Further Reading

Is TV addictive and can the addiction be treated?

Can addictions in non-substance abuse cases be related to drug addiction, for example to technologies like the web or TV? Is there counseling for that?


Dear Amit:

The same general issues apply for non-substance and for substance addictions. The first chapter in The Meaning of Addiction begins with a description of TV addiction. Why does a child become drawn into television viewing and isolated from external experiences? TV addiction has the same interactive nature as other addictions -- failure at external exposures (real-world interactions) and the need for comfort and reassurance of a safer alternative (the TV). In other words, no addiction can be described simply by the object of the addiction without directly relating the environment of the addict. (see also Cocaine and the Concept of Addiction)

The answer to this and other addictions is in (a) greater opportunity, encouragement, relaxation, satisfaction in involvements other than TV (and, especially for children, out of doors), (b) better feelings about oneself in such other dealings, so that the person anticipates greater rewards and opportunities from outside activities (writing letters, reading books, dealing with people, exercising, playing) (c) the self-perpetuating nature of either route, so that a child who learns to rely on TV is, as an adult, harder to wean from the habit, while one who has had a broad array of exposures will have much more to rely on in seeking involvements and rewards away from the TV set.

Some general observations:

  1. TV addiction (along with obesity and seemingly with all addiction) is always rising in our society, because our worlds are portrayed and perceived as increasingly dangerous, whether crime rates actually go up or down. (This is particularly true in America, where a Danish woman was arrested in New York and her child taken from her for leaving the child outside at a restaurant while she ate just inside, a common practice in her country.) Our world, beginning with the US, may be best typified in the 21st Century as the world of TV/web/gambling addiction (although drugs will always be with us) as we increasingly focus inside our four walls or, when we leave them, turn to highly orchestrated environments like the modern gambling casino.
  2. You can set aside time periods for alternative activities, or simply limit time on the TV while finding positive alternatives. Or, you can take up a whole new enterprise that simply forbids the great gobs of TV watching in which you were engaged. (I often jokingly present my top ten reasons for attending law school -- which I recently graduated -- beginning with "To overcome a virulent" case of TV addiction.) Just add up the hours you can have available for something you claim in other contexts you really want to do. Then reassign those hours. Make it a fixed schedule which brooks no backsliding.
  3. TV and web addiction are fundamentally about an active orientation to life. Addiction is passivity, lack of control (and thus a need for artificial control), and consumption; its opposite is interest in life, active engagement, seeking and obtaining real-world activity and reward.
  4. There are oodles of ways to treat non-substance addictions in the US, only they're for the most part identical to the 12-step ways we treat every other addictive problem -- through prayer and self-abnegation. The issue is really not whether treatment exists, but how to get realistic enough about our addictions to prevent treatment for them from being a part of the overall addictive problem.

Regards, Stanton