Games, Sex, Food: the other addictions.
It’s not only drugs and alcohol that create addicts. Some things we take for granted in our lives can too.
What does Candy Crush have in common with cocaine? How can watching porn be like mainlining heroin? And why is food, an essential part of life, a drug that can be abused?
Addiction isn’t just about chemicals. At least, not external chemicals you imbibe through snorting, smoking, or spiking.
Activities like gaming, and how it can be problematic.
By problematic, a recovery centre like Houghton House would explain, you play too many online games at work. So, your ability to be productive is disrupted. You become less efficient. Your work performance drops, and this is noted by your line-manager. Your colleague, who doesn’t waste productivity hours, has the competitive edge.
When a position opens up for a promotion, you don’t get it. In fact, you become performance managed. One written warning becomes two. Then three. You become incredibly stressed. Your home life suffers, and you don’t want to be intimate with your spouse anymore.
Marital difficulties turn into shouting matches, resulting in even more stress. At work, tired because you’re not sleeping properly, and because you turn to your cellphone game for relief, your performance dips even further.
It’s clearly out of hand. But you can’t stop. Your life is becoming dysfunctional, on every level. Just because of a gaming app on your phone.
Clearly, drugs and alcohol aren’t the only problems for addicts. We get addicted to a process, that is, a behaviour, through linking that behaviour with a release of a “reward” chemical in our brain: like dopamine.
Normally, when we achieve a task, something useful to us and our survival, like hunting mammoths successfully in the paleontological age, or finishing up a report for our boss that they become enthusiastic over, our brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is the reward chemical that fulls us with feelings of euphoria.
Drugs release dopamine too. Cocaine and crystal meth are dopamine-specific drugs. Other drugs affect other neurotransmitters. Ecstasy works by releasing serotonin. That’s the chemical which gives us a sense of intense happiness with the world around us, and our interconnectivity to it. In massive amounts, it causes addicts to experience the sensation known as ‘rushing’ – where they are overwhelmed with literal ecstasy.
Meanwhile opioids like heroin have a chemical that fits into our brains’ opioid receptors. This results in an extreme painkiller high. What else evokes this feeling of pleasure?
The act of sex, especially when brought to orgasm, releases endorphins in the brain, the body’s natural painkillers. The sensation is intended to promote sexual behaviour, because our bodies are programmed to procreate.
When a person becomes addicted to sex, they experience hypersexuality. This is dysfunctional, as they start engaging in promiscuous behaviour, opening themselves to all kinds of health risks, including sexually transmitted diseases.
Even in the case of simply watching a lot of porn, these addicts tend to start acting inappropriately in inappropriate environments, such as at the workplace. Predatory behaviour at the coffee station or “watching” porn at inopportune times in one’s office can lead to disciplinary hearings, performance management, or aborted careers
But the more they engage in these behaviours, the more the behaviours are reinforced, the harder they become to stop.
The same applies to overeating. Food can be immensely comforting. Most people feel better after a good meal, especially if the day has been emotionally draining on some level. There’s a sense of emptiness inside them – food fulfils that emptiness both literally and figuratively.
Actions that are comforting become repetitive – self-reinforced. Like a path commonly used by hikers, it will become more and more desirable to traverse. Forming new neurological highways in the brain.
Certainly this is true with food, and other comforting behaviours. Soon, any feeling that creates discomfort, like sadness, or boredom, can be dealt with through eating. Snacks become common. Appetite increases, a person becomes overweight – and then depressed by how they now look. They try to diet, which is – just like putting down narcotics – hard. They relapse on their old eating patterns. Becoming even more depressed. This is where they can develop eating disorders, like anorexia or bulimia, both high-risks to health.
Process addictions can reach a point where only an expertly-run addictions treatment facility, like Houghton House, is able to help these individuals.
The process to stopping process addictions is essentially the same as for chemically dependent addicts. That’s because ultimately, it is the behaviour which leads to the addiction, and halting that behaviour and instilling new ones is what helps break the addiction cycle.
If you are a process addict, or know of someone with a process addiction to sex, gaming, gambling, overeating, or any other dysfunctional activity, then speak to the experts at Houghton House. They can advise you on the best way to help you or a loved one overcome a very serious, deliberating problem.
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