Monday, 22 February 2016

Are All Addictions the Same?

Regular readers will know that I get a bit of a bee in my bonnet (I wonder how Google Translate deals with that one!) about the word Alcoholic.

(See my post: Are You an Alcoholic?)

I believe that alcohol is like any other addictive substance - nicotine, crack cocaine, heroin etc - if you try hard enough, and consume enough of it, you'll eventually lose control.

The reason this is important, is that were are led to believe that the vast majority of the population are able to drink whatever they want without a problem. It's only the poor 'alcoholic', born with an incurable disease, who can't cope with alcohol.

I like to think that if I'd grown up being told treat alcohol with caution! It's highly addictive. Drink too much and you'll end up dependant, I wouldn't have ended up in this mess.

Or at least I'd have recognised the warning signs earlier, instead of endlessly Googling 'Am I an alcoholic?' and reassuring myself that as I didn't drink vodka in the morning I was 'okay'. Carry on! Bottoms up!

However, having had my usual rant, I DO believe that some people have a genetic pre-disposition towards addiction. Not just addiction to alcohol - any addiction.

Look at me and Mr SM. We both started smoking at boarding school, because it was what the 'cool kids' did.

He carried on for fifteen years as a 'social smoker' (I mean, what is that about? How does one do that?) whereas I ended up having cigarettes for breakfast.

Same with my Mum and Dad - Mum was an occasional smoker for years. Dad - a rampant addict.

(Both Dad and I quit fifteen years ago).

I'm sure that eventually, if Mr SM and my Mum smoked enough fags (British terminology alert!) they, too, would have become addicted, but they would just never want to. One or two was always enough.

Exactly the same story with alcohol. Mr SM and my Mum - happy to have a glass and stop. Dad and I would compete to finish the bottle.

I have, quite simply, an addictive personality. I just don't get moderation. And that's not entirely bad. I do think that addicts are people who throw themselves into life with huge gusto. They are - we are - fabulous people who grab hold of life by the short and curlies.

But I worry about my kids. Because I've become quite good at spotting addicts. Those people who are always looking for more. As they say - it takes one to know one.

I'm not too concerned about #1 and #3 - they seem, like their father, to be pretty good at the whole 'moderation' thingy. But #2 is a different kettle of fish.

I have been wrestling with #2's addiction all half term: Minecraft (and, to a lesser extent, other computer games like Clash of Clans and Jurassic World).

When he's not playing these games himself, he likes to watch other people playing them on YouTube.

(Is anyone else familiar with the barely adult, multimillionaire YouTuber called Stampy? He spends so much time in my house that it's like having a fourth child!)

I so wish it was like my childhood, where the only screen was the television, and kids TV (provided by the good old nanny BBC) was always semi educational: Jackonory. Blue Peter. Take Heart.

I try really hard to limit the time #2 spends doing these things, but it's exhausting. I have to keep finding activities out of the house, which gets expensive, and eventually you just run out of ideas.

How ironic that I should spend my whole life being the voice of moderation!

What worries me about kids and Minecraft, is that I see all the same addictive behaviours: the obsession, the tantrums when it's restricted and the increasing lack of interest in anything else.

What makes it even more tricky is the 'code of silence' around the whole issue. None of the Mums want to admit that their child spends too much time on screens (or is it really just me?), because it makes them look like a bad parent.

#2's best friend's Mum (who I really like), told me that her son is only allowed a screen on Saturday mornings before breakfast. He doesn't even watch TV (unless it's David Attenborough). I nearly died of shame.

So, much as I've loved half term and all the lazy mornings, I'm rather relieved that they're back to school today. No more Stampy, with his annoying faux cheerfulness, for a while....

Love SM x


  1. I feel your pain, all of mine love Stampy and Dan TDM, they love watching them more than actually playing the game themselves!

  2. I feel your pain, all of mine love Stampy and Dan TDM, they love watching them more than actually playing the game themselves!

  3. The whole screen time thing is interesting. I too had the twinges of guilt about letting my children have too much, a friend of mine was very strict but then her son put swastikas on his screensaver with a watermark of "fuck off" (she's a very devout christian). Therefore I understood the meaning of schadenfreude. But other people's parenting is a lot like other people's marriages - you never really know what's going on underneath. And sometimes the kids find their own way - my daughter decided for herself (finally) that she couldn't sit on the sofa with her laptop, watching TV and revising for exams....

  4. You could write a whole book on this, Mum. I am a mother to 4 sons and teacher who has taught an after school class of Minecraft for years. There are all sorts of things good and bad about all this. One thought: my youngest was "addicted" to the computer games severely at one stage of his life (probably around age 10 or 11) so one summer I decided to just let it be...not make it a power struggle, etc. It was awful. Sitting there in his boxers munching Doritos and racing to the bathroom occasionally... BUT towards the end of the summer he said "I wasted my whole summer." (I said 'you did?") Long story short, he learned to self-limit. It worked for other things too. He told me when he was away at college he was so glad I let him work it out because other kids never learned and were super addicted to video games once away from parents' rules and it messed with their grades. Not sure this would work with all kids. Son #1 still plays a bit too much, but he is 31 and has an excellent job... He is just not much of a socializer but gets his socializing on the games online. He has online "friends" he has had for many years. But this is really worth a book! There is a good book about the topic of video games and kids' brains but it's about 10 years old.

  5. You are absolutely right. I certainly recognize the ability to get addicted to anything. I was addicted to playing Tetris for a while - letting everything else go for a year. I lost a lot of invested money in 2008, and a banker suggested I might have been addicted to gambling with the money - I was very much taken aback, but in hindsight I realize he was right. Right now I'm struggling with spending less time on the internet.
    But I'm pretty sure there is an upside to this. If #2 gets into exercise, he/she might become addicted to that - I know, you can develop ortorexia, which is not good - or become addicted to knowing everything within a field of interest. Being obsessive is not all bad.

  6. I read this and it could totally be my house. DS1 like his dad is totally moderated with everything, DS2 is a whirling barrel of addictive energy. Songs, Minecraft, Netflix, you name it he latches onto it. I am busy now trying to steer him in a positive direction - he is incredibly artistic and will draw for hours, so I've been loading up on all sorts of art books for him. Its a huge worry ( And one my husband just cannot understand because he has such a different mindset) - Stampy is enough to drive anyone insane!

  7. I have an addictive nature - alcohol was my drug of choice as it did what I needed the most effectively - i.e. got me out of my head and numbed me to the world.
    Luckily some are not as harmful to me and others as others - like collecting guitars... well ok it fills up the house with guitars and gives my wife angst as to the amount of them and money spent but fundamentally it's one I'll live with

  8. This post made me stop and think because I did grow up being told to "treat alcohol with caution! It's highly addictive. Drink too much and you'll end up dependant"...more specifically, "Look at your Uncle R, do you want to end up like that?" But here I am. And here's another twist, I'm adopted so were those addictive personality traits already in there? Thanks for this post!

  9. You know that other parent is probably not being entirely honest about their child's screen time right?

    We limit screen time, we try and make minecraft a reward for other stuff. Best solution I've found is to impound the chargers and never charge the ipad up above about 10% - at least it forces a limit on what they can do...

  10. Been struggling with this 'illness' thing. Something you wrote at some point - (been doing lots of SM catch-up reading over the past 54 days!) - about alcohol/dopamine sent me on quite the research quest. And skimmed the top of some pretty interesting stuff. So, if you're a person whose maybe dopamine-deficient and that first drink
    starts activating the dopamine release, so that - wow! You start to feel 'normal' - but
    then, of course, it all goes to hell as you chase the feeling...well, is the role your brain
    is playing a whole lot different than a messed up pancreas for a diabetic?

    Not posing an argument....I'd been about ready to can the 'illness' idea too. Now, I'm just not so sure. .......and where it all fits with youngsters and screen-time, etc....i have NO idea. Just glad raising teenagers is well in my past (tho my past 40 y.o.
    basically well-functioning son STILL spends too much time at a computer, if you ask me.

  11. My kids too.
    My husband, also sober, just got NEVER ENOUGH tattooed on his chest. Tattoos are his lates "thing".
    Yes. I have always been an all in or not interested person. I'm cultivating the ability to just be as an alternative, and simpler, way of living.

  12. Oh this old chestnut. True as muddling says, most parents even the nice ones aren't totally honest about this sort of thing.. It reflects on them of course and we all want to be that "perfect" parent/person ( doesn't exist). I have a friend who "never watches tv". She obviously does but she thinks it makes her sound intelligent. Ha ha. Anyway, I wouldn't worry too much. That is the sort of age for obsessions especially minecraft. My #2 is 18 now and always seems to be doing that online thing where you think they have someone with them as they are laughing so much but turns out they are virtual. Most disconcerting especially if you are not dressed. Both mine loved minecraft and also sims which to be fair even I was addicted to. I am sure he will be well rounded as you are aware he needs to do other things occasionally. Mine both studied without me taking stuff off them (#1 in university and #2 going). All worked out.

  13. I hate computer games and would much rather they were doing something else - playing outside, reading, drawing, lego... Anything! so I'm constantly moaning at them and spoiling their fun. My eldest can take it or leave it but no 2 would spend hours. He would also then cry that he has wasted his time so I've obviously managed to get through to him! He is definitely a boy of excesses and I too worry but totally agree with sharon that it will (hopefully) all work out ok. They know I've stopped drinking and have plenty to say about that too. I was never warned about drinking too much as my whole family are big drinkers. No one thinks I drank too much,just me.

  14. I was "introduced" to booze by my parents at 13 or 14 - watered wine, shandy etc. By 16, I was working part time and buying my own at weekends. Started smoking at 15 and a bit of dope. Good school etc. Really got stuck into the booze and fags at College (stopped the dope). Stopped smoking in something like '96 and have been thinking about quitting drinking for more than 10 years - since I realised it was starting to do some damage. I don't believe alcohol addiction is a disease - I believe that ethyl alcohol is an additive substance and that if you drink enough it causes dependency with all of the other associated problems but it is fundamentally a lifestyle choice. That said, I believe that I have a lack of self-control - an addictive personality if you will. I didn't smoke one or two cigarettes, I smoked the packet and one drink was too many and ten, not enough. I enjoyed cannabis but didn't get established with a network (which was probably a bloody good thing on reflection). So I'm hoping I haven't set the seeds of my own end and that stopping drinking now may avert what was likely to be an inevitable end. I should probably avoid minecraft and I don't want to know who stamp is but thank you for another thought provoking post. Managed to avoid swearing on your blog today but caught the train back up to London today and didn't have to run the gauntlet of the M5/M4 or M3!!!


  15. Should have read that before I posted - too many typos but you'll get the gist and I am tired.


  16. I'm struggling with Candy Crush. I delete it from my phone, then add it back, over and over again. In the same hour.
    It's not the end of the world, but my fingers get numb.

  17. OMG SM! My one is the same. We are well acquainted with Stampy, Diamond Minecraft and more in our house. It drives me nuts!! I say to my little guy that he has to have an electronic free day and he just turns it around and says I have to too! And he's right, I'm always on my phone or the computer. It's hard to give it up. I worry about my son and addiction too. The electronics aren't going away though so what to do?! A x

  18. Oh so familiar! In that battle between tiger mum and whatever the opposite is, screen time is Agincourt!
    Dantdm is like an older nephew in our house. i've grown used to him, he doesn't swear, he has fun and is pretty kind. I gained new respect for him after watching
    "draw my life" for him. It's worth a look in the company of a young person as it's all about overcoming obstacles and gaining confidence. Happy with minecraft, it's creative and design-ey. No desire for call of duty etc etc (so far!)in our house so happy with that too. I enjoy my games too and ,like the kids, soak in them for a while then get bored. Still enjoying luminosity though in the belief that so called brain training isn't really a computer game!
    Great post SM