SMARTPHONES: You can’t quit it, can you? You keep it with you all the time and check it every few minutes. You work too much because you can’t turn it off on the weekend. You ignore the people you’re having dinner with to catch a text or a post from someone miles away. Get help from a doctor, counselor or other professional if your phone is getting in the way of your life.
CAFFEINE: Do you need your morning jolt of caffeine? That’s not necessarily an addiction, but trying to cut it out of your life may leave you anxious for a fix and nursing a serious headache. That’s called withdrawal.
CHOCOLATE & OTHER SWEETS: Sometimes you have to have it. And you may not be able to stop. Don’t feel bad — foods high in carbs, fats, and sugar can affect your brain just like drugs do. Jonesing for an occasional milkshake doesn’t mean you’re hooked. But your sweet tooth can get out of control and lead to other health problems.
SHOPPING: We’ve all bought something we don’t really need. If it happens a lot, what you’re really looking for might be some dopamine, the feel-good-chemical for your brain. It could also mean you have impulse-control problems or anxiety issues. Hit the stores — or the one-click online purchase button — too often and it can cause financial, legal, and social problems.
GAMBLING: As many as 8 million Americans have a problem. Whether you do it in person or online, at slot machines or the poker table, that rush provides your brain a hit of dopamine and makes you happy — for a while. But if lady luck isn’t with you, too much betting can wreak havoc with your finances, job, and family life.
PLASTIC SURGERY: Some people can’t get enough nips and tucks. That’s because many of them have “body dysmorphic disorder” and are obsessed with defects only they can see. This problem is caused by some of the same brain chemicals that play a role in addiction.
TANNING: Addicted to the sun? That’s right. The ultraviolet (UV) spectrum of sunlight releases chemicals in your body called endorphins. They can make you feel so good you’ll risk sunburns, blisters, and skin cancer for them. Some frequent indoor and outdoor tanners could have this problem. Others might be obsessive-compulsive or have body dysmorphic disorder.
EXERCISE: A good workout can help you get over addictions, as long as you don’t become hooked on the activity itself. Exercise helps your brain learn, which can speed recovery. But you have to be able to say “no” to that endorphin-fueled runner’s high if you’re ill or injured. Plus, a new habit you start while working out may be harder to shake.
SOCIAL MEDIA: Do you spend so much time on Facebook and Twitter you feel like you’re addicted? New studies show that you might be among the 10% of social media users who really are hooked. The random pace of posts affects your brain the same way that cocaine does. Sharing details about yourself with others also creates a rush of positive feelings that leaves you wanting more.
SEX: Can’t stop having sex — or looking at porn? Doing it more, enjoying it less, and risking too much to get it? Maybe you have a strong sex drive. But there could be more going on. It’s not an official addiction, but there is a thing called hypersexual disorder. If you have it, your brain may be wired like that of someone with a drug or gambling problem.
ARE ALL ADDICTIONS THE SAME? Is addiction to shopping or texting the same as being hooked on drugs or alcohol? We know these things can affect your brain in many of the same ways. But experts don’t yet agree about how far those similarities go. If you feel you have a habit that’s out of control, talk to your doctor or a therapist.
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