Addiction Musings (1) Introduction

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We’re beginning a series of posts ‘musing’ about addiction. Musing rather than thinking too hard, as the subject is so vast and split into thousands of specialist research specialities. Not to metioned the all too often ignored experiences and ideas of people who have personal acquaintance with addictions.

Words – any words – can be highly misleading. The word ‘addiction’ does not refer to a thing that can be seen or otherwise sensed, weighed, measured. It is helpful to think of it as just a signpost to hundreds of different states which are often barely understood by addicts themselves or expert specialists. No one has, and no one ever will, come up with a unified ‘theory of addiction’ because unlike, for instance, things that can be weighed or measured or seen in a microscope, there are no tight borders around the term. Everything is blurred. In everyday life people talk about being ‘addicted’ to such-and-such a television series or type of biscuit. Such usage of the word belittles the suffering of  severe addiction states.

On the other hand, it is accepted as a fact that not only substance dependence but behaviours can be characterised medically as addictions. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition which is one of the main diagnostic manuals used by psychiatrists identifies ‘gambling disorder’ as a clear-cut case of addiction.

Increasingly mentioned in the media are things like ‘internet addiction’, ‘smartphone addiction’ and ‘social media addiction’. Serious research has yet to suggest whether these are ‘true’ addictions – but they certainly have many of the characteristics of addictions.

An interesting case of possible addiction relates to climbers for whom climbing is one of the most, if not the most, important part of their lives. They have reported ‘withdrawl symptoms’ of depression and anxiety if injury prevents their activity. It’s well known too, that many love exercise and the gym so much that they would feel bereft without them. Activities such as exercise and climbing are known to relese chemicals i the brain which produce a ‘feel good’ factor and in some cases, especially when combined with risk, a definite high or ‘buzz’.

On this site we mean by addiction a condition which involves compulsive activity over which an indidual feels they have little or no control, and which produces extremely negative consequences. Negative consequences involve physical and mental health, financial problems, relationship breakdowns and other serious problems – including, of course, death. In some cases, people suffering with addiction will be ‘in denial’ and not realise or admit the devestating consequences of their behaviour; equally, many are only too aware yet feel they cannot stop the compulsion. Invariably, the lives of those close to somebody suffering from addiction are seriously affected too.

More people than today used to talk of a ‘demon’ within, such as ‘the demon drink’. Interestingly, the word addiction in mediaeval times was used to describle priests’ giving themselves up to God. Addiction was a contract, and in Roman times a slave would be ‘addicted’ to a master. We still talk about being enslaved by addiction.

There is still a great deal of stigma around those suffering with addiction (and other mental health ailments too). It is seen by some uninformed people as a character weakness or a moral flaw. In reality addiction is a mental health condition that requires every bit as much understanding, research and treatment as, for instance, depression or anxiety.

In fact, depression and anxiety are often the primary disorders which lead people to ‘self medicate’ or take part in risky behaviours in an attempt to alleviate suffering: addiction may follow (and when it does it usually makes the original conditions worse).

Addiction can strike anybody irrespective of age, gender or social class. While it is true that some addictions correlate with factors such as deprivation, poverty and social exclusion, many addictions do not. There are plenty of teachers, police officers, doctors, nurses, politicians, judges who succumb to alcohol. Online gambling prevalence is highly correlated with middle class professionals. Away from ‘skid row’ stereotypes, thousands of ‘respectable’ people are becoming addicted to over the counter painkillers and prescription only drugs obtained illegally (mainly online).

Current research shows that 9% of men and 4% of women are physically dependent upon alcohol. That is a staggeringly high figure and it may well increase.

Addiction is not, then, something which happens to a few unfortunates or degenerates. It is almost certain that somebody reading this now is on the road to addiction if not already there. And it is completely certain that everybody knows someone suffering from addiction be it at home, at work, among friends. And for each of these people, many more will be suffering too – from their addiction.

 

Avoiding Internet Dangers

Here’s a wonderful half hour talk by Nir Eyal. In it you’ll hear about ‘dark patterns’ that some top names use on their websites to entice you to do things you don’t want to – such as NOT ticking a box to refuse a subscription. Plenty of advice on work/home spaces and disconnecting from media during leisure time. Also, advice on how to reduce time on digital devices.

Children and Social Media (2)

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WE LIVE in a Britain – or a ‘developed country’ – where many fears and anxieties are circulated by the day, one after the other and reinforced by the social media and the mass media (the former still heavily influenced by the latter). Many of these fears such as whether or not burned toast gives you cancer (that ‘meme’ came and went a few months ago) may seem more than offensive to those in the ‘rich countries’ whose fears are more about paying the rent or feeding the family, and those living under terror systems of war and tyranny or starvation.

Do we worry too much about our children? Do we worry, in particular, too much about their use of social media and the internet? Probably the answer is ”Yes’ which is not at all the same as saying we should not have genuine concerns at all. By and large, the news media have always favoured hyperbole, exaggeration and sensationalism. Why? Because we like it. So, are the claims about negative impacts on young people by the digital media to be swallowed whole?

For instance, an article called Electronic Screen Syndrome: An Unrecognized Disorder? written by a doctor makes some startling claims about the deleterious effects of ‘screen time’. She actually proposes a new diagnosis called Electronic Screen Syndrome. This is fairly typical of many articles flooding the electronic and print media about how parents and others should be very very worried about what the social media and internet are ‘doing’ to kids. Unsurprisingly then, in the USA (and China and Japan) there has been a growing provision of private ‘digital detox’ clinics, retreats and counselling. The Independent reports:

Children refusing to put down their phones is a common flashpoint in many homes, with a third of British children aged 12 to 15 admitting they do not have a good balance between screen time and other activities.

But in the US, the problem has become so severe for some families that children as young as 13 are being treated for digital technology addiction.

One ‘smartphone rehab’ centre near Seattle has started offering residential “intensive recovery programs” for teenagers who have trouble controlling their use of electronic devices.

The Young Health Movementa development from  The Royal Society for Public Health

have produced a report called #StatusofMind  Their summary page about social media and mental health contains the following infographic:

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and this interesting video .

Here’s another – one of thousands that could be chosen about the dangers of handheld devices in general:

Kids Who Use Smartphones Start Talking Later

Growing evidence suggests that screen time may have some negative consequences for young children’s development.

In a new study of nearly 900 children between six months and two years old, researchers found that those who spent more time using handheld devices were more likely to have delays in expressive speech, compared to children who didn’t use the devices as much. For every 30 minutes of screen time, there was a 49% increased risk of expressive speech delay. The research, which was led by pediatricians at the Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, was presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.

This post could go on and on but you get the picture. Behind the scenes in Academia more and more research is going on. As is usually the case media reporting of studies may be very hyperbolic. In reality there’s a consensus that one study on its own does not mean much, and that there are no agreed, watertight findings about children and the internet. Nevertheless we do well to be vigilant. Just on an everyday basis, for instance, if parents are texting or whatever in the family home rather than engaged in conversation, what do kids learn?

There are many specific dangers well addressed by specialist sites relating to such things as pornography, bullying, grooming and generally inappropriate and/or exploitative content. It’s very much relevant to add to the list online gambling. Research from Queen Mary Univeristy of London states that researchers point to recent statistics from an international research review which suggest that 77 to 83 per cent of adolescents are involved in some kind of gambling, and 10 to 15 per cent of adolescents are at risk of developing serious gambling problems.

A therapist writes in an important article in The Guardian that Suddenly, and scarily, the threats are revealed. The rise in digital addiction is stark: 23% of teenage boys gamble online; indeed, teenagers are more likely to gamble than they are to smoke or do drugs

Interestingly, she points out what many addiction experts and addicts themselves know as certain, that gambling addiction whether through digital devices or not serves in part to soothe distress and tensions, anxieties, to self-medicate for stress, to escape from the real world of problesm and unhappiness to an empowered virtual world. And adults do just the same. Kids learn, are socialised by the people around them so:

What is possible is teaching children emotional intelligence: how to normalise uncomfortable feelings and manage them. We need to practise what we preach and provide good examples for them. Rushing in, stressed from work, we can choose not to pick up our tablet to self-sooth. Rather, why not take a walk in the park with our children and talk about how our stress reduces as a result?

It’s not easy being a parent and it’s just got harder.

So in conclusion, we have to recognise that some of the concerns about social media and children are exaggerated, and we should also recognise the great potential benefits of digital communication, the digital world isn’t going to go away. We need to be aware, to learn and to admit this new strand into our capacities for nurturing the development and growth of young people.

Making Facebook more productive

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Facebook gets some flack. Some people swear they wouldn’t dream of using it which sometimes implies that those who do are somewhat ‘wrong’. Concerns about content, digital privacy and psychological issues are legitimate and worthy of consideration.

However, as well as being a great way to keep in touch, have some fun, challenge the dominant and arrogant discourses of power (politics, journalism etc.), Facebook offers people a great way of filing, joining in discussion on special interest via closed or open groups, and setting up pages for organisations, business, and special interests. Business usage especially is increasingly related to integrated digital marketing.

As a personal user, I mainly use Facebook as a bookmarking tool. I filter posts relevant to my own peculiar interests so that they are only visible to me. Unfortunately, I often forget to change the setting so that they leak out as public shares which does little harm apart from filling other people’s timelines with junk – although I have been recently surprised when one such ‘leak’ whipped up a somewhat emotional controversy among people I don’t know.

What people may not know is that it’s possible to save posts for looking at later or keeping for reference. It’s very simple to do so and the process is explained here.

Young Men and Gambling Problems

Good article in The Guardian. Click here to see full piece.

 

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Men of my age often feel trapped between one group of people telling us to “man up” and another suggesting that our plight is less grave than that of others. Indeed, many will probably shrug when they learn that a new study suggests that a quarter of men between 18 and 24 have a gambling problem. Yet it does not take a genius to see a link between gambling and millennial males’ current place in society. We are a group lacking hope – and gambling is just one symptom.

My demographic is gambling for a number of reasons – some of them innocent – but economics and mental health are crucial. Of course, the cause of minority groups are generally more pressing than that of millennial men – we should not feel uneasy about asking not to be forgotten, while advocating other progressive issues. It is coherent to champion both.

Pioneering books such as The Pinch and Jilted Generation show that, generationally speaking, our prospects are being damaged by a toxic mix of debt, unemployment, demographic factors, globalisation and rising house prices. But as a gender, young males’ mental wellbeing is quietly in crisis. We can over-politicise gambling but, as it becomes increasingly normalised, it can appear an easy, supposedly masculine escape – one that’s advertised wall-to-wall during sport on TV.

Site Launch

Great to be able to offer the world our new site. It’s a very close look at Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. We see this as a case study for learning about politics, industry, psychology and much more. Plus, of course, there’s lots of controversial conflict around the machines that can be found in evry high street, and are often referred to as ‘the crack cocaine’ of gambling.

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