What if you had a pint of ice cream for dinner last night and spent three hours on social media? You probably wouldn’t hear any judgment at work the next day. In fact, your colleagues might nod and smile because they’ve been there. But what if you drank a fifth of vodka and gambled away your mortgage? No one’s laughing now. Instead they’re judging you. “How could you do such a thing?” they would ask. “Why didn’t you control yourself?”
Any number of behaviors, whether socially acceptable — like eating and being on the internet — or not quite as acceptable, can turn into an addiction. In Why Can’t I Stop? Reclaiming Your Life from a Behavioral Addiction, Grant, Odlaug, and Chamberlain review commonly known addictions in an easy-to-understand guide.
The book is a great introduction for the layperson who wonders, “Why don’t they just stop?” It’s an equally good overview for clinicians like myself who are not actively working in the addictions field. After providing some basic information about addictions, the authors focused on gambling, stealing, sex, the internet, food, shopping, hair pulling and skin picking, before wrapping up with some general helpful advice for family members. Although some of the information in Why Can’t I Stop? was repetitive, the repetition did make it a good reference for people who may only want to read the most personally relevant chapter.
Each chapter is laid out in the same way — sharing why we need to care about the addiction and whether it really is a disorder. The ability to identify what makes something a disorder is clearly an important distinction because of the acceptable addictive behaviors in our culture. Take eating, for example. It’s rare for me to attend a church, work, or networking event where food isn’t involved. At times, it almost seems as though none of us are allowed to eat at home! Since it is “normal” to have food constantly in our faces, it’s understandable that food addiction can become a problem for some people.
I appreciate that the authors didn’t dwell too much on whether the behavior needs to be formally included it’s in own DSM-V category to be considered a problem. Bravo! Just because something is not categorized in the diagnostic manual does not mean it’s not something of concern. Material on which characteristics distinguish behaviors from a different type of disorder was valuable. A good example is online shopping. Rather than focusing strictly on general distress from the amount of time spent online, the authors suggest that it might be shopping and spending that is the problem, which could mean a compulsive buying disorder rather than an internet addiction.
Some of the consequences presented in the book do seem to be expected outcomes. For example, if you gamble, you’ll probably have financial problems. However, other consequences are things people may not immediately consider. Internet addiction can result in “minor physical problems such as dry eyes or blurred vision.” That’s perhaps not the first concern people would think of.
In my opinion, the medication section had the most repetitive information. There does not seem to be a clear cut answer in regards to proper medication for addictions; however naltrexone, used in substance addictions, was often cited as a potential option for other addictions. It seems the medication section could have been a chapter of its own, perhaps with a reference chart noting differences. As clinicians and family members, we probably would not be heavily involved in deciding which medication one should use, but I suppose it’s good to know what is out there.
The end of each chapter lists key points for family members, such as modeling healthy behavior, helping the struggling family member stay away from triggers, and encouraging formal treatment for their loved ones. Although some of this advice may come across as very obvious, in times of stress, we all probably forget the things that “should” be obvious to us normally. It’s great to have a section devoted to family members so they know that any small action they take does matter.
The resources section at the end could be expanded. It lists some treatment centers as well as books relevant to the addictions discussed. It would be helpful to see more options in here, especially since some of the books were published more than 20 years ago.
Overall, I would recommend this book to most people. For those already in the addictions field, this is not a comprehensive or advanced book on these addictions, so there’s no new information for people specializing in this type of work. For students, family members, clinicians focused on other areas, and people struggling with addictions, it does offer some insight and affirmation that these are real problems and, more important, they can be treated.
Why Can’t I Stop? Reclaiming Your Life From a Behavioral Addiction
Johns Hopkins University Press, June 2016
Paperback, 232 pages