Chapstick, tattoos and the most common legal things people find addictive according to a psychiatrist
Ask anyone about addiction and the usual list comes to mind: opioids, cigarettes, alcohol, meth, cocaine. The habitual abuse and misuse of these items leaves a familiar trail of broken families, broken spirits, financial ruin and death. According to addiction counselors, however, the nature of addiction isn’t limited to the usual suspects; abuse of everyday items can lead to both physical and psychological addiction.
“When doctors speak about addiction they are focused, rightfully, on the dangerous physical results,” says Kirsten Roux, addiction and relationship psychiatrist at Denver Health. “When therapists speak about addiction, they’re focused on the dangerous results from behavior. As a psychiatrist, I’m focused on both.”
These behaviors include feelings of guilt and shame; isolation and negative effects on relationships - family, partners, and job. Physical addiction is also very real, however, and everyday items sold by big pharmaceuticals do cause physical addiction - mainly as a marketing effort to get you to use more of the product. Much like a heroin dealer.
But what are some of the most common, legal, things people might find addictive?
“You’d be surprised,” Roux contends.
Chapstick and Carmex, especially, are common. Yes, really. Apparently, the ingredients in lip products can be super drying, which prompt you to feel the need to keep reapplying in a vicious cycle. In addition, the feeling of being 'addicted to Chapstick' is that the person has become very used to a textural feeling on his or her lips. “The lips can become so dry with over use that I’ve had people leave my office and ask me for a dollar so they could get some Chapstick on the way home,” Roux contends.
“Exercise addiction is a HUGE one,” says Roux. If your day isn't complete unless you've gotten in a run, hit the gym, or hopped on a bike, you might be addicted. “Some people use exercise as a coping strategy to control emotions.”
“It sounds counterintuitive that something that’s supposed to be good for you can actually be bad,” Roux says, “but if your need to be in the gym or eat a certain way takes away from the quality of your life, it’s gotten to be dangerous. Not to mention the injuries people often get from over exercise.”
Moisturizer is notoriously addictive for skin. There are some clinicians who warn that constant use of thick moisturizers can make the skin lazy. By providing a false barrier to the environment, the skin does not have to work as hard as it normally would to maintain adequate hydration levels. The solution is often more moisturizer.
Visine 'gets the red out' thanks to a few active ingredients such as tetrahydrozoline, a vasoconstrictor that constricts the conjunctival blood vessels so that they appear smaller and thus your eyes appear less red. Visine also has a known rebound effect, however, and extended use of Visine can cause redness, and patients may find themselves in a cycle of using a product which initially helped the problem but now contributes to it.
Roux has even treated people with an addiction to tattoos. “Addiction is psychosomatic,” she reminds us. “How you think about yourself affects your body. If you imagine that tattoos can change people's perception of you, you may believe that a new image on your skin will impress others, boost your self-esteem.” For many, a few new pieces may not be enough. “In searching for more images, people may become depressed or angry at themselves and not seeing a new, happier face in the mirror. That can feel—and trap someone—like an abused substance.”
The same thing happens with tanning. UV light has been shown to trigger a release of endorphins, the feel-good hormone. Roux says. “You might find yourself craving that feeling of happiness. If you find you're going to the tanning salon more often or staying in the tanning bed longer, that could be a sign of dependence.”
The list is never ending according to Roux. She tells real stories about patients who are addicted to the internet - and not just pornography - just being on the internet; Diet Coke; video games; even chewing ice and listening to music.
“What makes an addiction destructive is the behavior that addicts adopt to feel relief,” Roux says. “Chapstick seems harmless - even if you’re addicted - but if you disrupt a date or have to leave work early to get Chapstick, it’s causing harm.”
There are even those that are addicted to love. Not being in love, but the feeling of falling in love. Roux claims that the behavioral, psychological, and neurophysiological feelings of love have similar effects to chronic, drug-seeking behavior and coming down off of these behaviors (i.e. going through a breakup) can lead to feelings of withdrawal for those affected.
“Love addiction is not only underdiagnosed, it’s widespread and common,” she warns. “People become so addicted to ‘new love’ that they are unable to see a relationship mature into comfortable and familiar love. Break-ups or sabotage takes place, hurting people and damaging finances, creating havoc in the lives of other people because the addict wants to stop and restart relationships ad nauseum.”
Roux closes with one absolute, “Anytime your behavior begins to screw with the lives of other people, and if that isn’t enough to stop it, it’s automatically an addiction.”