Mark Griffiths: "People Can Become Addicted to Non-Chemical Behaviors.”31 Mar 2015
The focus of your work is mainly behavioral addiction; could you start by giving a brief overview of what behavioral addiction is?
Behavioral addictions are those addictions that do not involve the ingestion of a psychoactive substance such as alcohol, nicotine or heroin. Some people believe that a person cannot become addicted to something in the absence of a psychoactive agent, but it is my passionate belief that people can become addicted to non-chemical behaviors. I have written a number of papers over the last 30 years that have tried to show that some behaviors when taken to excess (e.g., gambling, video gaming) are no different from (say) alcoholism or heroin addiction in terms of the core components of addiction (e.g. salience, tolerance, withdrawal, mood modification, conflict, relapse etc.). If it can be shown that a behavior like pathological gambling can be a bona fides addiction (and I believe that it can), then there is a precedent that any behavior that provides continuous rewards (in the absence of a psychoactive substance) can be potentially addictive. Such a precedent ‘opens the floodgates’ for other excessive behaviors to be considered theoretically as potential addictions (e.g. exercise, sex, eating, computer games, the internet) which is what I’ve been examining in some of my research.
Whilst a lot of work is around gambling addictions, you also do work on videogame addiction. What drew you to this area of research?
I suppose the ‘classic’ behavioral addiction is gambling, and it was this type of behavioral addiction that fuelled my interest in other forms of non-chemical addiction such as videogame addiction. Many people might think it’s obvious why a psychologist would be interested in studying behavioral addictions such as videogame addiction. It’s a ‘sexy’ subject, it’s media-friendly, the general public find it interesting, and almost everybody from all walks of life has some kind of view on it, whether it’s rooted in personal experience or in a finely argued theoretical perspective.
Do you feel that online gaming poses more of an issue than offline?
Yes, but in most cases only to people who have a vulnerability or susceptibility in the first place. The key difference is that in offline gaming a player can typically pause and/or save the game and come back to it a point of their choosing. Online games continue even when the player has logged off, which can lead to some people playing excessively because they ‘don’t want to miss anything’ in a 24/7 playing environment (the so-called ‘FOMO’ phenomenon – ‘fear of missing out’). I’ve argued in a lot of my work that the internet can enhance and/or facilitate the acquisition, development and maintenance of online addictions – but the crucial factor is that somebody would have to have some kind of addiction predisposition in the first place.
Are there any potential problems, in your field or otherwise, that could arise from the rapidly expanding user base of video games?
Obviously this depends on the types of game played and their content. Any activity that has the potential to enhance or facilitate excessive play can lead to potential problems. Depending on the types of games played, this could be in the form of medical effects (repetitive strain injuries, headaches, eye-strains, etc.), chronic health conditions (e.g., obesity), psychobiological effects (e.g., addiction), or alleged behavioral effects (e.g., increased aggression). The good news is that most of these potential effects occur in a very small minority of players and that reducing the time spent playing will almost always alleviate or eliminate such problems.
Can a person spend a great deal of time playing games without being an addict?
Some people definitely can. Any behavior that is done to excess – even if it is not an addiction – can potentially take away time from other important things such as job, relationships, and other hobbies. This will depend on the duties, constraints and context of the person in question. A 21-year old man with no partner, no children and no job may have time to play 8-10 hours a day without any negative detriment to his life. However, a married man with three children and a full-time job would find it very hard to play 8-10 hours a day without it seriously compromising some other aspect of his life.
Professor Mark Griffiths has recently published "Internet Addiction in Psychotherapy" (Palgrave, 2015), co-authored by Daria J. Kuss. This book aims to fill the gap by exploring how Internet addiction therapy experts experience the presenting problem of internet addiction in psychotherapy and establishes a relevant knowledge base of potential problems related to internet overuse.