One of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood, and one of the World’s Most Beautiful People, Olivia Munn is not the kind of person you would picture ripping out her own eyelashes and eating them. Nevertheless, the X-Men: Apocalypse star suffers from a rare behavioral disorder known as Trichotillomania, which affects 1 to 4 percent of adults and adolescents.
Behavioral disorders are becoming a greater concern among psychologists and addiction experts, redefining what exactly qualifies as an addiction and how it should be diagnosed. What used to be considered a genetic predisposition is evolving into a much broader discussion about causes, symptoms, and treatments, changing the way we perceive addiction science and the stigma that surrounds it.
What’s in a Name?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible of psychological diagnosis, the difference between Substance Abuse and Substance Dependence has become a gray area that no longer serves its purpose. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association chose to combine both into a single classification, broadening the categories that qualify and making it easier to diagnose. Even still, many Behavioral Disorders continue to evade them, making up a growing but modest portion of the DSM.
The current edition of the manual includes Gambling as an official Addictive Disorder because it reflects research findings that are similar to substance-related disorders in clinical studies, including brain origin, physiology, and treatment. But this has a lot more to do with where the grant money is going, not necessarily what can and should qualify for diagnosis. Interestingly, the APA listed Internet Gaming Disorder as a “Condition for Further Study,” meaning it’s not an official disorder, but it’s well on its way.
Anyone Can Be Addicted to Anything
The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, and repeated exposure to any substance or activity can lead to addiction. Whether it’s a psychoactive drug, a sexual encounter, or a handful of M&Ms, the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus accumbens—a cluster of nerve cells lying underneath the cerebral cortex—results in the same physiological response.
It’s referred to as the Pleasure Principle and isn’t necessarily a bad thing: without the desire to eat, sleep, and have sex, the human race wouldn’t have been around for very long. It’s a reward system that our lives literally depend on to survive. Unfortunately for some, excessive exposure to any substance or activity that provides a dopamine boost can lead to a compulsion, whether it is alcohol or exercise, as the brain adapts and that same level of pleasure becomes harder to attain. No matter what it is, a desire for something can eventually become a need for it.
Abstinence vs Use Reduction
You can’t stop eating, and sex is still a healthy physical and psychological expression, as well as an evolutionary necessity. But too much of a good thing can become disruptive, if not worse. Many psychoactive drugs provide a shortcut to the cerebral cortex, flooding the brain with dopamine and establishing a higher likelihood of dependency. Behavioral Addictions, however, are more subtle and take longer to hijack the brain’s pleasure center. As a result, abstinence becomes less important than a reduction in use or exposure. By cutting down on the amount of time and energy one spends engaging in an addictive behavior, the less likely they are to become addicted to it.
What is Technology Addiction and Why Does it Matter?
Addiction to technology and online activities are quickly taking center stage in many psychological studies. Internet addiction results in feelings of euphoria when in front of a computer/smartphone or engaging with popular social media platforms, followed by feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation.
Meanwhile, social media users spend a combined average of 39,757 years on Facebook every single day. In that same 24-hour period, they also manage to send over 500 million tweets, upload over 5 million Instagram photos, and watch over 125 million hours of Netflix. And there is no sign of it slowing down. According to the Pew Research Center, social media use among American adults has increased from 7% to 65% in just the past 12 years.
As our daily lives continue to rely more heavily on technology for both work and pleasure, we need to be more aware of how that will affect our mental health and our ability to cope with life offline. Not all addictions resolve by cutting back, but research continues to reinforce the idea that moderation is an effective treatment for many behavioral disorders. By becoming self-aware and restricting the time we spend engaging in addictive activities, the more likely we are to live a healthy, balanced life.