Oct 27, 2017

We hear it in the staff room at lunch time – idle office chatter, nothing overwhelmingly important – just the minutiae of everyday life. Then we hear the words – addicted, addiction, addict. What – someone we know? Surely not one of our co-workers! And the whole sentence suddenly clears itself out of the background noise of the coffee machine, the inane chitchat, and the rustling pages of the trashy magazines – I’m absolutely ADDICTED to that new television series. Or – I’m totally addicted to my new I-phone. Really?

A whole new industry has started up around addiction – apparently we are all becoming addicted to something – technology, to chocolate, shopping, plastic surgery, eating, there are even some of us who are addicted to receiving approval from our peers.

But when did we start using the terminology so loosely? Aren’t addicts slightly wild-eyed, filthy, living on the streets, resorting to a life of crime to pay for their next fix? That does not describe anyone I see in my office – yet we are all guilty of saying we are addicted to something. And we say it in a slightly embarrassed tone – as though we are asking not to be judged too harshly, it is only harmless – ‘I just can’t help myself.’ Sometimes the reason for confession is to pull others into the same circle – ‘it’s not just me, everyone has some form of addiction, however trivial.’

The lack of ability to resist something that is generally thought of as harmless (chocolate, ice-cream) can also be a release for a person who usually exercises enormous self-control in other areas of their life. We have a sense that we push ourselves so hard most of the time, we are so disciplined at work, therefore we deserve to be more relaxed and have areas in our life where we can indulge ourselves.

So who is really an addict – is it the person hopelessly addicted to an illegal substance – or is it an enthusiastic devotee of a pleasant activity? It is probably a whole range of people across this broad spectrum, and we can all probably say we sit somewhere on it. What we run the risk of doing is trivialising the term to the point that minor guilt becomes addiction.

And – actually being addicted to your mobile phone is actually a recognised condition! Apparently one in three people check their phone during the night, and 9% of people have admitted to checking it during sex. Don’t worry though, there are Addiction Therapy centres being set up just to address this first world problem – and plenty of online forums offering to guide you through your twelve step self-help treatment.