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Unusual Addictions And Why They Happen

From your colleague who takes frequent cigarette breaks at work to the person at the dinner table who can’t help but have a glass or two of wine with dinner, addiction is most likely present in your life somewhere, even if you don’t realize it. When you think of “addiction”, you likely think of a physical substance, such as cocaine or alcohol. Maybe your mind then goes to behavioural addictions like gambling or sex. Lastly, your mind might wander to some other, lesser-known and more unusual addictions like online shopping or video game addiction.

The important thing to remember is that addiction doesn’t discriminate: addiction can be present even in situations where you wouldn’t think the act itself would be addictive. A perfect example of this is the more-common-than-you-think hair pulling addiction, which we will talk about later.

What Are “Unusual” Addictions?

Unusual addictions can be anything that seem out of the ordinary: hair pulling, obsessive cleaning, eating dirt, compulsive cosmetic surgery…all of these are what we would consider “strange” addictions, because they are behaviours that aren’t common, even amongst people who struggle with addiction.

Something like alcohol addiction, for example, is easier to comprehend. Alcohol is available in restaurants, bars, cafes and stores. It is not absurd to think of someone becoming addicted to alcohol when it’s so readily available and made for the purpose of drinking.

Being addicted to eating laundry detergent or soap, on the other hand, could be considered unusual addictions – yes, laundry detergent and soap are readily available on any grocery store shelf, but they are not commonly things one would think to ingest.

What Makes Something “Addictive”?

Addiction is a disease that affects both the mind and body. As we continue our use of a particular substance or behaviour, our mind and body become dependent on those actions to release feel-good hormones in the reward centers of our brains.

Over time, our body doesn’t only get used to this “thing” that is causing that particular “feel good” sensation, but the chemistry in our brain actually changes, causing us to quite literally “feel the need” to indulge in our addiction.

When it comes down to it, lots of things can be “addictive”, because addiction isn’t just physical, it’s psychological and biological too. [1]

Unusual Addictions That Are More Common Than You Think

Hair-Pulling Addiction

This addiction is so common that it has a name you have more than likely heard before, even if you have a hard time pronouncing it.

“Trichotillomania” is a mental disorder that involves irresistible urges to pull your hair out. This can be from anywhere: your head, your eyebrows, your arms. This impulse can be extremely overwhelming if treatment isn’t sought out. [2]

Trichotillomania is classified as an impulse-control disorder, separate from addiction. However, this impulse-control disorder may lead to an addiction to pulling or eating hair.

Ice Chewing Addiction

While you may not have heard of the chewing of ice as an addiction, the U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention has. According to the CDC, about 2% of American males and 16% of American females (age 16+) are compulsive ice chewers. [3]

While there is nothing physically addictive about ice (it is just water, after all), this addiction is about the behaviour and compulsion. If someone feels the overwhelming urge or craving to continue ice-chewing, they may have developed an OCD related disorder that requires treatment to solve their behavioural addiction problem.

Sex or Porn Addiction

Sex and porn addictions are perfect examples of how something that is done recreationally (such as having intercourse or occasionally watching adult content) can become physically, emotionally, and psychologically addictive over time.

It’s really quite simple: sex releases all kinds of feel-good hormones, like dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. Over time, some individuals become overwhelmed with the urge or compulsion to feel that surge of hormones again and again, leading to more frequent sex. The brain and body soon become dependent on these hormone releases and come to expect them, even causing a form of “withdrawal” that makes the next surge of hormones seem that much more essential.

There is quite a lot of controversy over whether having sex or watching porn can even be classified as addictions, but in reality, they are perfect examples of behavioural addictions.

“Sex addiction” has been left out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and some psychologists even refer to sex and porn addictions as being more of a “phenomenon” than anything else.

However, all hope is not lost for those who struggle with a sex or porn addiction. The World Health Organization does recognize sex addiction as its own mental health condition.

Eating Non-Edibles Addiction(s) – PICA

Constant cravings for and indulging in eating non-food items (like paint, feces, paper, dirt and laundry detergent) is called PICA. [4]

The most common causes for PICA are iron-deficiency anemia, malnutrition, pregnancy or mental health disorders associated with impaired functioning. While the term “PICA” simply refers to the act of eating non-edible items, this behaviour may become compulsive or obsessive, leading to addiction.


[1] Medical News Today
[2] Mayo Clinic
[3] How Things Work
[4] NEDA

Photo credit: bixentro. This picture has a Creative Commons attribution license.