Addiction is a complex beast, and the human brain is capable of becoming hooked on substances and behaviors that can seem quite odd to those unaffected. But these addictions all occur in the brain through the same basic mechanisms. Understanding how addiction manifests in its various forms can help us gain insight into our own problematic behaviors or substance uses.
In this post, we’ll look at three very odd addictions, and then we’ll step back to examine a few more common compulsions. We’ll also explore how many of these addictions are treated. Read on.
While the following addictions may seem strange, weird or disturbing, the afflicted share certain traits in common with other addicts, such as:
- A compulsion to consume the compound, or intense cravings
- A short-lived sense of satisfaction once the person gives in to the craving
- The return of cravings if the person stops consuming the compound
- Withdrawal symptoms if the person then doesn’t resume consumption
The purpose of highlighting these odd addictions is not to poke fun. Rather, it is to draw a comparison to more common addictions—some of which are covered in the next section. The brain is extraordinarily complex, and addiction is a chronic condition in which brain function is altered. Regardless of the compound or activity in question, the afflicted individual finds it difficult or impossible to stop on their own, even though they want to.
If you recognize this in yourself, regardless of the drug, activity or compound you’re addicted to, it’s crucial to seek help now. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can regain control. Some of the individuals in this section would have almost certainly died had they not sought help. By far, one of the best options for addiction is treatment in an accredited residential rehabilitation facility.
Gasoline is, of course, the flammable liquid that fuels our vehicles and generators. But for at least one young woman, it has fueled a potentially deadly obsession. A girl named Shannon on the program My Strange Addiction is shown lifting a red gas can to her mouth. Then she does the unthinkable: she drinks from it.
“It tingles,” she says. “Then it burns.”
According to Shannon, even though she knows the substance is no good for her brain or body, she drinks up to 12 teaspoons per day.
“It feels good,” she says.
Apart from being incredibly flammable, which can pose a serious risk to safety in and of itself, it’s also potentially fatal. Gasoline is composed of over 150 chemicals, among them the hydrocarbons toluene, xylenes and alkenes. These exotic compounds don’t play nice with the central nervous system or the internal organs. A high dose of gasoline over a short period of time can do irreversible damage to the liver, for instance.
Moreover, gasoline vapor can damage the eyes, lungs and skin. Finally, long-term exposure to gasoline may damage DNA, which could lead to cancer.
A mother-of-two is employed at a furniture store. On the showroom floor, it’s her responsibility to ensure that the displays remain neat and orderly. One day, attempting to clear some stale air, she accidentally inhales some air freshener. She finds she likes it. It’s not long before she starts huffing it intentionally.
Thereafter, she’s often seen with air freshener in hand, at both home and work. She even sprays air freshener over ice to make a cool ‘drink.’
According to this woman, who My Strange Addiction showrunners call Evelyn, she goes through 20 cans per week.
Her self-described addiction doesn’t extend to all air fresheners, though. Her flavor and aroma of choice is Fresh Linen. She does not like cinnamon, and she despises apple crisp.
The liquid base for most air fresheners is good ol’ H20. But all air fresheners contain various chemicals. Among these is sodium phosphate, which is an additive common in processed food. In processed cheese, for instance, it’s used as an emulsifier. The difference is that in processed foods, this compound is found in trace amounts. It’s found in much higher amounts in air freshener. Another compound common in air fresheners is steartrimonium chloride. This chemical is common in cosmetics and is not meant for human consumption.
While these compounds may not be particularly damaging in the short term—but then again, they may be, in high amounts—the real danger comes from long-term exposure. Specifically, if a foreign compound has the potential to damage DNA over time, it can be a vector for cancer.
Addiction to toilet paper, or to paper in general, is far more common than the other two addictions on this list. The compulsion to consume paper is so common by comparison that is has a name: xylophagia. Some people suffering from xylophagia may eat up to half a roll of single-ply toilet paper per day. Others consume notebook paper, pencils or tree bark.
Xylophagia is considered part of the broader eating disorder known as Pica. Pica has been linked to iron and zinc deficiency, though research is ongoing.
In the next section, we’ll cover more common addictions. Though some people don’t consider these ‘hard’ addictions because they don’t necessarily involve the consumption of hard drugs like heroin or cocaine, they can be every bit as difficult to overcome.
Pathologic gambling, or gambling disorder, affects around 15-million Americans. It’s particularly common in young people, and the number of young gamblers is increasing. When considering that addiction involves interaction between the brain’s reward pathway and a chemical compound or behavior, it’s not surprising to find that gambling can be addictive.
After all, it’s an activity that involves a cycle of:
When we anticipate reward, this primes neurons to prepare to release dopamine, a feel-good neurochemical. Moreover, once these neural pathways are established, they expect repeated stimulus. This generates cravings in the individual. Every time the gambler gives in to the craving, they strengthen that particular neural pathway. Over time, this repeated stimulus sets up habitual and compulsive behavior. The good news is that this works in reverse, too. If the gambler can surf the craving—not give in to it—the associated neural pathways become weaker over time.
For some gamblers, the fact that the reward is very infrequent is secondary. For these folks, it’s all about the anticipation of reward, and perhaps to a lesser degree, the risk. But because trouble gambling is becoming more common, the societal impacts of gambling are also increasing. This includes:
- Financial solvency issues
- Family stability
- Drug use and abuse
On an individual level, compulsive gamblers may see crumbling personal relationships, job loss, bankruptcy and many other negative consequences. Despite these losses, they find it difficult to step away from the table. One reason that gambling is becoming more frequent is that the tables have gone digital. No longer does the gambler have to leave their home to wager money. Now, they can spin the wheel in their favorite video games.
So-called ‘loot boxes’ are receiving attention from governing bodies because of their potential to create young gamblers. A loot box is any game mechanic that allows a player to spend real world money for the chance to win an in-game asset. This may be cosmetic, such as a gun skin or texture. Or, it may be functional, such as an ability unlock.
The defining attribute of a loot box, though, is that the player isn’t guaranteed to win anything at all.
Most gamers will have no trouble saying no to this temptation, but a subset of players, which the gaming industry refers to as ‘whales,’ will have trouble saying no. Over the latest decade, reports have flooded in of individuals each spending thousands of dollars on loot boxes.
The gaming industry has taken notice. According to one study, the presence of loot boxes in popular games has gone from around 40 percent to over 70 percent in the past nine years.
Treating compulsive gambling can be a difficult. Part of the problem is that treatment is only effective if an individual can admit they have a problem. Many folks struggling with gambling addiction lack full insight into the fact that they gamble irresponsibly. They’re not ready to admit it to themselves, much less to other people.
What’s more, treatment is often ineffective if the individual is pressured into therapy by a family member or employer. The affected individual is likely to feel resentment, and they won’t be receptive to treatment.
But if the person is ready to admit they have a problem and is receptive to treatment, therapy modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy coupled with a 12-step program can be very effective. In extreme cases, residential treatment facilities may be called for. Such a facility can help the individual refrain from self-destructive behavior long enough for therapy to have an effect.
In some cases, a medical professional may prescribe antidepressants or mood stabilizers as part of a treatment regimen. During this process, it’s also possible to discover a co-occurring mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Treatment of the underlying mental health issue often helps with addiction as well.
The next two addictions on this list can be particularly tricky to treat because they’re tied into basic biological functions. Let’s take a look.
To an outside observer, addiction to sex or sexual behaviors may seem like a fun addiction. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sex addiction can be one of the hardest addictions to overcome because sex should be part of a healthy, normal lifestyle. When an addiction forms around a behavior or substance that should be part of everyday life, treatment becomes difficult.
It’s common among sex addicts to be unable to maintain sobriety for any length of time. This can set them up for a cycle of craving, anticipation, caving, release and intense guilt. Over time, this guilt cycle takes a toll psychologically. Sex addicts often report feelings of hopelessness that may even lead to suicidal thoughts. For many such addicts, sex is their primary source of:
- Fun or pleasure
- Stress relief
- Feeling of safety
- Feeling of acceptance
- Feeling of intimacy
For many, compulsive sex temporarily relieves feelings of loneliness and emptiness. But this behavior can have serious repercussions on important relationships. Over time, these relationships, which the addict once considered incredibly important, fall to the wayside in favor of new and different sexual experiences. Many sex addicts end up living in isolation—feeling alone, misunderstood and shamed.
In some cases, addiction to sex may be rooted in abuse sustained during childhood.
But what is it?
Sex addiction refers to the cognitive and behavioral patterns of a person who uses sex to cope with the stresses of everyday life, and who does so despite repeat negative consequences. Sex addicts display an inability to stop, even if they want to.
In sex addiction, the brain develops an abnormal need for sex. It begins to depend on sexual activity for the release of feel-good brain chemicals such as dopamine. In other words, a sex addict feels as if they need sex the way you feel the urge to eat food. It feels like a biological need that must be satisfied in order for them to feel good, safe or even just okay.
In some cases, antidepressants have proven effective in treating sex addiction. This indicates that the root of the condition may be an abnormality in brain chemistry, though research is ongoing.
In addition, there are several treatment options that have proven moderately successful. These are most successful when used in conjunction with one another.
- 12-Step programs
- Checking into a residential sex addiction treatment facility
- Aversion therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Certain medications
Like addiction to sex, addiction to food is difficult to treat. In this case, food is essential for life. It’s part of everyday functioning. Not eating simply isn’t an option. Often, however, food addiction manifests as a psychological need for particular types of food. Frequently, this is food high in refined sugar, salt and fat. These highly processed foods are known by consumers as ‘junk foods,’ but the food industry refers to them as ‘hyper-palatable foods.’
Did you know?
Hyper-palatable foods are designed by food engineers to make consumers reach bliss point. Bliss point is the point at which the consumer feels intense pleasure from eating, but does not feel physically full. Generally, bliss point requires that a food be high in processed carbohydrate and moderate in fat and salt. This is because fat tends to be more filling than refined carbohydrate. Consequently, common bliss point foods are soda, potato chips and certain baked goods.
Consumers at bliss point will continue to eat the highly processed food, even though they have fulfilled their caloric needs. Snack manufacturers have coyly brandied about their understanding of bliss point and how the brain responds to pleasure with slick slogans like, You can’t eat just one.
Though food addiction appears to be common, it is controversial.
Not all researchers agree that hyper-palatable foods are addictive in and of themselves. However, behavioral addiction seems possible if the individual comes to rely on these foods for stress relief or pleasure.
By far, one of the most effective treatment options for food addiction is residential addiction treatment in an accredited rehab facility. Monitored food consumption over a period of time can help the brain—and the palette—readjust. Often, abstaining from refined sugar for a period of time can help the patient regain an appreciation for other types of food.
If you think you may be struggling with any of these issues, the time to get help is now. Addiction tends to get worse over time without intervention. You may find that you lose relationships that were once important to you, or you may lose employment, or your financial solvency. Or you may lose all of these. What’s more, these losses can occur slowly enough that you may be willing to tolerate them in order to keep engaging in the behavior or using the substance.
If you have made several attempts to stop but seem unable to do so, please consider seeking the help of an accredited rehabilitation center. Their specialists can help you gain control over your addiction by teaching you powerful therapy modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy. Once you learn these tools, you can use them on your own to manage cravings as they come up.
The process may not always be fun, especially at the beginning, but the more control you gain over the addiction, the more you come into your own power, the more satisfaction you will feel. This earned satisfaction can carry you through cravings and can keep you sober.
If you’re trying to get addiction treatment for yourself or for someone you love when it comes to a “strange addiction”, reach out to The Hills for comprehensive and caring treatment that will help patients detox and learn the skills to cope with their triggers and their addiction.