Addictions

"My body's falling apart," says my father. Crumpled into the couch, the hot glow of the muted television casting a woozy pallor on his skin, Dad looks older now than I've ever seen him. Of course, he is older now, each day one step closer to the inevitable; but he's more resigned these days, more graven and hollow: a soldier slowly giving up his struggle. He moves slower, talks slower; his once-thick shock of hair now alabaster and thin. Into his cheeks the years have carved long lines, even on the left side of his face, where a spate of Bell's palsy long ago artificially relaxed his flesh.

"I don't have much longer," he says. I scoff, but he waves his hand so patiently and sadly that a spark ignites inside me. Suddenly I'm enraged, and I don't know why.

"It's true," he continues. "I've always known when I was going to die."

Thankfully, he doesn't elaborate. But I can tell he wants to. I can see so many things left unsaid percolating behind that weak smile, corroding him from the inside out. Maybe he thinks he's doing me a favor by holding it in. Maybe he simply doesn't know how to let it go.

Last week my uncle Eddie died. The detectives found him in his trailer, baking under the Arizona sun, alone except for his dog and his liquor bottles. He'd been dead at least five days.

I never knew Eddie, and my father hadn't talked to him in over thirty years. But silence doesn't mean anything. Not anymore.

Eddie's not the first family member to die, but he was the most sudden. At least with my uncle Bill, my dad had time to get used to the idea of his brother passing. Cancer does that: It gives you time to make your peace, to make amends, to say goodbye. Diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer, Bill had less time than most, but it was enough, I think, to bridge the gap between him and my father. Maybe not completely, but enough.

I only met Bill once. He came to our house when I was a little girl, because he needed a warm place to sleep for the night. While I can't recall his face, I do remember he stubbed out a cigarette in our couch, and his dingy khaki pants smelled like the sidewalk. My father kicked him out for shooting crack in our bathroom. I never saw or heard from him again.

Eddie was an alcoholic. Bill was a junkie. I didn't know either man, only their addictions. Two long and complex lives, each boiled down to a single, lonely adjective.

My father flirted with drugs and liquor in his youth, especially after he returned from Vietnam. But these days, he only has his cigarettes – no less deadly an addiction, and one that's killing him slowly, surgery by surgery, organ by organ. A triple bypass. Several stents. A mini stroke. Dad never did do anything half-assedly.

I watch my father watch me expectantly, and I don't know what to say or what to do. To see him so quietly broken over two men I never really knew – indeed, never even heard him talk about –leaves me without any compass to get my bearings. I'm left unmoored, afloat on misery I cannot share, only spectate.

"I have a doctor's appointment this Friday," he continues, looking away to stare at the mute television screen. "They found a spot on my liver. It's just a spot, but they want me to come in for a CAT scan."

"It's probably nothing," I say automatically. But I don't know that. I can't know that.

"Yeah, whatever," he says, still not looking at me. He says that a lot these days.

A long moment passes. "Watch yourself," he adds finally. "Our family's got a gene in them, that addict's gene. I'm just happy you never seemed to get it."

I say nothing. He's said this before, of course. In the past, he's blamed our Cherokee blood, although frankly, I think his and his brothers' struggles had more to do with broken Appalachian homes, endless tours in Vietnam, and childhoods spent in foster care. But I don't know that. I can't know that.

He unmutes the TV and we sit and stare at it for awhile without really watching. It's late, so late the commercials have switched over to infomercials. Eventually, I stand up, kiss my father on the cheek, and go to bed.

Upstairs, under the hot glow of the lamplight, I reach for my DS. Yawning and rubbing away the sting in my eyes, I open the clamshell. Dragon Quest IX. I've put 230 hours into it. I bought the game just three months ago.

I pause, handheld half open. My mouth tastes cottony; my head pounds. I think of the other games, and other nights just like this, and eye the DS like a half-empty bottle. I place it back on the nightstand, ashamed.

Turning over in the cold bed, I stare at the walls, wide awake and a little bit afraid.

Comments

More of the same here.
Thanks, and bravo for laying your soul open to the anonymous public.
I have addiction in my family on both sides. Alcohol. Grandparents and parents. Alcohol itself hasn't killed anyone yet. Smoking is responsible for all of those.
I don't consider myself to have a problem with alcohol, except lately I've started to wonder if I like it too much. I don't get "drunk" anymore, with the exception of the occasional party a few times a year; more in the summer; but I can't not drink beer in the evening if it's in the fridge. Well, I can, but it takes a conscious effort. I'd have three beer in an evening a few nights a week, if it's left over in the fridge from the past weekend's entertaining. Actually it's probably within the safe drinking guidelines, but considering my family history I worry about it.

The hardest part of the whole addiction thing is being honest with yourself about your addictions. Identifying them and admitting it's a problem or potential problem. This is a little scary because, when I got to the end if the article I thought I was experiencing denial. I thought, "we were building up to gaming with all of that? That was heavy stuff, does gaming really weigh in on the same scale?". Maybe I'll re-read as I get through the following anger, acceptance, yatta yatta yatta.

I said this behind the curtain already, but thanks for sharing this, Lara.

And here's my addiction.

Thank you so very much for this read.

On further reflection, I also want to comment that this is another example of how GWJ is better than most other online communities: we are very willing to admit that there can be a dark side or "too much" of what we are celebrating. It is a mature approach to video games.

hbi2k wrote:
beeporama wrote:
DarkEmperor wrote:

I have an abnormally low number of dopamine receptors and need constant thrill seeking extreme stimulation just to feel normal.

If you have not already done so, you might want to talk to a psychiatrist. There might be meds to help with that.

Be very careful, though. A lot of meds that are prescribed to treat things like depression are themselves highly addictive and may carry severe side effects. A prescription from a doctor is no substitute for a lot of outside research so that you know the right questions to ask and the right precautions to take, and while meds can help in some cases, they're not a magic solution and are best used A.) as a last resort and B.) in concert with other, non-pharmaceutical methods like talk therapy, exercise, diet, and just a healthy lifestyle in general.

Yeah, I didn't want to digress too much, and you probably want the guidance of a psychiatrist who (if any good) will give you much of the same warnings. Although I agree with #2 being the ideal ("in concert with other, non-pharmaceutical methods...") I wouldn't say they are necessarily a "last resort": they can help you to stabilize while seeking other treatment, and are probably even more important than talk therapy for certain conditions.

Only because he said "I have an abnormally low number of dopamine receptors" did I jump to meds so quickly. Risk-seeking behavior for no ostensible reason, I would have just said "see a therapist" (assuming that they would refer to a psychiatrist only after determining meds are appropriate).

In hindsight, I shouldn't give short, flip answers to serious issues.

"Last resort" may have been a bit strong, I just think they shouldn't be used as a first resort as often as they are. Not that I'm accusing you of advocating that, you understand-- it's not like you said "just pop some pills!", you just suggested looking into it as a possibility-- I just thought I'd chime in with my unsolicited two cents. (-:

Thank you for this piece. Everyone's probably said what I would say, about how well it is written and how much it challenges the audience to be introspective. but I wanted to let you know this meant a lot to me.

Amazing. Thank you.

hbi2k wrote:

"Last resort" may have been a bit strong, I just think they shouldn't be used as a first resort as often as they are. Not that I'm accusing you of advocating that, you understand-- it's not like you said "just pop some pills!", you just suggested looking into it as a possibility-- I just thought I'd chime in with my unsolicited two cents.

Yeah I have been diagnosed with addictive personality disorder, OCD, ADD, abnormally low levels of dopamine receptors, all mixed together and stirred in a glass of dysfunctional childhood.

I kind of feel like Mr. Burns where all these "diseases" seem to cancel out to make me a pretty congenial and optimistic person.

I had a unfortunate binge last night with Minecraft - leaving me only a couple of hours shut eye before work - on a day when I am supposed to be my best for the visting VP over VP's at the company I work for.

It was definitely a slip - but if it had been me bar hopping or clubbing or going through the looking glass - then I definitely wouldn't have made it in at all likely spending the morning fighting the urge to puke - instead of just being a little bleary eyed like I am today.

I took Ritalin a few times and it just made me feel like a totally different fearful and weak person - so I've blown off using meds for my particular ailment.

I figure if I can still make a living doing IT all these years then I am probably ok - though I know I would likely be a better coder if I spent the time to find the right prescription to tweak my perception.

In the meantime - diet, exercise, and a healthy dose of immersive videogame entertainment seems to gentle my condition - with only the occasional, undesired, side effect of sleeplessness.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
jdzappa wrote:

Great article, but I think you need to be careful in that society likes to label things out of the mainstream as "addictions." People who play games all weekend are weird and gaming addicts. People who spend the same amount of time watching their favorite NFL team are just passionate fans.

I get what you're saying, but Lara is talking about playing the same game roughly two-and-a-half hours per day for ninety days straight. That's a bit more time than watching a football game or two over the weekend. It's certainly enough to give one pause, especially if you have a family history of addiction. It's made me think about my own habits and how much time is spent on them.

I guess I was trying to compare apples to apples. Most gamers don't put in the hardcore time to become top WOW raiders or Diamond Starcraft 2 players or top MW 2 players, just like most sports fans do things in moderation. I was referring though to sports fans like my dad who in his younger years who wouldwatch college football most of the day Saturday, pro football all day Sunday, and of course watch the Monday night game. Considering the football season also lasts 90+ days, the time commitment per week is the same. But nobody labeled my dad a "football addict" or called him a antisocial freak. Heck, the average American watches 3-4 hours of TV a day - and I'd much rather play the same good game than watch something like the Kardashians.

DarkEmperor wrote:

Yeah I have been diagnosed with addictive personality disorder, OCD, ADD, abnormally low levels of dopamine receptors, all mixed together and stirred in a glass of dysfunctional childhood.

I kind of feel like Mr. Burns where all these "diseases" seem to cancel out to make me a pretty congenial and optimistic person.

I had a unfortunate binge last night with Minecraft - leaving me only a couple of hours shut eye before work - on a day when I am supposed to be my best for the visting VP over VP's at the company I work for.

It was definitely a slip - but if it had been me bar hopping or clubbing or going through the looking glass - then I definitely wouldn't have made it in at all likely spending the morning fighting the urge to puke - instead of just being a little bleary eyed like I am today.

I took Ritalin a few times and it just made me feel like a totally different fearful and weak person - so I've blown off using meds for my particular ailment.

I figure if I can still make a living doing IT all these years then I am probably ok - though I know I would likely be a better coder if I spent the time to find the right prescription to tweak my perception.

In the meantime - diet, exercise, and a healthy dose of immersive videogame entertainment seems to gentle my condition - with only the occasional, undesired, side effect of sleeplessness.

It sounds like you've got your lifestyle as well figured out as anyone.

I watch my father watch me expectantly, and I don't know what to say or what to do. To see him so quietly broken over two men I never really knew – indeed, never even heard him talk about – leaves me without any compass to get my bearings. I'm left unmoored, afloat on misery I cannot share, only spectate.

That paragraph really stands out to me, in that it does sum up being an adult. As kids I think a lot of us thought our parents knew all the answers, knew how to handle every tough situation.

When we finally make it to adulthood, we realize that is not true. A lot of times, there are no clear answers. Many times, it is hard to know what to do. I am finding far more often than not that there is no compass.

btw, this has been linked to on MetaFilter.

lostlobster wrote:

btw, this has been linked to on MetaFilter.

And so, it starts.

This one hit rather close to home. My uncle died recently, and he was quite the heavy drinker. It came out of nowhere for the most part. My dad is... well, he has drug issues. He's not faring all that well either at the moment. I look at their reasoning for what they use, then I look back at why I play games. I might not be affected quite as physically as them, but part of me wonders if that's really the most important issue at work.

I found this trite, cold and insulting.

Sorry, but no – video game "addiction" is not comparable to drugs or alcohol. And sorry, but no – tying up the story nicely with a few cliches and a half-finished thought about playing too many hours on a Nintendo DS is not poignant.

Quitting your Nintendo DS – or WoW, or any game for that matter – will not put you in withdrawal.

It won't be the starting point for weeks of agony, or post-acute withdrawal syndrome. It won't take years for your body, your mind or your receptors to heal. No one goes to group meetings for Nintendo DS or WoW addiction. No one goes to a clinic every day to get their daily dose of pixels. And no one steals, breaks the law or gets arrested because they play their level 80 mage too much.

This reminds me of the absurd article some months back in Details, GQ or some other absurd "gentleman's magazine" about "addiction envy."

Comparing a so-called video game addiction to drugs and alcohol is ridiculous and insulting, and it minimizes the real issues with substance abuse.

I know. I was addicted to opiates for two years. I couldn't go six hours without putting more morphine, oxy or vicodin into my system. I'd regularly wake up in a pool of my own sweat. My life was tethered to my drug dealer in the Bronx – I could never take a vacation, fly on a plane, embark on a road trip or do many other things "normal" people do because, like all addicts, I was terrified of going through withdrawal.

But I did, several times. And this is the biggest reason why these cliche, artificially-poignant video game addiction stories are insulting. Withdrawal from opiates, benzos and alcohol can be so bad that people try to kill themselves. Most people die as addicts and *never* get free. Most opiate addicts go into recovery only to get addicted to a "harm reduction" synthetic opiate. Most go through the cycle of withdrawal, clean time and relapse over and over and over again – until some finally embrace life, while the majority die from their addiction.

So tell me, where exactly are these parallels to your so-called video game addiction that warranted an emotionally vain piece like this?

You're like a LARPer who thinks playing with foam swords and shields bears any resemblance whatsoever to going into real combat. I sincerely hope you became less self-absorbed and realized what your dad and family members were going through before they passed away, because you come off like a heartless, self-centered fool.

And to the clueless retards in the comments who compared video games to opiates, I suggest you do some research to understand and respect a substance that is so insidious it brought down an entire country and started two wars. It's all fun and games until you're eight months into it and out of pills or dope, shaking uncontrollably, vomiting, @#$%ing your brains out and in a suicidal depression because every receptor in your brain and on your spinal chord is going so haywire, you can't even think properly. Imagine the worst flu you've ever had, multiply it by a thousand, and add in crushing depression, and then you'll know it only in the abstract.

Or maybe you could just imagine that some of us have gone through those things and more and for more than 20 years, and just maybe we're not so wrapped up in our own pain that we completely lack any empathy for anyone else's.

Ghostship wrote:

More of the same here.
Thanks, and bravo for laying your soul open to the anonymous public.
I have addiction in my family on both sides. Alcohol. Grandparents and parents. Alcohol itself hasn't killed anyone yet. Smoking is responsible for all of those.
I don't consider myself to have a problem with alcohol, except lately I've started to wonder if I like it too much. I don't get "drunk" anymore, with the exception of the occasional party a few times a year; more in the summer; but I can't not drink beer in the evening if it's in the fridge. Well, I can, but it takes a conscious effort. I'd have three beer in an evening a few nights a week, if it's left over in the fridge from the past weekend's entertaining. Actually it's probably within the safe drinking guidelines, but considering my family history I worry about it.

The hardest part of the whole addiction thing is being honest with yourself about your addictions. Identifying them and admitting it's a problem or potential problem. This is a little scary because, when I got to the end if the article I thought I was experiencing denial. I thought, "we were building up to gaming with all of that? That was heavy stuff, does gaming really weigh in on the same scale?". Maybe I'll re-read as I get through the following anger, acceptance, yatta yatta yatta.

Nope. Gaming does not "weigh in on the same scale."

As I wrote in my last post, no one steals, goes through withdrawal, gets arrested or goes into rehab for gaming addiction. There is no physical dependency, there are no body-altering consequences, and it doesn't take years and serious physical and psychiatric work to dig yourself out of a hole from "gaming addiction."

Most importantly, outside of a few freak incidents in places like Korea and China, no one dies from gaming addiction. But many, many, many addicts die from drug addiction, and leave wrecked families, emptied pocketbooks, trails of lies and destroyed relationships in their wake.

The most dangerous thing about this article is that it does draw cliched, ill-informed parallels between the two. It also shows how self-absorbed and ridiculous the author is – she won't take five minutes to listen to her father talk about real addiction, but she thinks it's awfully poignant to end this horribly-written, terribly-thought-out piece with some half-formed thought about playing a Nintendo DS too much.

Which leads me to believe the author didn't think twice about the dangers of conflating substance abuse with bratty video game addiction – she is the center of her world, and how could any heroin junkie suffering through two years of PAWs ever compare to her agony from playing too much WoW?

Even more infuriating are some of the comments, which come from people who seem to think this is some amazing revelation about addiction. Stick to your Red Bull and your WoW, and be eternally grateful you're not going through the hell of real addiction.

You can make your point without the personal attacks. Be respectful or move on. - Certis

You can make your point without the personal attacks. Be respectful or move on. - Certis

Planetary, I'm really sorry that you still obviously feel so much pain and anger about what you went through, but that doesn't mean other people's lives and experiences don't count.

edit - I'm sorry. Said a lot more than I meant to say, and it was out of line. Leaving the thread and staying gone.

The question is though that does an addiction have to be life threatening to be valid?

Is it an either/or or is there a scale of self destruction where higher up the scale its a more credible addiction.

I don't think anyone here is envious of your journey, Planetary. But we are all trying to understand addiction. I don't think that should be discouraged, right?

There's a difference between drawing parallels between different kinds and degrees of addiction, and saying that they're "the same." Between positing that some of the same root causes might contribute to both the relatively harmless vice of overindulgence in a video game and the far more self-destructive behavior that leads to serious substance addiction, and saying that they are equivalent with one another. Planetary, I'm sorry that you came out on the wrong end of the vast spectrum between a minor overindulgence and a serious addiction, however I'd submit that it is your understanding of this article that is trite and simplistic, and not the article itself. I'd also humbly invite you to GTFO until you are capable of comprehending such fine distinctions, or until you're capable of expressing your confusion over them without being an ass and putting words in other people's mouths. Congratulations are in order for the truly fine and threatening-looking straw man you've built for yourself, however.

fangblackbone wrote:

I don't think anyone here is envious of your journey, Planetary. But we are all trying to understand addiction. I don't think that should be discouraged, right?

Exactly. Humans understand one another by drawing comparisons between our experience and the experiences of others, and then taking leaps of faith to fill in the differences in degree. If I'm trying to understand the experience of someone who's had their car stolen, I might think about how it felt to have my wallet stolen and imagine a feeling like that only much worse. I fail to see how this is any different. If we're proceeding on the assumption that no one is capable of understanding anyone else's experience unless they've experienced the exact same thing in both kind and degree, then we might as well just give up on ever having any kind of meaningful communication with one another right now.

No point, apparently. Good article.

Raw stuff.

Planetary wrote:

As I wrote in my last post, no one steals, goes through withdrawal, gets arrested or goes into rehab for gaming addiction. There is no physical dependency, there are no body-altering consequences, and it doesn't take years and serious physical and psychiatric work to dig yourself out of a hole from "gaming addiction."

Most importantly, outside of a few freak incidents in places like Korea and China, no one dies from gaming addiction. But many, many, many addicts die from drug addiction, and leave wrecked families, emptied pocketbooks, trails of lies and destroyed relationships in their wake.

You might want to learn the difference between being dependent on a substance and being dependent on other compulsive behaviors. No, they are not exactly the same but yes, both do cause pain, suffering and sometimes death. The death toll may be higher for those who suffer from substance abuse for obvious reasons but that doesn't make any other addiction some kind of joke.

Someone who is dependent to video games would fit into the same category as those who are dependent on gambling or sex. Behaviors like sex, gambling and other gaming would fall into the realm of impulse-control disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder or another mental illness. These are compulsive behaviors. Drug and alcohol abuse is also a compulsion. A substance is taken compulsively despite the harm it may cause or the addict's desire to stop. With a gambler, betting on roulette is done compulsively despite the harm it may cause or the addict's desire to stop. People do these thing not because they want to but because they have to. Carrying out these behaviors provides temporary relief.

At this point, we'd have to branch off since substance abuse has a key difference from other compulsive behaviors. No one denies that are differences between each individual problem, the symptoms, the severity, the treatments and the side-effects of withdrawal (which people will experience with alcohol, drugs or neither). That doesn't make any of the observations in the article suddenly invalid because her father drinks and she doesn't. Many mental health problems run in families. Her father may compulsively drink, his children may compulsively do something else.

Playing the "my illness is worse than your illness" game benefits absolutely no one.

KaterinLHC wrote:

Upstairs, under the hot glow of the lamplight, I reach for my DS. Yawning and rubbing away the sting in my eyes, I open the clamshell. Dragon Quest IX. I've put 230 hours into it. I bought the game just three months ago.

I pause, handheld half open. My mouth tastes cottony; my head pounds. I think of the other games, and other nights just like this, and eye the DS like a half-empty bottle. I place it back on the nightstand, ashamed.

First off, this is an amazing article.

Secondly, in my non-professional opinion, I don't think your addicted to anything. It's something to worry about it when it starts to have a significant impact on your daily life. Neglected your home/spouse/kids, spending tons of money, letting your health deteriorate, not going to work, going on vacation and forgetting your DS at home which causes you to lose it... Then I'd worry.

Planetary wrote:

And to the clueless retards in the comments who compared video games to opiates, I suggest you do some research to understand and respect a substance that is so insidious it brought down an entire country and started two wars.

I have personally known two long-term heroin addicts, one of them extremely close to me. (In hindsight, the one extremely close to me stole from me a few times, including a few hundred dollars cash I'd saved for a vacation.) I don't want to talk about them out of respect for their privacy; this is already more than I wanted to say. But yes, I've done some research.

I don't think that video game addiction and alcoholism or opiate addiction are comparable, and I don't think that's what the piece is about. I think it is talking about a tendency towards addictive behavior. A video game "addiction" is a lightweight addiction with minimal consequences but might be indicative that you should not try crack or heroin, not even once. This is as opposed to the couple of people I've known who have tried heroin recreationally and successfully walked away from it.

So when I said I could easily see myself becoming addicted to opiates, that wasn't to say that what I do with video games is comparable. It's to say that what I do with video games makes a pretty clear warning sign that I would have no problem cutting people out of my life and spending recklessly in search of what makes me feel good. Because, as I hadn't realized, I'm already doing that on a smaller scale with a less addictive pastime.

It's been a long time since I've visited or posted due to some real deep family stuff that's been going on in life recently. This is one of the first things I read as soon as I came back tonight, and it is truly staggering how close this hits to home. Thanks for this, I'm enjoying the introspection.

Planetary wrote:

Nope. Gaming does not "weigh in on the same scale."

I didn't think so either, but having listened to a few of the podcasts, I wonder if the author didn't actually start the article with something other than gaming in mind. I didn't want to suggest it that directly in my reply, but since things have escalated significantly, maybe it will help diffuse the counterpoint position a little.