There is nothing pathological about having fun and feeling enjoyment. We were created with these feelings and this potential. Engaging in a pleasurable activity is not inherently wrong. But the line between activity and addiction lies where an activity that is positive or neutral takes a decidedly negative turn. Whether it is watching Netflix, social media, going to the gym, eating healthy, eating junk food, having sex, or playing video games, each of these activities have a line that crosses into negative territory. With addictive behaviors that do not involve chemical substances, there are a series of conditions you can use to determine severity.
Importance: How important has it become to your sense of self and the way you live your life? You can determine importance not only by how much you’re doing it, but also by how much you’re not doing other things. Priority equals importance.
Reward response: Does doing it make you feel better, more in control? Does not doing it make you feel worse? Doing things you enjoy makes you feel better. Avoiding things you dislike can make you feel better, at least initially. There is a positive physical payoff to all this activity that can obscure the negative consequences.
Prevalence: Do you find yourself doing it more often and for longer periods of time than you originally planned? This is the never-enough compulsion. If you feel compelled to say, “Just a little bit more,” all the time, you’re carving out more and more space in your life for these activities. The question becomes, in order to carve out this time, to what else are you taking the knife?
Cessation: Do you feel anxious or uncomfortable if you cannot do it or if you just think about not doing it? One way to gauge how important these things have become to you is to consider doing without them. Your initial emotional and physical response can be highly instructive. The higher the level of panic and pain you anticipate, the stronger the hold they have on you.
Disruption: Has doing it disrupted your life and your relationships? Imagine your life as a drawer full of those old-school hanging folders. The drawer only has so much space for files. Every time you add a file called “Texting” or “Facebook” or “Checking in” or “Video Games” you have to push folders around to find room in the drawer. Inside that drawer are already files called “Sleep,” “Family,” “Chores” and “Work.” Some of the files in your drawer aren’t fun; they’re thick and heavy and take up a lot of space. The more new stuff you’re trying to pack into that drawer of your life, the more pressure it puts on the things and people already there.
Reverting: Do you often say to yourself you’re going to do something different but then turn around and keep doing the same thing—or doing it even more? This is the “I’ll diet again on Monday” syndrome. If you’ve already made room in your virtual file drawer for something fun and pleasurable, or at least distracting, just thinking about depriving yourself of it brings up a wealth of rationales and reasons why “right now” is just not the best time to stop.
All of these signs point to a much bigger problem: addiction. Addiction is a behavior that controls you. Absent an outside chemical or substance involved, it’s actually you—your impulses, your pleasures, your anxieties, your fears, your preferences—taking center stage over your better judgment or reasoned decisions. If you believe you are struggling with an addition that is negatively impacting the quality and health of your life, it may be time to seek assistance from a professional.