According to Wiktionary, addiction is defined as “a pathological relationship to [a] mood altering experience that has life damaging consequences”. Really? This sounds pretty harsh… but it can be true of some addictions.
There are certainly degrees of addiction, and things to which we are all addicted to. Some of us love to buy lottery tickets, some love to play games online. Some of us like to drink, or worse. Most addictions are relatively harmless, but taken too far, they can get in the way of achieving your life goals.
The not so bad
Everyone has their own pet addiction. I know a couple people that love to drink coffee throughout the day, others that are in love with chocolates, and yet others that love sweets. 🙂 These addictions can sometimes be bad for us if we go off the deep end and drink 7 cups of coffee in a day, but otherwise they are relatively harmless.
Then you have addictions to things like cigarettes or behaviors like driving too fast. These are riskier since they actually can adversely affect your health and the health of others, but usually your life is not too negatively affected (until you get lung cancer in your 50s or wrap your car around a tree).
This category is reserved for the most nefarious of addictions, such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and compulsive gambling. Due to the weaknesses of the human body and spirit, we can become chemically addicted to these behaviors, and once that happens, it can be difficult to break out of the addiction. What’s more; the addiction can be so severe that you lose touch with your job, your friends, your family… your life. Everything becomes about the addiction.
I also include computer games in this category, because when taken to an extreme they can prevent you from getting anything else done in your life. I personally can get addicted to games such as Civilization IV. Why? The game is engrossing, challenging, and does not have clearly defined milestones. There is always something to do, always something to build, always something that needs to be managed. With a game like this, I find it hard to stop playing, because there is always something else that I’d like to do or something that I’m waiting on.
Other games that can lead to addiction are massively multiplayer online games. The original ones were known as MUDs and were text-based games; in spite of having no graphics, they were addictive by virtue of their social element and progress ladder. Current versions include 3d graphics and include games such as World of Warcraft.
I know somebody that was trapped in this game for some time; it became his job, his social sphere, he met a girlfriend on there… it became his life. This friend graduated from university about two years ago, but instead of doing the usual thing and finding a job, he decided to turn his hobby of playing WoW into a full-time obsession. His sleep patterns shifted; he began to sleep when the sun went up, and rise when the sun went down. He began to experience actual physical pain from exposure to the sun, since he would spend all of his time in a dark basement.
Over this time, he spent nearly all of his waking hours online. He forgot about his friends outside of his virtual life. He forgot about showering, brushing his teeth, or eating healthy, and lost a lot of weight. He lost basically all connection to the physical world, other than the physical requirements to keep oneself healthy enough to remain alive.
At some point, the parents apparently decided they had had enough and decided to confront him about it. After a fight, he left the house and stayed with us for a couple of days. We helped steer him back on the right course; we encouraged him, offered him guidance, and we even got him an interview for a job. The last that I heard from him, he decided to swear off WoW and slowly return to the world of the living. My friend is lucky that he had at least a couple of friends to count on; I’m not sure what would have happened if he hadn’t.
It is often easy to blame the victim in cases like this and say “oh what a loser; throw the bum out on the street”. However, humans are not robots; we have emotions and we have a bunch of chemicals in our brains that can affect our behavior, and each of us has a unique DNA which means each of us will be affected and behave differently from other people.
In this case, I believe that the parents should not have waited two years to explode. They saw what their son was doing, so they could have helped him earlier and done more; the longer you stay inside the hole, the harder it is to come out. In the end, the person has to be willing to crawl out of the hole, but you can offer them a helping hand in order to do so.
What are your experiences with addiction and obsessive-compulsive behavior? Or, are you one of the lucky few that doesn’t suffer from addictions of any kind? 🙂