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Addiction might be a click closer than you think

Can we be too addicted to our screens?

Image of Fix
Author: Damian Thompson
Publisher: Collins (2012)
Binding: Hardcover, 288 pages

When author Damian Thompson talks about addiction, he's speaking in part from experience. He's an alcoholic who got sober a number of years ago.

He argues in his new book, "The Fix," that it's not just addicts who are like him. It could very well be all of us, whether it's Facebook, Twitter, your iPhone, cupcakes or the really hard stuff. And that sliding scale can add up to big profits when we get hooked.

Thompson said he defines addiction as "the point at which a particular habit starts to cause you harm."

So can addiction really be applied to things like iPhones? You can't die from an iPhone addiction, after all. "I agree," he said. "What I am saying, however, is technology does have the potential to draw us into darker addictions. A small proportion of people who are addicted to spending time online will become addicted to apparently innocent activities such as computer games, such as World of Warcraft, or whatever, that take up so much of their time that they just don't have a life."

Compared with 20 years ago, we can find delectable options at every turn. 

"Our bodies were not built for the fabulous, enticing and artery-clogging choices that greet us everywhere we go," said Thompson.

It's not a coincidence, he argues, that the things we get hooked on often have high profit margins, be they illegal drugs or iPads. 

"It's actually something to do with the chemistry in our brains. We have got used to the idea that we reward ourselves every time you eat a cupcake or every time you drink alcohol or try particular drugs, all sorts of online sensations -- you get a dopamine squirt, you get some sort of reward from your brain chemistry."

Manufacturers are increasingly attuned to the demand for their product, as customers engage voraciously, he says. Then they futher refine the pitch to appeal to an even more instantaneous craving. 

As for his own fix, Thompson admits to being addicted to the Showtime TV show, "Dexter." "Yeah, I watch it every night until the point where I get into bed, and because of the iPad, I watch it until I'm too tired for work the next morning."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Image of Fix
Author: Damian Thompson
Publisher: Collins (2012)
Binding: Hardcover, 288 pages
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Addiction is a chronic, progressive brain disease. It's treatable. Perhaps not as successfully as one might like, but on a par with other chronic diseases that require substantial behavioral change, like diabetes and hypertension.

Unfortunately, many people still don't believe addiction is a disease. That's why science-based education is so important.

For a not-for-profit website that discusses the science of substance use and abuse in accessible English (how alcohol and drugs work in the brain; how addiction develops; why addiction is a chronic, progressive brain disease; what parts of the brain malfunction as a result of substance abuse; how that malfunction skews decision-making and motivation, resulting in addict behaviors; why some get addicted while others don't; how treatment works; how well treatment works; why relapse is common; what family and friends can do; etc.) please click on www.AddictScience.com.

Kai,

RE: your comment, "No one ever died from being too involved with their iPhone."

Really? What about all the people who have been killed because someone was texting and driving? Traffic deaths from distracted driving numbers in the thousands. Deaths from texting while driving now outnumbers deaths caused by drunk drivers in some areas.

Your comment was insensitive and inaccurate.

Kai, I listened to this report on the Radio this afternoon and I felt you made a comment that was not well thought out. You said "isn't that a little silly? No one ever died from being too involved on their iPhone."

We are all well aware that we now live in an age where people struggle to take a break from their phone while driving, and it has caused serious injury and death. People text, search, check weather, traffic, take photos, check social media, change podcasts.... all while driving. This is being too involved in a phone and causing harm.

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