Non-toxic addiction

OK, so I’m guessing you’re looking at the title of this blog and wondering when I lost my marbles – but stick with me πŸ™‚

Back when I attended an AA meeting as the partner of a recovering alcoholic, the first thing I noticed was the large gathering of smokers on the doorstep. Being a sociable creative, I joined in the chat and discovered AA advocates that addicts don’t try to wean themselves off more than one addiction at a time. We can argue ourselves blue in the face over which addiction is the most dangerous – either to the addict or those around them – but the one addiction at a time policy feels sound to me.

But having an addictive personality is a reality some people simply have to live with. Alongside complete withdrawal from their own personal toxic addiction, what can an addictive personality do? Do they need to prevent themselves becoming addicted to any and every thing – because one train of thought is that those who attend AA meetings, transfer their addictive dependence from alcohol to the attendance of regular meetings (daily attendance being recommended, especially in the early days) because attending meetings is where they get their daily dopamine hit.

So, when I saw the uber-lovely author, Marian Keyes, talking about her latest “wild enthusiasm” I I got to thinking, maybe there is such a thing as a non-toxic addiction. Could it be OK to indulge your nature, so long as you are truly honest with yourself over what you are doing and your addiction is non-toxic? Marian Keyes has been generously open about her past struggles with addiction, and has covered the subject in her books, particularly Rachel’s Holiday and Again, Rachel. She both knows her stuff and understands the needs of the addictive personality.

Her past wild enthusiasms have included painting, baking, Scandi-noir film & TV, Strictly Come Dancing, shoes, dresses with pockets, and make-up being among them. What’s key is that she always demonstrates great self-awareness of her addictive nature, and of the ways in which she seeks out her dopamine hit. She describes the process whereby she realises ‘something’ is going on, before examining it’s nature – questioning is it harmful to others, is it harmful to her? So long as the answer to both is a clear no, she indulges in the dopamine hit. By the way, in this case, the non-toxic addiction Marian Keyes talked about was reading romance ❀

My alcoholic ex believed I didn’t have an addictive nature because I could take or leave alcohol, and had given up smoking successfully decades before we met. But that wasn’t strictly true. I understood him better than he knew because I’ve my own addictions, although only one was as toxic to me as his was to him. It’s one where the total abstinence policy favoured by AA simply doesn’t cut the mustard; instead you have face your demons to heal.

Now my addictive nature’s fix is satisfied by books, notebooks, fountain pens, and various ancillary stationery products. I broke my addiction to house porn (or interior magazines for the non-initiated πŸ˜‰ ) a long while ago, and am paring back my annual Christmas decoration fix. But I really do have an awful lot of notebooks… most of which are still completely untouched πŸ™‚

How do you get your dopamine hits? Do you have a wild enthusiasms or passions? Would you call them addictions – non-toxic or otherwise?

Β© Debra Carey, 2022

38 thoughts on “Non-toxic addiction

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  1. I like your term “non-toxic addictions.” I wonder if that’s what some people refer to as passions? As for yours, notebooks and pens are high on my list of things I MUST have in my life. I understand your addiction, oh yes I do.

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  2. Oh Jane, that must be so tough for you ❀ I recall my sister having to give up running for a period of time when she tested pregnant after having fertility treatment. She told me it literally made her cry to have to stay in bed and not run. She did get over it, but I don't believe she ever replaced that reliable dopamine hit.

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  3. Ally, I’m sure it is, as I suspect that our interests, hobbies – and definitely our passions – give us a emotion boost, even a high. I’m delighted you share in my addiction πŸ™‚

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  4. My addictions/passions have been reading, dating, dancing, volleyball, and Plants versus Zombies. Competitive dancing was probably the most expensive one. Possibly See’s Candies/ chocolate and sushi, although if you don’t need a daily hit, is it really an addiction?

    Giving up dancing and volleyball were hard, but pets and family were more important. Maybe pets are the new non-toxic addiction?

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  5. Aww, she had it worse than I did. I had a good “run” of running, and a bad hip as you start looking towards 80 really isn’t something I can complain about. But I do miss it … and it definitely gave me a shot of positivity that few other things can do in the same way. I hope maybe your sister can get back to it sometime.

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  6. I know I have an addictive personality types, which is why I don’t do drugs and only drink occasionally. I’m bad with food, both because of my personality type and parental influence and control issues. But I can get obsessed with phone games, or even tv shows or books. I try to consciously watch what I’m doing, sometimes more successfully than others

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  7. I found this really interesting, Debs. One of my neighbors is a recovering alcoholic. His new non-toxic (but very expensive) addiction is his salt-water fish tank. It certainly is beautiful. I’ll give him that. I’m probably on the lower end of the addictive personality scale. At one time I was pretty obsessed with self-improvement books, personality tests, and goal setting, but I’ve worked to set that aside and try to enjoy the present moment more. If I’m perfectly honest, I may be in the market for a new dopamine source!

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  8. Good point about passions which aren’t giving a daily hit not being addictions Autumn.

    There’s certainly been an explosion of dog ownership in the last couple of years. Never considered if that’s an addiction, but you can certainly spend an absolutely fortune on your pet which makes me wonder if you could be right there.

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  9. Thanks Jane. Sadly, she’s now struggling with severe back pain which surgery hasn’t fixed. She’s replaced running with gardening, which I’ve pointed out will probably be contributing to that back pain – but she’s firmly got her fingers in her ears and is singing ‘la la la’ so she can’t hear me! πŸ˜€

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  10. Yup, this is me too – especially with those phone games. I’m safer staying away or I end up massively regretting the wasted time. It’s a constant battle, hence finding an addiction which doesn’t do harm is an attractive concept to me.

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  11. Oh that sounds like a perfectly fabulous addiction your neighbour has there Christie – if horrifically expensive. I’m sure it helps to provide calm and restfulness too, so a bit of a win-win if he can comfortably afford it. Other than my major one, I’ve not really felt there was a serious issue because we surely all need a goodly supply of dopamine!

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  12. I have to say she handles it really well and there’s no doubting she gets a massive dopamine hit from gardening, so… I mostly keep my thoughts on that subject to myself. She now has my mother living with her, so there’s someone to share the load (and the passion) which will hopefully help them both.

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  13. Bad WP! My comment disappeared.

    Allow me to repeat and if the other one shows up, please delete it.

    By definition, if an “addiction” is not toxic, it’s not an addiction. Your friend with the fish must be causing himself and/or his family financial ruin for it to be an addiction. The gardener must be over-spending or causing herself physical harm by her behavior. Et cetera. I have minor issues with people throwing the addiction word around as people with real, toxic addictions already have trouble with other people not taking their problems seriously. But I know you didn’t intend that.

    You are correct, however, that people with addictive personalities can easily take an enjoyable passion too far so that it starts causing problems in their lives. And that’s kind of sad, isn’t it?

    Oh, I feel like Debbie Downer throwing cold water about this morning.

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  14. Well, there’s a rescue group I know that constantly reminds folks who love and rescue animals that if they don’t set limits on their rescues, they’re “one pet away from being hoarders.”

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  15. Seriously? Oh that is hilarious Autumn πŸ˜€ My colleague & his wife are definitely hoarders. He’s had to ban her from fostering dogs for the group as they mostly end up keeping them, and the numbers were getting out of hand. Now they’re down to just 4 or 5 Labradors and 2 Jack Russells. Yeah *just* πŸ˜‰

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  16. Not at all Zazzy ❀ You are quite correct, of course. I suppose I was was being deliberately provocative in naming it thus, as I'm aware that any form of passion can tip into an addiction if it goes too far and is allowed to cause harm to the individual or those around them. Fortunately, most of us are able to recognise it for what it is – a dopamine hit – and one that we can keep under control.

    My own addiction was overeating – using food to push negative feelings back down – something a counsellor I worked with early on in my mental health journey identified as a coping strategy. It's been quite a while since I last used that strategy, but it was a long and painful journey getting here, as going cold turkey from food isn't practical. Identifying the ways I obtain my dopamine hit harmlessly these days allows me to celebrate being free of that addiction, but I'm sorry if it caused you any distress.

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  17. It isn’t Jane, it surely isn’t. Hope you find a satisfaction alternative to running.

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  18. Thank you πŸ™‚ I still sometimes eat past fullness, but as long as I don’t do it for emotional reasons, I’m OK with it.

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  19. This was interesting, mostly because I really did stick with you. I can validate your experience because my ex is a recovering gambler. Well, I’m actually not sure about the “recovering” part, but I believe/hope she is. So I understand what it’s like to be a supporting spouse to someone who needs that dopamine hit. My current wife has a much safer addiction, but an addiction no less: she buys cookbooks. Not a week goes by where one doesn’t come arrive outside our door in a package — thankfully often used but not always. Thankfully I at least get a benefit from them. πŸ˜‰ – Marty

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  20. When I’m truly in the zone, I experience that dopamine rush known as the writer’s high. It’s a great feeling and one I try to ride as long as I can; it tends to help spur creativity.

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  21. Oh Marty, that must’ve been a tough one. I’m sending you a virtual hug for surviving that experience. I do love the sound of Gorgeous’s source of dopamine – I adore cookbooks, but that’s another one I had to pare back from as Himself is now king of our kitchen. I have kept a few and the odd one slides in under the wire around the festive season πŸ˜‰

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  22. Never thought about it before, but only addressing one addiction at a time makes sense. It would take almost superhuman self control to give up all your dopamine hits at the same time.

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  23. It was rugby for me Rosemary! Never thought about using it in a novel – what a fab idea πŸ™‚

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  24. I feel like we all need something to obsess over lol, maybe it’s a human instinct?? Books are one that I share with you. Stationary is useful and comes in lots of creative and decorative formats so I can see there is also a possible artistic outlet being fulfilled through those collections….I’m not sure if I’d say addictions (unless in jest) I’d say rather say ‘serious collector’. Addiction tends to carry a more problematic connotation – a lack of control with negative consequences…but if there is only joy, satisfaction and no negative consequences then you’re a collector right, it’s just your thing? πŸ˜ŠπŸ€”βœ¨

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  25. You’re right – addiction has a decidedly negative connotation. I was interested in how one could channel that compulsion for a dopamine hit into something which isn’t harmful. Collection is an excellent description for it! πŸ™‚

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