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Positive Addictions

by Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Director David M. O’Brien

We are well on our way into the holiday season.  Holiday parties are happening and people are making their plans as to where they are going to see the New Year in.  Although this time of year is a joyous one for most of us, it is a time that some find very challenging.  People who struggle with their weight find it hard to keep those extra pounds from mounting up. 

Others who have histories of substance abuse and addiction are exposed to so many more social situations in which alcohol and other drugs are commonplace.  And not necessarily connected to the holiday seasons, other addictions can be seen in so many families – compulsive gambling, work addition, sex or relationship addiction, shopping and spending addiction, and the growing problems with people being addicted to the Internet.

But keeping in the joyful spirit of the holidays, I want to talk about “positive addictions.”  I first came upon this concept when I read the book Positive Addictions by William Glasser (Harper and Row).  Glasser took the concept of “addiction” (the process of becoming dependent on something) and turned it around. 

We all know the effects of “negative” addictions.  Some of us may be struggling with our own demons, whether alcohol, food, drugs or gambling.  Glasser turned the concept 180 degrees by defining positive addictions as the process of becoming dependent on a behavior or an activity which fosters strength and makes our lives more satisfying.

The most common forms of positive addictions are exercise, meditation/prayer, music and forms of artful expression such as painting, quilting or other crafts.  Running, meditation and yoga are the ones that are most robust and about which most research has centered around. 

Glasser cites the results of this research in his book.  Among the results of positive addiction that people experience are: feeling more energy, needing less sleep, good weight control or loss of weight, increased mental strength, more confidence, more creativity, better health, being more tolerant and less angry, and the list goes on. 

In guiding us, Glasser suggests 6 points one should employ in choosing a positive addition.  First, it should be something non-competitive that you can devote approximately an hour a day to.  Second, it should be something that you can do easily and it doesn’t take a great deal of mental effort to do it well.  Third, you should be able to do it alone or rarely with others, but it does not depend on others to do it. 

Fourth, you need to believe that it has some value for you, whether physical, mental or spiritual.  Fifth, you need to believe that if you persist at it you will improve, but this is completely subjective.  You need to be the only one who measures that improvement.  And lastly, the activity must have the quality that you can do it without criticizing yourself.  If you cannot accept yourself during this time the activity will not be addicting.

The benefits of positive addictions are numerous, but it takes time to build up the “addiction.”  For example, Glasser suggests that for running most people take about a year before they cross over from doing it out of duty and dedication to doing it because they want to.  However, the dedication is well worth it for the end game. 

What are you doing for yourself related to positive addictions?

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