10 Common Addictions That Plague America

You’re out for dinner with a friend, but are you catching up with them, or spending your time on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? Today it’s very easy to become addicted to unhealthy habits that can ultimately hurt your body, your mind and your relationships.

Whether you’re glued to your smart phone, thinking about work constantly, or spending all your time shopping or tanning, if you’re honest with yourself you may find that you’re too reliant on one of these common habits. In fact, even healthy habits like exercise or healthy eating can be taken to the extreme, forming addictive behaviors that ultimately cause you harm.

Are these ten surprising yet dangerously addictive habits hurting you or someone you love?

Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?

The average person spends almost 4 hours a day on their smartphone, but a study from the University of Derby, in England suggests that 13% of smartphone users have a clinical addiction. During the study, psychologists found a strong link between narcissism (excessive interest in oneself and one’s personal appearance) and smartphone addiction.
So, this means that the more narcissistic you are, the more likely you’ll become addicted to your smartphone. Other symptoms of people who have a smartphone addiction include loneliness, jealousy, being obsessed with physical appearances, and taking a lot of “selfies” and sharing those selfies on social media channels.

Like any addiction, though, it’s when you or those you love are harmed that you know you have a problem. For smartphone addicts, self-harm can come in the isolating behaviour of always being on your phone. Sometimes smartphone addicts harm the relationships with those they love (like spouses, children and friends) because they unintentionally “ignore” those people, choosing to engage with their smartphone instead.

There have even been extreme cases where smartphone addicts have accidentally hurt themselves or even died while taking selfies. And like most addictions, don’t indulge in this one while driving. The National Safety Council reports that “cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year. Nearly 330,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving. 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.”

Are You Addicted to Social Media?

How many times have you checked your Twitter or Facebook feed today? For 13% of the American population (and 1% of the world), social media distracts from work and other enjoyable activities so much that they their brain is affected. Columbia University researchers believe that Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) causes the same structural and functional brain abnormalities as substance abuse. Still, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) haven’t yet added IAD to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

You may be wondering if there is a difference between smart phone addiction and social media addiction? Absolutely. Social media addicts will check their accounts from their smart phone, as well as their desktop computers, and they spend a much larger amount of time on these social channels than the average person.

Are You a Shopaholic?

Do your friends and family joke that you’re a shopaholic? If so, then they may be trying to tell you something. Shopaholics are known for spending a lot of time and money shopping. Sound like you? If you can always find an excuse to go shopping, and an excuse to purchase something on each shopping trip, then you could have a problem.

What’s more, if you feel a “high” after you make a purchase, but then feel guilt, shame, or worry about how you’ll afford what you bought, then you could have a problem. If you can’t stop shopping, even though your out-of-control spending is hurting your financial health, and those that you love, then you could be a compulsive shopper.

Compulsive shopping is a serious psychological disorder that encourages compulsive spending. The goal is not just to “have” more material objects, but instead compulsive shoppers think that the things that they buy will improve their social relationships, appearance, reputation, self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A 2013 study showed that more than one in ten Americans (11 percent) consider themselves to be shopaholics. Another study from San Francisco State University found that compulsive shoppers are also more likely to experience anxiety, mood, and eating disorders. Most of these compulsive shoppers have poor credit, and poor money management, and that they continue to buy things they don’t need because their brain rewards their purchases with a release of dopamine (our brain’s feel-good-chemical).

Do You Love to Steal?

While shopaholics get a high from buying things, shoplifters get a high from stealing them. But is stealing addictive? Estimates suggest there are 25 million shoplifters in the United States (or about one in eleven citizens shoplift). Most of these Americans don’t steal because they can’t afford or can’t live without the item.

Shoplifters who steal repeatedly actually have a behavioral disorder, one which can result in serious negative consequences like jail time. There is a common misconception that more women than men are shoplifters, but the reality is that shoplifting addicts are almost equally divided between the two sexes.Most shoplifters enjoy the rush they get when they steal without being caught. This rush has been described in the same way as the rush of getting high from using a drug.

Department stores, supermarkets, specialty shops, and convenience stores are common victims of shoplifting. It’s believed that a shoplifter is only caught once for every forty-nine times they shoplift. The fact that so many shoplifters go uncaught is the reason that prices are often raised – stores need to offset the cost of all the merchandise that is stolen. So, not only does a shoplifter addict who is caught risk their personal freedom, they also are hurting society as a whole who has to pay more for the shoplifter’s dishonest addiction.

Can You Be Addicted to the Sun?

Who doesn’t love the sun’s rays? After all, the sun help us absorb and synthesize vitamin D, which is essential for our physical and mental wellbeing. We need vitamin D to help our immune system, and for healthy bones. Enough vitamin D in our diet can help us prevent chronic diseases like osteoporosis. However, the relaxing and mood enhancement benefits of tanning beds and sunbathing can become addictive, and deadly.

The American Skin Cancer Foundation has conducted research showing that ultraviolet violet (UV) light is addictive because of the endorphins that are released during the tanning session. Endorphins are opioid-like chemicals that are released when we tan.

For tanning addicts, the overwhelming evidence that links ultraviolet rays (UVR) and skin cancer isn’t enough to stop. Think tanning beds are safer than the sun? Think again. UVR exposure occurs from both the sun and indoor tanning machines. The results of tanning can include temporary sun burn or blisters, and long-term melanoma and non-melanoma forms of skin cancer.

Are You Addicted to Exercise?

Is it okay to be addicted to something that’s good for you, like exercise? If you’ve ever experienced a “runners high” after a really great workout then you know how addictive exercise can be. But, yes, even healthy behaviors can be harmful if done in excess. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have done research on exercise addiction, defining the condition as “exercise and sports taken so far to the extreme that they have adverse psychological and physiological effects”.

According to the NIH, there is an obsessive-compulsive component to exercise addiction which makes it unhealthy. Lab tests done on rodents show that running on a wheel triggers the brain’s dopamine reward system. So, over time an athlete can crave that dopamine reward. When exercise is done in healthy amounts the reward is well-earned, but the feelings of euphoria that an exercise addict feels can propel them to exercise excessively, causing injury or illness.

Are Potato Chips as Addictive as Cocaine?

In 1982 a Scientific American study suggest that potato chips are as addictive as cocaine. Is this a gross over exaggeration? When it comes to the drug-inducing effects of carbs, fats, and sugar on the human brain, it turns out that yes, potato chips and other junk food is addictive.

In 2010 the journal Nature Neuroscience monitored the addictive impact of fattening foods on 3 separate groups of lab rats. They found that the group that rats that had full-access to as much high-sugar and fatty food as they could eat became extremely obese, and their addiction to the unhealthy food became worse over time.

According to Web MD, the reason that people (and rats) choose the unhealthy food over the healthy food is because these unhealthy foods trigger the brain to reduce dopamine. “Once people experience pleasure associated with increased dopamine transmission in the brain’s reward pathway from eating certain foods, they quickly feel the need to eat again.” Web MD points out that it’s not just high-sugar, and high-fat foods that can cause addiction. Foods that are high in salt are also addictive.

Gambling Addiction

Is gambling as addictive as drugs? The National Council on Problem Gambling believes so, suggesting that at least 9-million Americans suffer from gambling addiction. Like drug addiction, gambling can cause the addict to risk their job, family, and financial wellbeing. The pay-off? A short-lived dopamine rush from the chance to win big on slots, blackjack and online games like poker.

When it comes to drugs and gambling, there are many other similarities. Gambling has been shown to be genetic, and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) studies show that from a psychological, and neurological perspective there are other similarities. When gambling addicts stimulate the pleasure center of their brain when they gamble, 10-times the amount of regular dopamine is released, giving the gambler a “high”.

When Video Game Addiction Goes Too Far

With millions of gamers across the planet, it’s possible that video gaming is one of the world’s most recent mental health epidemics. But how do you know if you’re just a gamer, or if you’re addicted to video games? Video game addicts spend 30+ hours a week compulsively playing video games. Different types of video game addictions are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) including internet gaming disorder.

Some gamers have been known to wear diapers, and to stop eating or drinking because they have been so addicted to playing the video game that they can’t stop, even for a moment. But for those of us who don’t play video games, this behavior seems strange. Why can’t a gamer stop?

Gaming activates the brain’s reward system so intensely that the gamer feels a strong sense of pleasure, a “high” from playing. Eventually, the feeling becomes so powerful that it turns compulsive. The virtual world begins to take priority over the real world, and many video game addicts forego their hobbies, responsibilities and give up their real-world relationships for their video games and online relationships with characters or other gamers. Like other addictions, the gamer can feel withdrawal when they are no longer able to play their video game, including anger, sadness, irritability and even some physical symptoms.

Can You Be Addicted to Work?

When we use the word “workaholic,” to describe ourselves, we usually mean that we are working hard, and sometimes we even use the term with a feeling of pride. However, like all the addictions on this list, it’s possible to take work too far. In our society, which encourages and rewards workaholics, it’s difficult to identify when someone is addicted to work, as opposed to doing what they need to do to keep their job or be successful.

There are some factors and symptoms to distinguish between a workaholic, and a successful, responsible employee.

  • A workaholic has a striking lack of balance in their life, and they give themselves little time to develop and enjoy their personal relationships.
  • Workaholics also put self-care low on their priority list, often ignoring health problems until they are debilitating (or until it is too late to act).
  • Workaholics are task and deadline focused, feeling the most energized when in the middle of a project, or when moving from one project to another.
  • Workaholics use work to escape from problems and difficult feelings in their life.
  • Workaholics often lose awareness of their own desire and needs, forgetting what they love about life.

Workaholics often make work a priority over their friends and family, an action that can jeopardize their relationships and leave them all alone.

If you or someone you know suffer for any of these or other addictions, then don’t be afraid to seek the help of a mental health counsellor near you. With support, you can overcome your addiction.

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