Dealing with addiction is a lifelong and difficult struggle

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SUBSTANCE abuse, such as drugs, alcohol and smoking, is easy to define. However, defining non-substance abuse, also referred to as behavioural addiction, is difficult.

Non-substance abuse includes the use of technology, the Internet and social media; photographing; gaming; gambling; sex; bullying; shopping; exercising; and eating excessively.

Every part of our life can make us addicted. This, however, may lead to overpathologising people’s behaviours or broadening the addiction scope.

On the other hand, dismissal of certain activities or behaviours as not being addictive may be counterproductive.

Substance or non-substance abuse is a pathology that does not only affect our emotional balance and decision-making but also control of our behaviour.

I see people walking on the road using their mobiles; people driving while making phone calls; people busy with their handphones at meetings; students watching movies, playing games and updating their online statuses in classes; people neglecting their clients, families, and friends to respond to mobile messages or update their status on social media; people taking wefies and selfies in dangerous places; and people recording their “deaths”.

Marc N. Potenza, writing in the Journal of Behavioural Addictions, while commenting on
the work of Billieux et al. (2015) titled “Are we overpathologising everyday life? A tenable blueprint for behavioural addiction research”, noted four elements of addiction:

CONTINUED engagement in the behaviour despite adverse consequences;

APPETITIVE urge or craving state that often immediately precedes behavioural engagement;

POOR self-control over behavioural engagement; and,

COMPULSIVE behavioural engagement.

Pathologising addiction and seeing it as a health problem will make us give priority to prevention and treatment rather than punishment. This is not to relegate or trivialise the power and role of punishment in curbing addiction or deter the rights of addicts though.

As a matter of fact, “battling any addiction is a lifelong and difficult struggle”, said actor Ben Affleck following his rehab stints in 2001 and 2017.

Based on scientific studies, we know that addiction is a medical disorder that affects not only the brain, but also culminates in behavioural change.

Not only are our biological and environmental risk factors responsible for addiction, but also our genetic variations and societal pressures.

The earlier we realise this, the better it is for us to develop prevention approaches and treatment strategies. And rather than stigmatising addiction, we should help addicts.


lecturer, Department of Biotechnology, Faculty of Science, Lincoln University College, Kuala Lumpur

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