A Real Problem

This is not a story about "Ohh I love reading sooo much I must be addicted lol". Sadly, for me a compulsive habit I developed years ago as a teenager has become a real problem in my life.

Once distracted by a print book or internet material, I keep going for hours or days,  ignoring all obligations. When I finally stop I feeling guilty and depressed dealing with the aftermath. This bad habit has cost me dearly in my professional and personal life and I have spent years trying to find some strategy to resolve it, without success.

I really can’t explain exactly why I do it in any way that would make sense to others. I have plenty of interests and opportunities in my life, but my bad habit is preventing me from fully realizing them. And I certainly don’t read because I have “nothing else to do” - far from it.

I am painfully aware that I have a problem, but unable to break myself of it, despite wanting to very much. I value books and would like reading to be just a pleasant hobby to me as it is to most people rather than an obsession and grief. I cannot find help or support because no-one I try to talk about this takes it seriously. In some ways, I wish I had a “recognized” addiction like alcohol or gambling because then I could join a support group and at least have some source of encouragement. Maybe it would make the difference.

Ikonos Ikonos
36-40, F
12 Responses Oct 1, 2009

Just reading this and all the comments below is such a relief knowing that i'm not the only person going through this addiction. It has taken over everything and just like you and everyone else all other obligations in life just don't matter once you get stuck into a good book. You don't eat, sleep, you ignore all necessary phone calls until that book is finished. And then you just get forced back into reality and go into this 'book hangover' where your minds still stuck into the world from your novel... i've spent days at home all alone stuck in this - how on earth does one get out of this addiction?!

Raja: thank you so much for posting! It's good to hear from someone else who understands.<br />
I don't think we have to give up reading altogether. I don't think that's even pratical. Somehow..and I'm not there yet..we have to figure out how to put it into a place in our life where we can enjoy it without feeling guilty or other problems. Enjoy it like a fine wine rather than binge drinking.<br />
It sounds like at least you enjoy your reading a lot. I've gotten into a very silly place where - when I know I shouldn't be reading, I won't allow myself to read the things I really want to, but instead I read any random stuff I come across, like surfing the internet or a book off my landlady's bookshelf (and she has really bad taste in books !) - so even the time I spend reading is not good reading. Oh dear, so mixed up.<br />
Yes, what should we do?

Hi Ikonos, <br />
i found your post because I'm looking for help for the same thing - a reading addiction. Everything you said quite eloquently expresses exactly how i feel and what i do. I don't even feel embarrassed really at this point to say this, because I think I've known for the last few years that this is what is . . .i just figured, how could reading. . .be bad, really?<br />
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But just like you, i'm random and impulsive about it, and start at the worst time. Once i get started i CANT stop. Reading is the first thing i do when i wake up and the last thing i do before i go to bed. Always. It permeates hours of my days. Like you i do have friends and other interests, it's just that my major "interest" is reading, to the determent of anything and everything else. I find myself trying to fit my life around reading, not reading for pleasure and fitting it into the pockets of free time in my life (though even i as i read that, it sounds depressing to me. Healthier, but depressing). I read at least a few hundred pages a day, and i guess the reason i am finally looking for help, is because i'm realzing how how negatively my passion for reading has affected all aspects of my life - professional, personal, and especially academically. <br />
I know I often use reading to escape my negative and anxious feelings, but it's also something i do because i really do love to read. Nothing in my life really compares to rush i feel of a good book, it's instant gratification in the most wonderful of ways. And i know that sounds awful and silly all at once. <br />
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Just the thought of giving reading up makes me really depressed. I know they say that for addictions you have to replace a negative addiction with a "positive" one, like eating healthy or exercising, or control it better. But when i'm not reading, i think about reading and it make me want to read even more. . . i guess i get major withdrawal symptoms. lol <br />
Gosh, even as i write this, i'm not really sure how to cope. Or what is i'm supposed to do about it. <br />
When i read i'm really happy. And even though i do have some good relationships/friendships and aspirations, and interests, etc. ( though I have felt a lot of anxiety and anxiousness around with them to. But isn't that normal?) None of them compare to reading. <br />
Perhaps i'm just a chronic escapist. Perhaps my "real life" needs some major fixing up. <br />
I don't know, but i hope you are doing better with your reading addiction, and that you are finding something that works. <br />
If you do let me know. <br />
It's a small relief to know i'm not the only one.

Reading Addiction in Literature: The Hours, by Michael Cunningham. I don't get it, the reviews for this Pulitzer Prize winning book talk about it as "exquisite and lovely", "an utterly invigorating experience", and it's all about mental illness and suicide (also writing, relationships, etc ) And right in the middle of it, there's a character with a definite reading addiction (Laura Brown). The way it's put, it's clear it's something she struggles with, and she's not healthy or happy, but has to pretend to be for the sake of her husband and child. <br />
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I'm quite amazed to find this.<br />
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Things not well with me lately. Nothing I've tried works. I do well for awhile, but I eventually break down, and everytime its harder to pull myself back. So many ways in which I know better, yet it's not a rational thing at all - that's why its so scary.

UPDATE<br />
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I've been doing poorly lately. I'm just recovering from an extended episode. Five days of staying in bed and surfing the net for things to read. skipping out on my research responsibilities, avoiding friends, etc, barely even eating. At one point I got a really bad migraine so I know I'm affecting myself physically too (had to stop reading during the migraine but once it got better I went back to it). <br />
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I'm concluding the "Write don't Read" slogan is not going to help. When I start the behaviour, I'm in a "fooling myself" mode that I'm only going to do this for a minute and it's not doing any harm. Once I get going, I get into this trance state that's hard to break out of, it's a very passive state and I partly cling to it to avoid facing up to the time I've wasted and the consequences. The last thing I want to do at either of these stages is write, so I simply don't do it. I can write after, but this doesn't really fulfil any preventative role.<br />
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The idea of organizing and regulating my reading stays valid because that is where I really want to be. I also have to remember this is a sickness. Once I get into it I actually have been making myself physically sick (headaches, dehydration, light headedness from not eating) and certainly messing up my mind. I have to take care of myself, if I start: get myself out of there as soon as I can and do what I need to do to get healthy again. <br />
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How are you doing , gigidoe?

Hi gigidoe, thank you for posting. <br />
It sounds like you have it bad! It seems like everyone's experience of this is a little different which is probably true of other addictive behaviour. <br />
I truly love to read too and I believe the solution is not for me to give up reading altogher ( I don't believe I could anyway) , but to reshape my reading patterns into something healthy rather than destructive.<br />
Going to a therapist was not a magic bullet. The good thing was to my great relief she did not belittle or patronize my problem, but took it at face value although she'd never counselled anyone with this particular type of addiction before. However she could not say follow this twelve step program and you will be cured. It was revolutionary to have a sympathetic supporter, but ultimately it's still up to me. <br />
January was a bad month for me but February and March so far have been pretty good. I've had some new thoughts on how to tackle my problem behaviour both based on suggestions from the therapist and my own theories. My current plan is a two pronged approach<br />
1) One piece of advice from the therapist, common to addictive behaviour like smoking or binge eating, was to delay the behaviour as long as possible when the craving strikes, and one recommended thing to keep yourself busy while delaying the action is to write something about your current feelings.<br />
For me I know when I am tempted to do this I'm not thinking very clearly, so I need some simple slogan to cling to. It's going to be "Write don't read". In other words, here I am feeling the temptation to read at an inappropriate time. Instead I get a pen and paper and write either or all of the answers to these questions, depending on the situation<br />
a) how am I feeling now? <br />
b) why don't I really want to read this thing now?<br />
c) what should I do (instead of reading) - Make a list.<br />
2) The other strategy for dealing with my problem is based on a theory I have thought of that could be applied to any bad habit. If you have a bad habit, something is pushing you in a direction you don't want to go. To break it, you have to push hard in the opposite direction. For this to work, you have to be prepared to put a lot of energy and intention into this opposite push. Like a tug of war, if you are lucky you may end up in the middle.<br />
An example would be if you have a bad habit of being late, try to be so early that you are always the first one there at any meeting. Of course it doesn't really matter if you really manage to be the first one there, but if you really try at least you will probably arrive on time even if something comes up to delay you.<br />
Now to apply this to our bad habit. At first you might think "I have to try to never read" NOOOO. The opposite action has to be an ACTION, not a negative state. If you try to not do something, it will just make you think about doing it more. Instead you have to find an opposite action. For me, what is unhealthy about the way I read is the randomness - how I will start doing it at the worst possible times which has bad consequences for my life, and then of course get into a zombie like state and keep reading for hours or days. <br />
So instead, I will read in a very regulated way. Rather than picking up random stuff when the urge strikes me (I often end up reading real crap), I will make a point of reading certain selected things (the things I really want to read) at specific, appropriate times (when I can enjoy them without guilt, what a concept). <br />
I know this sounds like it won't probably work but I think it has a chance with me because it appeals to my sense of order and my wish to relearn to appreciate rather than abuse reading. For each person I think you will have to find your own solution to what the appropriate reaction is that will help you push away from your harmful reading habits. <br />
And I think it is vital to apply both strategies in conjunction.<br />
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Now I haven't really put these ideas to the test yet so I will let you know whether it actually works. I hope this wasn't a Teal Deer (too long didn't read) post. Hey, what's to worry about, I'm talking to reading addicts ;)<br />
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Seriously Gigidoe and anyone else who is interested, do post back and share your thoughts on what you think you could do to help yourself overcome your problem. Good luck everyone!

I read it. I now you're message was only posted a few months ago, but I hope you're doing somewhat better. It is quite courageous of you to go to a counselor for help coping with your addiction.<br />
I can really relate with what you have been posting. I have always read a lot. I won't get into it.. I don't know, it sounds kinda funny to see it written down. But it is hard, although it's not all doom and gloom. I truly Love reading. And sometimes it's not that bad, but right now I'm having one of those difficult periods. I have been reading a lot the past 6 months (about 300 pages every two days). It's getting in the way of life, my work, everything.. Right at this moment I'm feeling quite anxious (I've got this tight feeling in my chest) because I'm writing this post instead of reading and because a friend is comming over in 90 minutes and I won't be able to read then.. I'm not sleeping well.. I just stay up and read through the night.. I discovered audiobooks a few months ago and now I also listen to books (for example when I go to work I read on the train, but when I have to change trains I can't read so I'll listen to audiobooks for 15 minutes untill I can get my book out again) I get headaches, I feel guilty but I can't stop. I feel embarrassed but I really just can't. I am just glad that I'm not alone or weird and I really hope you're doing better.

I'm disappointed that this didn't turn out to be a forum to discuss this problem. I think that would have been helpful to me as this is so isolating because no-one I know in RL can relate.<br />
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Lately I've been doing worse - carrying on for longer periods of time - the last two times were 5 days straight. I lie to people to explain my absence as the truth will just not do.<br />
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I bit the bullet and made an appointment with a counsellor at the university where I attend. I've had one meeting so far. It might be helpful. She'd never heard of anyone "addicted to reading" before but said people get addicted to all kinds of things. At least I didn't feel she was condescending which was my greatest fear. I didn't really know what she could suggest for me as I've tried so many different ways of quitting already. But the value might be just to have someone to discuss the problem with. Being alone with an upsetting problem is not good. <br />
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I wish someone near and dear to me had been able to care and show support but that was not to be.<br />
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My goal now is to get back to where I was about a year ago, when I still had this problem behaviour occasionally but it was a lot more under control than now. <br />
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I don't know if anyone will ever read this but if anyone ever does and knows what I mean, reply to this thread and I will get your message. Good luck to everyone out there struggling with bad habits and addictions.

Well, life has been pretty fast paced lately - good - it's been keeping me honest. I'm actually reading a book about reading by Victor Nell. It's not about reading as an addiction, it's just a psychological study about how and why people like to read for pleasure. I'm hoping to get a few insights from it. The history of popular reading at the beginning is very interesting.<br />
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I'm just reading it late at night though, not obsessively for days, so I'm doing OK. Non fiction books tend to be pretty safe for me.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, WideOpenSpaces77 and Paco35. That means a lot to me.<br />
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Wideopenspaces: Do you find that works for you - making bargains with yourself? Are you happy with where you are now, with being able to control it? <br />
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You're right on about the trance state. In fact, I just found out about some research by Victor Nell (1988) on people who read for pleasure, whom he calls "ludic readers". The state of deep absorbtion that heavy readers go into he calls the "ludic trance". This "ludic trance" is exactly what I'm addicted to. Everything else gets shut out. This would be OK if I only indulged at sensible times rather than being out of control.<br />
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Paco35: Maybe "compulsive" was the wrong word to use. I was looking for an alternative to the word "addicted" because, as I mentioned, on one hand a lot of people will describe themselves as "addicted to reading" when they just mean they like to read a lot. On the other hand, some people only like to use the word "addiction" to describe a physical addiction like drugs.<br />
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However I think my behaviour is more like that of an addicted person like an alcoholic or gambler going on binges, etc than OCD. I don't have that concept of a ritualized behaviour that I feel compelled to follow through that characterizes OCD i.e like people who feel compelled to wash their hands all the time because they're obsessed with germs. So realistically "addiction" is more how I would describe my problem, but it's not a recognized addiction. <br />
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I've had universally negative experiences with counsellors and therapists so far which makes me reluctant to go that route. Even a hypnotist didn't help (that's a story for another time!)<br />
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I'm out of town for the weekend but will follow up. Thanks again for the support so far!

Since you do recognize it as a problem you should be able to obtain therapy for the obsessive compulsive behavior as anyone else with OCD. Seek therapy for your problem. A professional will not discount or invalidate your situation. Paco35

dear ikonos ,I suffer from the same addiction I read to the exclusion of my housework .I feel reading is a form of hypnotic,flow, like a state that may calm us .It does me.i just say to myself I"ll read until the timer on the microwave goes off ,and then get up and do some work.I bargain with myself . never forget you are not alone!!!I willl be here for you to talk to.o.k.?talk to you soon wideopenspaces77