These strange addictions range from being addicted to popsicles to an obsession with rhinoplasty. The treatments are even more unusual!
How do you know if you’re addicted to something?
“Generally, if the behavior interferes with your career, relationships, finances, or health, then it’s no longer normal,” says New York-based psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert.
If you’re struggling with an addiction, read 7 Tools to Beat Addiction. “Successful therapies,” writes addiction therapist Stanton Peele, “place the responsibility for changing your addictive behavior on you.”
This author emphasizes personal responsibility as the driving force behind overcoming addiction, and outlines seven tools that can serve as a foundation for successful recovery: Values, Motivation, Rewards, Resources, Support, a Mature Identity and Higher Goals.
But you’re just here for the strange addictions right? Here we go…
9 Strange Addictions and 13 Even Stranger Treatments
Addicts have little or no control over their behaviors, and are irresistibly drawn to certain habits, regardless of the potential harm.
“Another sign of addiction is distress, anxiety, or even mild depression if you quit the behavior,” says Alpert. Overcoming some addictions – alcoholism, for instance – can lead to more severe withdrawal symptoms.
“One of the most unusual addictive behaviors I’ve treated is a reading addiction,” says psychiatrist Harold Levinson. Surprisingly, an inner ear disorder can lead to this addiction. The inner ear fine-tunes the brain’s concentration and sensory systems. A dysfunction in the inner ear leads to scrambled signals and impaired concentration, which disrupts the normal reading process. This can lead to reading problems, anxiety, and restlessness. After treating the inner ear disorder, the reverse can happen: people become addicted to reading because they can now read clearly and easily – and they love it!
“People lose sleep because they stay up all night reading, and some even stop working,” says Dr. Levinson. He treats this strange addiction with a combination of counseling and anti-motion-sickness anti-histamines (to re-stabilize the inner ear).
“Tanorexia” is an unhealthy dependence on tanning, with withdrawal symptoms similar to alcohol and drug addictions. Researcher Carolyn Heckman, Ph.D., of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Pennsylvania, says that tanning dependence is known as tanorexia because of its similarities to both substance addictions and body image disorders, such as anorexia.
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“There is some evidence that UV tanning dependence may have biological underpinnings like other addictions, such as the production of endorphins as in the ‘runner’s high,’” she says. Possible treatments for this strange addiction include cognitive-behavioral and interpersonal therapy – but since tanning dependence is such a new concept, treatments are still being studied.
Nasal spray addiction
“I was addicted to nasal drops for about seven years,” says 33 year old Katarina Madej. “The doctor was right – stopping cold turkey was the only way out.” She started using nasal drops to relieve congestion due to a cold. The initial relief was so dramatic, she found herself unable to stop using the drops even after her cold was gone. Though it worked for Katarina to quit cold turkey, not all doctors agree with this treatment for addictive behavior.
“Weaning yourself off a short-term relief nasal spray involves a more comprehensive approach,” says Dr. Clifford Bassett, M.D., of Long Island College Hospital of Brooklyn. He recommends getting tested for allergies – which may require a completely different treatment – and seeing an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist to rule out structural problems of the nose and sinuses.
To treat this unusual addiction, Dr. Bassett suggests a nasal corticosteroid spray, which reduces nasal congestion and helps ease the symptoms of quitting.
“Anthony listens to his IPOD at work and while watching TV at home,” says Alpert. “So far, his job is secure and his colleagues and boss accept his behavior. But it’s different at home because his girlfriend wonders what’s more important: their relationship or his music.”
Anthony’s behavior served a function at first: he was very shy and the IPOD protected him from interacting with people. But, this addiction started to cause problems in his relationship.
“Treatment for this and other strange addictions consists of identifying the gain or the purpose they serve,” says Alpert. “Then, you integrate alternate behaviors. For Anthony, that involves learning appropriate times to listen to music, and really appreciating those times.”
Compulsive shopping addiction
More than 20 million Americans are affected by an uncontrollable urge to purchase items they don’t use or even take out of the shopping bag. “This chronic impulse disorder is often brought on or associated with feelings of tension, anxiety, boredom, or depression,” says Dr. Lorrin Koran, M.D., director of Stanford University’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders Clinic. “Purchases are followed by regret, guilt, and the resolve not to do it again.”
Shopaholism can lead to debt, bankruptcy, and family conflict. Since this disorder is often associated with clinical depression, researchers are studying antidepressant medications such as Lexapro as a possible treatment for shopaholism.
“I have an addiction to sugar-free popsicles,” says Susan, a lawyer from New York who eats 12 popsicles a day. “After four years, I found out that it’s a symptom of anemia.”
Dr. Eric Rosenbaum, M.D., Chief Medical Advisor of Chefs Diet, tells us that pagophagia is an obsessive need to chew on ice and can be a sign of low iron in the blood.
“If it is anemia, treatment with iron supplements should correct the problem,” says Dr. Rosenbaum, who practices in Larchmont, NY. “Further, the addition of B vitamins can help increase red blood cell production, and vitamin C can aid in the absorption of iron.” He advises people who struggle with pagophagia to have their thyroid glands checked, as a desire for cold can be a sign of an overactive thyroid.
Teeth whitening addiction
Dr. Hugh Flax, Vice President of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, says he regularly encounters patients who are addicted to teeth whitening products. “Since bleaching is easy and effective, people can really get hooked,” he says. The possible side effects of this strange addiction include tooth sensitivity and gum irritation.
An unusual treatment for this strange addiction is a supportive relationship. “Once people feel validated about their appearance, they tend to overcome this addiction,” says Dr. Flax.
Dental ceramist Laura Kelly offers another treatment option: look at un-touched photos of real teeth. “Many patients want the same look as the celebrities or models in photos, who have unnaturally white teeth,” she says. “People don’t realize the photos are enhanced, and the whiteness of the celebrity’s teeth isn’t real.” Overcoming this addiction can involve accepting the reality of an off-white smile!
Cosmetic surgery addiction
“Patients who do not have an addiction to plastic surgery are satisfied when they leave,” says New York-based cosmetic surgeon Dr. Robert Guida, M.D. “Addicts think just one more procedure (and then another, and another, and another) will make them look perfect.”
This addiction can be the result of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, which is an unhealthy preoccupation with physical appearance or a specific body part. Addicts have countless surgeries, often on the same body part.
“One female I saw had nine or ten nose jobs. She was seeing doctors all over the country,” says Dr Guida. “Another patient – a male – kept getting nose jobs to make his nose smaller and smaller.” Addicts also have extremely unrealistic expectations, and are difficult to please.
“Cognitive-behavior therapy helps,” says Dr. Guida. “Another possible treatment for plastic surgery addiction is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (antidepressants) to increase the level of serotonin in the brain.”
Experiencing a “phantom ring” (or phantom vibration) and constantly checking e-mail are two signs of Blackberry addiction. “People have an overwhelming need to be connected to work, home, and friends,” says Alpert. “And, sometimes addictions serve a purpose beyond just that interest or activity. E-mail and text messages, for instance, may feed the ego because they make people feel important.” Alpert also says that some people with this unusual addiction complain of “Blackberry thumb” – swollen thumb tendons and cramped, stiff fingers.
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Treatment for “Crackberry” or similar addictions (such as an internet or e-mail obsession) involves interrupting the pattern. For example, if you’re addicted to checking your Blackberry the moment you wake up, hold off until you get to work….or at least until you’ve had your morning coffee.
What’s the strangest addiction – or unusual treatment for addictive behavior – that you’ve ever heard of? I welcome your comments below…