When people think of addiction, they generally think about smoking, alcoholism and maybe even caffeine. The typically talked-about addictions, such as smoking and caffeine, are generally caused by chemical dependencies that affect a person’s body. If someone is addicted to nicotine, going too long without a cigarette makes him feel anxious and irritable. If a caffeine-addicted person waits too long for coffee, she grows drowsier and has a harder time concentrating on tasks.
While these addictions can be harmful, they are not the only addictions someone can have. Non-chemical based addictions are addictions that have no basis in the chemical effects on the body that cause withdrawals. These non-chemical addictions are just as present in our society as their chemical based counterparts, if not more so.
In last week’s episode of “South Park,” the writers addressed addiction, focusing mainly on the topic of “freemium” games, or free games that require you to pay money for extra features. In the episode, the character Stan becomes addicted to spending money on one such game, and his friends intervene, convincing him that he must turn to a higher power for help. Stan accidently summons Satan, who explains to him “the darkness of the human soul.”
The chemical dopamine, which is released in your body during a pleasurable act (such as eating or sex), is the primary reason for these addictions. Anything that satisfies us releases dopamine, including things like accomplishing goals and tasks. By constantly releasing dopamine through means like video games or food, a person can overload his or her pleasure center with dopamine. Eventually, the things that used to make this person happy no longer seem so pleasurable.
In most games, there are objectives to hit called “achievements,” earned by accomplishing different tasks. In the “South Park” episode, there were achievements granted for simply collecting ten coins and constructing a building. After completing the objective, bright lights and congratulations fill the screen proclaiming “Congratulations!” and “Wow you’re really good at this!” This practice is common for many games, mobile and otherwise. They all generally do the same thing: heap on praise at the start then give less as the game goes on, requiring you to spend more time and money to get the achievements. You get used to the stream of praise at the start and feel compelled to play more and obtain more.
Casinos use a similar tactic. They fill their buildings with bright, shining lights and a cacophony of noises designed to sound like there could be someone winning, and that someone could be you! A visitor may win once, and dopamine is released. The casino bets that this person will play again in search of more of that awesome dopamine. This creates a cycle to which people can become addicted, constantly seeking that dopamine high. This is one of the main causes of non-chemical addictions, such as sexual addiction, gambling, shopping, et cetera.
The addictions can also come in other forms, such as addictions to video games, work or exercise. While it is fine to enjoy these things in moderation, overusing them can be harmful. For example, the popular World of Warcraft game is infamous for being addicting. It is known for taking hours of people’s free time every day. People will sometimes spend so much time playing World of Warcraft, or other video games, that they spend little to no time socializing or moving forward in life.
People can also spend too much time at work, limiting their time with family and friends. While work is necessary and not inherently bad, working too much can add unneeded amounts of stress to one’s life.
These types of addictions are easy to overlook, but can be dangerous in the long term. I’m not saying you should entirely cut out video games, exercise or other such things from your life. I’m saying that you should enjoy them in moderation.
If you feel that you, or someone you care about, has a problem with addiction, please contact the counselors at the health center.
James Neyer is a junior Honors Bachelor of Arts major from Cincinnati.