
Gaming, smartphones and sex all have their own proposed addiction criteria. If you ever see one, I urge you to try substituting the potentially addictive behaviour with words like books, dieting and babies. If these activities could still be considered addictive, it’s possible that people are using addiction as an excuse to restrict these perceived-as-negative (yet extremely fun) behaviours, instead of for legitimate medical concerns.