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Arousal and Addiction

 

Explanations > Addiction > Arousal and Addiction

Description | Discussion | See also

 

Arousal can be very pleasant and we can effectively become addicted to it.

Drugs

Much drug addiction can be seen as addiction to the arousal caused. Even 'downers', that dull the anxieties of the outside world or of painful memories, are playing with arousal.

Games

Playing games causes arousal too, with the attendant changes in brain chemistry, and can be similar in effect to drug addiction, especially if the games are played for a long period. Highs are later balanced by lows, including exhaustion, irritability and a compulsive desire to return to the game.

Objects

We also get hooked on various objects that offer arousal, from the child's comforter to cars. When we look at the object we feel a conditioned arousal, and when we use it we gain expected pleasures. We hence return often and compulsively to it.

Smart phones can be similarly addictive. A study by professor Jonghun Lee showed maladaptive behavioural patterns such as attentional deficit and aggression, while a separate Stanford study found subjects more likely to forget their wallet than their phone.

Actions

A range of actions offer arousing emotions, from excitement to fear, and so may get repeatedly performed and so become conditioned and addictive.

True addiction is often considered as a chemical process while other arousal disorders come more from compulsions, obsessions and a lack of impulse control. These include:

  • Stealing (kleptomania)
  • Gambling
  • Setting fires (pyromania)
  • Fighting (and anger-based action)
  • Extreme sports

The arousal in these actions are often related to the need for a sense of control. When we take risks such as breaking the law or betting on long odds, we first get a buzz from the anticipation and then, when we succeed, a further buzz from having beaten the odds and shown our ability to control our environment.

Some actions, while initially arousing, soon become unexciting as the initial novelty wears off. This can result in the person taking greater and greater risks until they are harmed by their actions.

See also

The Need for Arousal, Games

 

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