Conditions Under Addiction "Umbrella" Continue To Evolve

By Beth Leipholtz 01/11/19

“Whether it’s drugs, sex, gambling or whatever, you’re looking at impulse-control disorders where people have difficulty refraining from maladaptive use,” said one expert.

man with video game addiction playing game

Video gaming, shopping, social media use, sex—according to The Guardian, the scope of what falls into “addiction” has broadened in recent years. Rather than just including alcohol, tobacco and drugs, other substances and habits now fall under the definition. 

This is because those in neuroscience have determined that the same brain chemical, dopamine, is responsible for these cravings. 

“The range of what people are getting addicted to has increased,” Michael Lynskey, professor of addiction at King’s College London, told The Guardian. “For my parents’ generation, the only options were tobacco and alcohol. Now there are more drugs, including synthetics, along with commercialisation and ways – especially online – of encouraging prolonged use of different things.”

Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a consultant psychiatrist involved with the UK’s future NHS internet-addiction clinic, said many of these newer conditions are behavioral instead of physical.

“I saw [a gaming disorder patient] yesterday,” she told The Guardian, “who then went on to spending money on objects and clothes. You can somehow shift the behaviour but it’s an illness we don’t yet know enough about.”

Even so, not everyone in the field agrees that emerging disorders necessarily classify as addiction. According to The Guardian, the only two to officially make the WHO list of addictions are gambling and gaming.

However, Lynskey argued, many of these conditions do meet the standard criteria for addiction diagnosis, including the inability to stop as well as withdrawals.

“If a teenager becomes irritable when a gaming session is cut short, there’s some discussion as to whether that’s a sort of mild withdrawal,” Lynskey said.

According to the research of Terry Robinson, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan, dopamine is the neurochemical behind cravings in any form. 

“Whether it’s drugs, sex, gambling or whatever, you’re looking at impulse-control disorders where people have difficulty refraining from maladaptive use,” he told The Guardian. “There are certainly similarities in terms of the psychological and neurobiological mechanisms involved.”

Robinson said three factors—an environment full of craving-inducing stimuli, dosage and access—combine to increase the likelihood of problematic habits and uses.

Lynskey told The Guardian that like with anything else, there is a range when it comes to problematic behavior.

“There is a spectrum,” he said, “whether it’s alcohol or drug dependence or shopping addiction and people have become a bit happier with placing the point at which behaviour becomes problematic at a lower level of use.”

According to Bowden-Jones, there are a number of ways to treat such disorders. However, certain ones become unique because they are impossible to avoid, such as the internet.

“Younger generations will be socially cut off,” said Bowden-Jones, “and what our patients say is when they feel they’re missing out, it pushes them more toward the virtual life that they already have a problem with rather than engaging properly in their face-to-face lives.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.