23 Everyday Things You Didn’t Know You Could Get Addicted To
The word "addiction" suggests gambling, drinking, and drugs. But there are other habits, behaviors, and even beauty products that can cause dependency or addiction-like behavior.
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
When you hear the word “addiction,” you may think of the negative consequences and changes in behavior that can come from gambling or the abuse of substances such as drugs and alcohol. It’s not the same as dependence, which is when the body adapts to a substance and needs more to get the same effect.
The two often go hand-in-hand when it comes to drugs and alcohol, but dependence can exist without addiction. (Think caffeine withdrawal headaches when you skip your cup of Joe.) Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the ‘bible’ of psychiatry, doesn’t consider all of the following as diagnosable mental health conditions, some are psychological addictions that may trigger unhealthy obsessions or behavior. (Although some are harmless.) Others are substances that can cause physical dependency.
Here are the surprising sensations, habits, and chemical changes that happen when using certain products or engaging in certain behaviors
If you’ve ever sat with a friend and watched as they applied and then reapplied Chapstick or any other lip balm repeatedly, there’s a scientific reason for it, according to Samantha Conrad, MD, a dermatologist at Northwestern Memorial HealthCare in Chicago. The ingredients in some products can end up being extremely drying, which prompts you to feel the need to keep reapplying it.
“In addition, the feeling of being ‘addicted to Chapstick’ is that the person has become very used to a textural feeling on his or her lips,” she says. “When they don’t have the product on, they feel that something is missing.” (Curious? Find out what really causes chapped lips.)
It’s one thing to use whitening strips regularly to remove red wine and coffee stains. It’s quite another to be addicted to bleaching your teeth. There’s even a term for it: Bleachorexia refers to being addicted to bleaching teeth, says Leslie Renee Townsend, DDS, of Jefferson Dental and Orthodontics in Dallas. “Overuse or misuse of whitening products such as lasers, strips, gels, rinses, or pastes can cause noticeable sensitivity, tooth pain, gum irritation, and weakened enamel, often temporary, but sometimes more permanent,” Dr. Townsend says. “At worst, teeth begin to demineralize with time, since whitening products strip tooth enamel resulting in transparent-looking teeth.”
If you tend to moisturize more than twice a day, you may want to cut back. Turns out, what you’re doing may be counterintuitive and make your skin “addicted” to that product. “There are some theories that constant use of thick moisturizers can make the skin lazy,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “By providing a false barrier to the environment, the skin does not have to work as hard as it normally would to maintain adequate hydration levels. If you were to quickly take away the moisturizer, your skin might end up dry and inflamed.”
In fact, it’s a myth that everyone needs to use a moisturizer. “If you have skin conditions like eczema or if you experience dryness, visible scaling or flaking, redness, or itching, a moisturizer can help,” he adds. “However, if your skin looks and feels normal, you do not necessarily need to use a moisturizer regularly.” If you want to use a moisturizer, opt for a breathable product that’s light and easy to spread. “The newest generation of moisturizers use technology that allows you to experience the benefits of traditional ingredients without a greasy, heavy feeling,” Dr. Zeichner adds.
“Exercise addicts tend to feel that exercise is the most important thing in their life,” says Rachel Straub, an exercise physiologist in San Diego. “They also use exercise as a coping strategy to control emotions.” How you know you’re an exercise fanatic: “To check in with yourself, consider if you have to continually increase exercising to feel satisfied, or if you experience irritability or depression when you suddenly reduce the exercise you’re getting,” Straub says. Need help? Watch out for these 9 signs you’re probably exercising too much.
Plastic surgery can quickly become an addiction for some. “Patients seeking Botox often start out wanting to look ‘natural,'” says John Layke, MD, a plastic surgeon at Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery Group. “But once they see how Botox smooths out fine lines and relaxes deep furrows, they notice small lines when they make expressions, and they want those gone too. Pretty soon, if the physician lets them, the ‘natural’ look becomes frozen.” Often people can get hooked on facial fillers, especially in the lips and cheeks, and liposuction, adds Dr. Layke. “Procedural ‘addicts’ are usually unaware of their addiction and most often need to be turned away by their plastic surgeon,” he says. “This type of patient literally skips from office to office until someone agrees to give them what they want. It is usually the surgeon or injector who makes the diagnosis of ‘addiction.'”
If your allergies prompt chronic red eyes and you routinely reach for over-the-counter eye drops like Visine, you could begin to rely on them. These drops work because of active ingredients such as tetrahydrozoline, a vasoconstrictor that constricts the conjunctival blood vessels so that they appear smaller, making your eyes look less red. “Some patients may find themselves increasing their frequency of use because Visine also has a known rebound effect,” says Kelly Voltz, an optometrist in Portland, Oregon. “For some percent of the population, extended use of Visine can cause redness, and patients may find themselves in a cycle of using a product which initially helped the problem but now contributes to it.” (Avoid drops by learning the causes of bloodshot eyes and how to prevent them.)
“Addiction is psychosomatic,” says Kirby Farrell, PhD, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who has written frequently about the topic. “How you think about yourself affects your body. If you imagine that tattoos can change people’s perception of you, you can believe that a new image on your skin will impress others, boost your self-esteem, and eliminate the need for more needlework.” At the same time, new ink may not be enough. “In searching for more images, you may be going around in circles, depressed or angry at yourself and not seeing a new, happier face in the mirror. That can feel—and trap you—like an abused substance.”
If you’re perpetually in need of retail therapy, take note. It turns out there are as many reasons to become addicted to shopping as there are shopping addicts, says April Lane Benson, PhD, author To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop. “Some of the motivators include wanting to feel better about yourself or to feel more secure,” she says. “Shopping can also be a way to soothe oneself, to feel more in control, or to fill an internal void.” How do you know if you’re an addict? “You can be pretty sure you are if shopping is your equal opportunity all-purpose mood changer, if you’ve tried to stop and have been unable to, if you’re hiding purchases or bills, and/or if you’re lying about this to yourself and to others,” Benson says.
Thanks to social media algorithms that can see exactly how you’re interacting with social media posts, you can be addicted to finding the perfect chairs, potted plants, or woven rug to pull a room together to then post online, says Lindsey Pratt, a therapist in private practice in New York City who specializes in addiction and recovery. “Targeted ads play off this addiction, and it’s now easier than ever to curate an experience at home to sell to the world rather than living in reality,” she adds. Online shopping can be convenient, but sometimes you need to see furniture in person to make sure it’s worth the investment and realistic for your lifestyle.
Listening to music
This is one addiction you won’t need to kick. A study published in Scientific Reports found that listening to enjoyable music creates a natural high. “The body reacts in the same way as when it eats pleasurable food, by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine,” says Duy Nguyen, DO, a board-certified psychiatrist at Beachway Therapy Center in Boynton Beach, Florida. “It is this chemical that makes us want to repeat behaviors to regain that feeling again, which is why we can become addicted to listening to our favorite songs.”
Tanning addiction is very common, particularly among young men and women between the ages of 18 and 30. In fact, a study conducted by the Georgetown University Medical Center concluded that 1 in 5 young white women who have used a tanning bed in the last year showed signs of dependence, says dermatologist Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. Just how bad is tanning? More than 450,000 cases of skin cancer in the United States, Europe, and Australia each year are linked to indoor tanning, per 2017 research published in JAMA Dermatology. How do you know if you’re addicted? “There are a few telling signs,” Dr. Sarnoff says. “UV light has been shown to trigger a release of endorphins, the feel-good hormone,” she says. “You might find yourself craving that feeling of happiness. If you find you’re going to the tanning salon more often or staying in the tanning bed longer, that could be a sign of dependence.”
Pulling your hair
The clinical term for this is trichotillomania, and it’s when someone can’t stop twisting or pulling their hair out, says Anna Guanche, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Bella Skin Institute in Calabasas, California. It’s not just the hair on your head. Dr. Guanche says some people will pull the hair on their eyebrows or even eyelashes as a compulsive urge or mindless habit, such as when they are watching TV. (Check out these 18 other habits that cause your hair to thin.)
Diet soda can affect your metabolism, and is associated with numerous health problems from type 2 diabetes to high blood pressure. But giving it up can be more complicated than you might think. While the addiction may stem from the artificial sugars in diet soda Sheri Heller, a licensed clinical social worker and addiction specialist based in New York, says the addiction also can stem from weight control and body dysmorphia. “I’ve worked with [clients] who drink liters of diet soda and can’t seem to stop, even when they incur physical maladies,” she says.
Shoes or designer clothes
This is a fairly common addiction, according to Heller. While similar to shopping, the focus here is on specific objects that help conceal feelings of inferiority by creating an elite persona. In the case of shoes, it sometimes can be linked to a foot fetish, Heller says, but more often than not, excessive shoe buying is done to fill some other kind of inner void.
Binge-watching an occasional show is one thing, but if you find yourself parked in front of the TV all the time, it could be a sign of a bigger issue. “Nielsen Media Research found that the average American watches four to five hours of television each day,” says Dr. Nguyen. “By the time they reach 65 years old, that would mean they would have spent an astonishing nine years watching television.” Not only can revolving your life around what’s on television cause distorted reality and other behavioral issues, but it also promotes a sedentary lifestyle, setting you up for developing health conditions such as cardiovascular and heart disease, says Dr. Nguyen. (Put down that remote. Here are 17 strategies to help beat your TV addiction.)
Posting selfies on social media and incessantly refreshing your feed for new comments and likes all result in a dopamine hit to your system, Pratt says. A social competition to see who looks like they are living the best life feeds the addiction to continue the behavior, she adds.
If sex is negatively affecting other areas of your life or can’t stop looking at porn, Dr. Nguyen says you may have a hypersexual disorder. And while having sex can be good for you and it’s normal to enjoy sex, this particular disorder negatively affects your relationships and how you function at work, home, and all other areas of your life. It also means your brain is hardwired similar to someone who has a gambling or drug addiction, Dr. Nguyen says, making it difficult to give up that behavior. This occurs when sex becomes something you are dependent on.
Those who enjoy extreme sports such as rock climbing, snowboarding, and mountain biking are often labeled as “adrenaline junkies” because they are addicted to the thrill and feeling of euphoria they get from those activities, Dr. Nguyen says. A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions found that when people don’t participate in those sports over an extended period, they appear to experience symptoms of withdrawal consistent with addictive behaviors.
Constantly being busy has started to become culturally acceptable in the US, particularly in cities and anywhere where there is a level of peer competition, says Pratt. “Being busy can fill the void that is felt when being alone and truly experiencing what it is like to spend time with oneself, [which] is often avoided at a level of addiction,” she says. This notion of feeling like you always have to be busy can often start in the workplace.
From scrutinizing your weight to anticipating the worst outcome of a situation, negative self-talk can quickly become ingrained in a person’s brain from a young age. “For many people, negative self-talk has been so pervasive throughout their lives that it’s just become a habit [similar to an addiction],” Shaw says. “Intentionally monitoring your inner dialogue and replacing overly harsh thoughts with more neutral or positive sentiments will help you break the habit once and for all.”
Similar to how online dating can lead to never-ending possibilities of finding your soulmate, the romantic feelings of love can be addicting, according to a study published in the journal Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology. Researchers discovered behavioral, psychological, and neurophysiological evidence that feelings of love have similar effects to chronic, drug-seeking behavior, and coming down off of these behaviors (like going through a breakup) can lead to feelings of withdrawal.
The act of winning is addictive in itself, and when you combine that with a virtual world that is completely different and more exciting than your real life, that environment can become addicting, says Dr. Nguyen. Some signs of a video game addiction include becoming irritable when not playing over an extended period of time, and needing more and more screen time to feel satisfied and content. This relatively new condition has been named “gaming disorder” by the World Health Organization.
Called pagophagia, chewing ice is considered a form of pica, a type of eating disorder in which someone feels the need to chew items that have no nutritional value. Ice cravings may be specific to an iron deficiency, as well as a red flag for obsessive-compulsive disorder or another developmental issue.
Next up, learn how to tell if your “addiction” is actually one of these 8 early signs of OCD you should take seriously.
- National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH): "2017 NSDUH Annual National Report"
- National Institute of Drug Abuse: "Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction?"
- Samantha Conrad, MD, a dermatologist at Northwestern Memorial HealthCare in Chicago
- Leslie Renee Townsend, DDS, of Jefferson Dental Clinics in Dallas
- Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
- Rachel Straub, an exercise physiologist in San Diego
- John Layke, MD, a plastic surgeon at Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery Group
- April Lane Benson, PhD, author To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop
- Lindsey Pratt, LMHC, a therapist in private practice in New York City who specializes in addiction and recovery
- Scientific Reports: "Anhedonia to music and mu-opioids: Evidence from the administration of naltrexone"
- Duy Nguyen, DO, a board-certified psychiatrist at Beachway Therapy Center in Boynton Beach, Florida
- JAMA Dermatology: "International Prevalence of Indoor Tanning A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis"
- Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention: "Indoor Tanning Dependence in Young Adult Women"
- Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, president, The Skin Cancer Foundation
- Isabel James, a matchmaker and relationship coach at Elite Dating Managers
- Anna Guanche, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Bella Skin Institute in Calabasas, California
- Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW a licensed clinical social worker and addiction specialist based in New York
- Nielsen: "THE TOTAL AUDIENCE REPORT: Q1 2016"
- Journal of Behavioral Addictions: "Addiction in Extreme Sports: An Exploration of Withdrawal States in Rock Climbers"
- Cindy Shaw, a certified neurolinguistic practitioner and a transformational life and brain health coach
- Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology: "Addicted to love: What is love addiction and when should it be treated?"
- World Health Organization: "Gaming disorder"