“Currently, we are concerned about young people using the Internet, eating too much, spending irresponsibly, and being promiscuous, and these worries are being expressed in the language of addiction. The medical terminology helps us to believe we’re avoiding moralization or blame, and popular science has given us a sound bite of pseudo-neurology to support our prejudices. For these problems, addiction is little more than a fig leaf for a realistic understanding that would address why people return to unhelpful ways of coping with isolation, stress, and depression. Instead, we prefer to rely on a trite and unhelpful catch-all label that prevents people from getting appropriate help for their difficulties. We need to break the addiction habit, before it breaks us.”
My first thought when reading this article was “ouch.” I’m not an addict, but still, that’s a pretty strong statement. Addiction as a fig leaf. Hmm…
I’ve written a post on this before (A diagnosis for everyone), which would largely agree with the author of the mentioned quote. I do think that the addition label is used too literally.
However… after having watched Sex Rehab, I have a slightly different view on the subject. In terms of true addiction, I’ve always really only considered drugs and alcohol as qualifiers. I wouldn’t even say an eating disorder is an addiction (although many would argue with me), just because there isn’t one identifiable thing that you are addicted to. There are a lot of similarities between the two, though. Anyway, that’s a debate for another day.
Regardless of whether sex addiction is a “real” addiction, these people came and got help. There was much more that they needed to deal with than just the sex – most of them had either some kind of abuse history, unresolved issues that were affecting their daily lives, or an underlying drug/alcohol issue. Whether or not sex addiction “counts,” these people were really struggling with a lot of stuff in life. They definitely left in a better place than they started, and I’m sure that the ongoing treatment can help them be healthier, happier people with satisfying relationships (hopefully).
They wouldn’t have made these changes unless they were removed from their everyday lives. They needed a rehab. They wouldn’t have gone to rehab unless they had a real problem, though. If sex addiction didn’t “count” as real, who knows if they would have ever gotten help.
So I guess my point is… yeah, the word addiction is definition used too liberally. Internet addiciton and sex addiction are most likely in a different category from substance addiction. However, I disagree with this part of the quote:
“…we prefer to rely on a trite and unhelpful catch-all label that prevents people from getting appropriate help for their difficulties.”
I think that MORE people get help when their struggles are verified as real problems. If you spent your entire adult life playing online role-playing games, to the detriment of your career and relationships, then yeah, I’d say that’s a problem? An addiction? ehhh… I don’t know. But if labeling it as such would give someone the permission to get help for something they can’t get over on their own (isn’t that largely what it comes down to? getting help for a problem that you can’t handle by yourself? that’s hurting you, your loved ones, and your life?”), then sure, call it that.
Maybe we shouldn’t call these behavioral obsessions “addictions” – but we should come up for something that validates them. The article makes a relevant point:
“Recent work by psychologist Meredith Young and colleagues at McMaster University in Canada has shown that if we replace a common name for an illness with a medical term—pharyngitis for sore throat, e.g.—people tend to perceive the illness as being more serious.”
Okay, so come up with some scientificish name! Someone must know what “behavioral obsession” is in Latin. Just give it a real name so people can recognize it as a real problem.