Addictions and Compulsions you may not know about! –
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Addictions and Compulsions you may not know about!

Addiction addictions Alcohol Drugs gambling gaming lip balm Love piercing plastic surgery scarification sex shopping tanning tattoos

We all know about addictions to sex, drugs and alcohol but there a few addictions we’re willing to bet you don’t know about. Really, a lot of the newer “addictions” are behavioral addictions rather than substance related addictions. Still, they’re are all the same in that the repeated, usually impulsive or compulsive (or BOTH!) behaviors are satisfying some urge to change how we feel on the inside. We subtly develop these ways of coping, these comfort zones to help us feel “ok” in a chaotic world.  Read on to learn what behaviors and practices are being looked at more closely and treated as possible addictions.

Body Piercing / Tattoos – Studies have shown that getting piercings and tattoos releases endorphins in the brain causing pleasure. It’s been said, “Tattoos are like chips – you can’t have just one.” Recently surveyed, a group of tattoo aficionados admit there is a “high” to getting inked and that one if never enough. Simply put, this need for body markings stems usually from a need to be different or unique.  Steel Addiction or piercing comes with a considerable amount of pleasurable pain and some pierced people get carried away with that. For some body adornment just serves a decorative function and that’s as far as it goes.  Those with a true steel addiction will pierce every part of their bodies until there’s nowhere left to pierce.  Professional piercing artists will refuse to do anymore and the addict will then turn to self-piercing.  This can cause a vast array of issues, most commonly infection. Piercers report that the pain caused makes them feel powerful and because of the chemicals released in the brain, the dependence is a two-layered tangle of physiological and behavioral issues. More pain, more power. Who knew! When getting pierced or tattooed becomes excessive or worse, becomes the center of one’s life and causes negative consequences, then it’s time to address the addictive behavior and find out what need this compulsion is really fulfilling.


Cutting / Scarification – Cutting has been a growing issue for years.  Really an impulse control disorder resulting in harm to one’s self.  Like tattooing and piercing, cutting results in endorphins being released and has a calming, soothing effect on the one under stress or experiencing emotional pain. It is an externalization of the internal struggle and pain for them.  There is controversy on whether or not this qualifies as a real addiction but evidence points to the fact that it is connected to the opioid system. Pain, reward and addiction are all controlled by this part of the nervous system. The pain is the “external substance” that the body builds a tolerance to. Cutting, really self-injury is a progressive condition starting with light scratches to gashes requiring stitches. Cutters actually do become dependent on the rush of endorphins produced with the action.” Some cutters report that they were considering scarification to cover the scars of cutting – this can be dangerous territory for those with the cutting compulsion as they walk the razor’s edge of self-injury. Deeper disturbances will need to be explored.

Nixon MK, Cheng M, Cloutier P. An Open Trial of Auricular Acupuncture for the Treatment of Repetitive Self-Injury in Depressed Adolescents. CCAP Review. 2003;12(1):10–11.

addictions Addictions and Compulsions you may not know about! 2Q

Gaming Addiction –  Kids used to be raised by their parents, then TV became the babysitter. Now, more and more youth are engaging a game controller rather than climbing trees or riding bikes. Video games can be about just one of two things: competition or escape. Gaming coders purposely design video games to keep the players coming back for more.   Whether it’s achieving the highest score or killing zombies, there’s always a goal that is just out of reach. Either way, it’s the isolation, the escape from reality and desensitization to brutality and violence that is worrisome. While specialized treatment centers in South-East Asia, the US, and Europe are becoming commonplace, Digital Detox and “fasting camps” are more and more prevalent as this addiction to the virtual world is fast becoming known as a serious health threat. Hooked gamers are trading in real-life relationships, hobbies, sleep, work, education, socializing and good ol’ fashion ‘play’ to get lost in a fabricated reality.  The withdrawal is as real as that from hardcre drugs.  Nausea, dizziness, irritability and anxiety occur when denied the gaming fix.  A branch of 12-step support even came about to help those wishing to change their techy ways – Internet & Tech Addiction Anonymous. Treatment addresses underlying depression as well as potential substance abuse issues.

Tech addiction statistics by cybersecurity firm, Lookout

Batthyány D, Müller KW, Benker F, Wölfling K  Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2009; 121(15-16):502-9 Computer game playing: clinical characteristics of dependence and abuse among adolescents.

Majumdar A. Japan plans ‘fasting camps’ for Web-addicted children. Tech 2 2013Available from: September 2, 2013


Shopping  – Shopaholics shop til they drop because they are attempting to relieve some sort of emotional pain or fill an inner void with “stuff.” Childhood trauma and self esteem issues are the top causes. Like food and alcohol/drug addictions, shopping addiction has a complicated cyclic nature involving feelings of deep guilt and self hate after the spending binge.  Oniomania, litterally  “sale mania” treatment involves addressing depression, trauma, anxiety and mood disorders. Usually an indicator of possible substance abuse issues as well, Recovery for Compulsive Shopping Disorder requires several combined approaches; treating underlying depression with medication is effective as well as talk therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The support group of Debtors Anonymous has also helped many recover from this pricey and damaging addiction.

Love Addiction ironic in its destructive nature, is very real and goes way beyond codependency.  People suffering from love addiction have extremely deep emotional scarring that often stems from abandonment or rejection in early childhood, among other things. Love is intense and can actually be just as dangerous as any substance.  “Crimes of passion” and domestic violence have their roots deeply planted in love addiction.  Since our society heavily romanticizes love and passion this is an extremely difficult condition to treat. Love addicts will almost always appear “together” on the outside but compulsive patterns in romance, sexuality and relationships mask deep emotional disturbance.  Desiring love in our lives is perfectly normal. In love with the idea of love or being in love, addicts of this nature are dangerously dysfunctional.  There exists a subconscious compulsion to attach and rejection or being denied the attachment can be devastating or even deadly for the sufferer and the object of affliction (I mean affection.) Until we can accept us for us just as we are and relinquish the need for external validation we are stuck in the cycle of infatuation and rebound.


Lip Balm – Addiction or not?  That is the question.  Certain ingredients such as menthol or camphor can cause a pleasant tingling sensation on the lips.  There’s some sort of relief in the sensation that makes us believe here must be something off value occurring with application.  “You get so accustomed to that cooling, soothing sensation, that it’s like, `Yeah, I need that in my life all the time,’ ” says Gordon Espinet, a makeup artist for Toronto-based M.A.C. Again it all boils down to our beliefs – Balm or Gloss addicts think they need the stuff to feel ok.  Plus there’s a ritual to it and it can be done repeatedly without anyone thinking anything of it. On the inside though, lip balm addicts rush to the closest drug store to re-up on their little comfort-giving pal.

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Tanning – Recent research points to a gene that actually causes some people to become dependent on UV rays. Tanning Dependence involves craving, loss of control, and withdrawal symptoms when tanning opportunities become unavailable.  Like other behavioral addictions, UV rays cause endorphins to be released in the brain – these act like opioids and make sun worshipers feel a strong sense of well-being.  “Those who use tanning beds and endure burns to tan display a high level of knowledge about the risks of UV exposure, often knowing more than non-users. However, awareness of these adverse effects does not decrease desire to tan or alter tanning activity, especially for those in their teens and twenties”

Mawn VB, Fleischer AB, Jr. A survey of attitudes, beliefs, and behavior regarding tanning bed use, sunbathing, and sunscreen use. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 1993; 29:959–962. 14.

Robinson JK, Rademaker AW, Sylvester JA, Cook B. Summer sun exposure: knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of Midwest adolescents. Prev Med 1997; 26:364–372.

Plastic Surgery – body dysmorphic disorder.  With this type of addiction, people become fixated on a sometimes-imagined physical flaw or deficiency. They engage in plastic surgery as a means to “fix” whatever the flaw may be. They mistakenly try to change externally when really the issue that needs work is on the inside.  These alterations come with many complications including disfiguring, disappointing results, infection, nerve damage, organ damage, and financial impacts. Existence of depression, lack of esteem, self worth and shame all need to be uncovered to find what the maladaptation to the extreme of surgery is truly covering up.

And so it goes, as humans, we will forever be on the quest to alter ourselves in one way or another.  As we evolve in this human experience, we may just discover that what comforts us on the outside may be killing us on the inside.  Regardless of the “why” of it all, the addiction to changing the way we feel ironically needs to be addressed with change.  Changes to our belief systems, our thinking and our responses to the world bring about healthy, lasting recovery. Everyone has something about ourselves that we struggle with and the world can be an uncomfortable place without proper coping mechanisms in place. The important thing to remember is that you’re not the only one and there is help.

Many resources and support groups exist to assist you or someone you might know suffering from any kind of addiction or compulsive behavior.  Don’t be afraid to reach out.

Source: Joy Anderson 6/2015

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