Addiction: small rewards that can become big luxuries

It can be surprising how often small indulgences can build up into addictions.

Addiction food

These days, despite the long hours we work and the various commitments we have, many of us are lucky enough to indulge in activities that give us pleasure and make us feel good. Whether it s buying a new pair of shoes, drinking a caramel latte most mornings or taking that chocolate bar break each afternoon; most of these activities can be considered small treats or rewards for our hours of labour.

For some people though, small luxuries turn into big habits and if The Learning Channel s, My Strange Addiction is anything to go by, these habits can range from the more common pleasures listed above, to the weird and wonderful world of consuming sponges or chalk.

While not everyone will develop addictions or make habits of regular activities, there are quite a lot of people who do. Here are some examples of addictions to look out for.

Alcohol

A bit of an obvious one, alcohol addiction is something we regularly hear about in the media, and as Aussies are stereotypically known for their drinking habits, the concept of having a drink is not strange to many of us. But when does having a drink turn into needing a drink ?

According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, if you are drinking more than two drinks every day, or more than four on any single occasion, your drinking might be increasing your risk of harm. In Australia, the National Drug Strategy Household Report (NDSHR) reveals that 18.2% of us are in fact exceeding those guidelines. Could your habits lead to alcohol addiction?

Smoking

Back in the Marlboro Man days, smoking was a bit of a sexy bad boy pastime, but these days it is known for its path to cancer and heart disease. Despite the big drop in the number of smokers seen over recent decades, and the better knowledge we have of the long-term effects, around 12.8% of Australians still smoke daily.

Smoking can be a tricky addiction to manage, with many people experiencing severe cravings when they try to give up. While cravings can be tough, long-term effects can be much worse, so it s definitely worth a shot at living smoke-free.

Drugs

In Australia, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are addicted to illegal and legal drugs. Of the illegal drugs, cannabis is the most commonly used, with one in three people trying it in their lifetimes, and around 200,000 people with a cannabis addiction at any one point. While a lot of us may look at cannabis as the lesser of all evils when it comes to illegal drugs, many of those with a cannabis addiction report finding it really difficult to give up, with withdrawal symptoms like nightmares, nausea, diarrhoea and some pretty strong cravings. Long-term effects also include a higher risk of developing mental illness and respiratory illness, and effects on memory, motivation and learning capacity.

Gambling

Mark Wahlburg s latest movie, The Gambler is a good example of just how life-threatening a gambling addiction can be. Like many gambling addicts, Wahlburg s character builds up a debt he just can t afford to pay off and has to deal with some terrifying consequences.

Problemgambling.gov.au reports that Aussies spend $12 billion a year on poker machines, with pokie players making up three quarters of those who have a gambling problem. It reports that up to 500,000 Australians have gambling addictions and the social cost to the community is $4.7 billion per year. So next time you go to pull that lever, have a look at your pokie-playing neighbours and ask yourself is the chance of a win really worth it?

Food

Ever had a chocolate that just made all your problems in the world disappear? A piece of cake that changed your outlook on life, even for a moment? A pack of salty chips that pursed your lips but calmed your mind? Research suggests some foods can cause stimulation to the pleasure centres in the brain which means some people want more and more of it so they can achieve that same sense of wellbeing. David Kessler, former commissioner of the FDA, estimates there are 70 million food addicts in the world, with many people not addicted to food in general, but to certain combinations of specific foods.

Sex

Tiger Woods made it common, 28 Weeks made it comical, but regardless of what you think of it, sex addiction is serious. While actual numbers are difficult to find, the Sydney Morning Herald reported a significant increase in presentations to psychologists for sex addiction, with one psychologist saying cases have increased 24-fold in recent times.

On the same wavelength, porn addiction is also on the rise, with Hollywood movies like Don Jon attempting to convey what 200,000 Americans with a porn addiction experience on a daily basis. To put it in context, digital agency, Webroot, states that close to 30 thousand people are watching porn on the internet every single second and 35% of all downloads relate to it. Interestingly, in Australia there are around 8,000 Google searches for porn addiction every single month and close to 10,000 for sex addiction.

Gaming

With Wii, Playstation, X Box and a variety of other gaming consoles available, along with hundreds of thousands of games to meet all needs and desires, it s no surprise that so many people have found something that stimulates and excites them.

According to a Bond University study into gaming in Australia, 57% of gamers surveyed played every day or every other day, and their average gaming session was an hour or so. Three percent reported playing for five or more hours in a single sitting.

But if you thought gaming was restricted to the stereotypical, unhygienic guy lounging on the couch in their mum s basement, think again. Almost half of gamers are actually women, and kids gaming is also on the rise. With the introduction of games like Minecraft, which has reported between 40 and 100 million distributed copies, it s no surprise that hundreds of articles have popped up online, featuring parents begging for help for their Minecraft-addicted young children.

Get help!

If you feel you are dependent on any of the above and you would like to seek help, try these great organisations:

  • contact our National Cannabis Information and Helpline on 1800 30 40 50 for support with cannabis addiction
  • contact your state or territory ADIS service for drug and alcohol addiction
  • Call the Quitline for help to quit smoking (13 78 48)
  • Check out problemgambling.gov.au for gambling addiction information
  • For sex addiction, try Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous and consider joining a group
  • Give Lifeline a call for support on 13 11 14
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