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Addiction - The Nonchemical Addictions

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Addictions can involve substances or actions not including addictive chemicals. Some of these addictions are difficult to define and may seem harmless enough, but they can destroy the lives of those who cannot escape them.

Gambling is one such form of addiction, affecting 6-10% of the American population, according to some experts. Gamblers begin as most others do, by placing small bets on horses or engaging in low-stakes card games or craps. Their successes are a form of ego enhancement, so they strive to repeat them. Their bets become larger, more frequent, and more irrational. Gamblers have been known to lose their jobs, homes, and families as a result of their activities. Their pattern is to place ever-larger bets to make up for their losses. Gamblers are difficult to treat because they refuse to recognize that they have an abnormal condition. After all, nearly everyone gambles in some form: on the lottery, horses, home poker games, or sporting events. Once a compulsive gambler is convinced that his or her problem is serious, an addiction program may be successful in treating the condition.

Food addiction can be a difficult condition to diagnose. Food addicts find comfort in eating. The physical sensations that accompany eating can become addictive, although an addict may not taste the food. Food addicts may indulge in binge eating—consuming prodigious quantities of food in one sitting, or they may consume smaller quantities of food over a longer period of time, but eat constantly during that time.

A food addict can become grossly overweight, leading to extremely low self-esteem, which becomes more pronounced as he or she gains weight. The addict then seeks comfort by eating more food, setting up a cycle that probably will lead to a premature death if not interrupted.

The opposite of addiction to eating is addiction to not eating. This addiction often starts as an attempt to lose weight and ends in malnutrition. Two common forms of this type of addiction, anorexia and bulimia, are typically associated with young females, although males and females of all ages may develop this disorder. Anorexia is a condition in which food is almost completely rejected. These addicts literally starve their bodies, consuming as little food as possible. Bulimia on the other hand, involves consuming large amounts of food uncontrollably until satisfied and then purging the food they took in as soon after eating as possible. Some experts claim that nearly 100 people a year die of malnutrition resulting from anorexia or bulimia. Others believe the number is much larger because the deaths are not recorded as anorexia or bulimia, but as heart failure or kidney failure, either of which can result from malnutrition.

Anorexia and bulimia are difficult to treat. In the minds of victims, they are bloated and obese even though they may be on the brink of starvation, and so they often resist treatment. Hospitalization may be required even before the official diagnosis is made. Treatment includes a long, slow process of psychiatric counseling.

The sex addict also is difficult to diagnose because "normal" sex behavior is not well defined. Generally, any sex act between two consenting adults is condoned if neither suffers harm. Frequency of sexual activity is not used as a deciding factor in diagnosis. More likely the sex addict is diagnosed by his or her attitude toward sex partners.

Other compulsions or addictions include exercise, especially running. Running releases certain hormones called endorphins in the brain, giving a feeling of euphoria or happiness. This is the "high" that runners often describe. They achieve it when they have run sufficiently to release endorphins and have felt their effects. So good is this feeling that the compulsive runner may practice his hobby in spite of bad weather, injury, or social obligation. Because running is considered a healthful hobby, it is difficult to convince an addict that he is overdoing it and must temper his activity.

Codependency could also be regarded as an addiction, although not of the classical kind. It is a form of psychological addiction to another human being. While the term codependency may sound like a mutual dependency, in reality, it is very one-sided. A person who is codependent gives up their rights, individuality, wants, and needs to another person. The other person's likes and wants become their own desires and the codependent person begins to live vicariously through the other person, totally abandoning their own life. Codependency is often the reason that women remain in abusive relationships. Codependent people tend to trust people who are untrustworthy. Self-help groups and counseling is available for codependents and provide full recovery.

Another form of addiction is addiction to work. No other addiction is so willingly embraced than that of a workaholic. Traits of workaholics are often the same traits used to identify hard workers and loyal employees. So, when does working hard become working too hard? When work becomes an addiction, it can lead to harmful effects in other areas of life, such as family neglect or deteriorating health. The individual drowns himself/herself in work to the point of shunning all societal obligations. Their parental duties and responsibilities are often handed over to the other spouse. The children are neglected by the parent and consequently end up having a poor relationship with the workaholic parent. Identifying the reason for becoming a workaholic and getting help, such as counseling, are key for overcoming this addiction.

Internet addictions are a new illness in our society. The Internet is an amazing information resource, especially for students, teachers, researchers, and physicians. People all over the globe use it to connect with individuals from other countries and cultures. However, when the computer world rivals the real world, it becomes an addiction. Some people choose to commune with the computer rather than with their spouses and children. They insulate themselves from intimate settings and relationships. Internet abuse has been cited as a contributing factor in the disintegration of many marriages and families and even in the collapse of many promising careers. Since it is a relatively new disorder, few self-help resources are available. Ironically, there are some on-line support groups designed to wean people from the Internet.


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