Chapter

Is Reading an Addiction?

A search for “reading addiction” turns up over 80,000 hits on Google. A scan suggests that the vast majority use this term ironically. They are boasting about their obsession with books and reading. This addiction is a badge of honour, a status symbol.

What about real addiction?

Much has been written about Internet addiction. According to Jerald Block (“Issues for DSM-V: Internet Addiction”, 2008), South Korea is a country that takes this affliction very seriously and estimates that over 210,000 of its citizens are affected. For China the number is 10 million.

Block wants Internet addiction formalized with an entry in DSM-V (the new edition of the standard classification of mental disorders expected in 2013). He outlines the key characteristics:

“1) excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives, 2) withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible, 3) tolerance, including the need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use, and 4) negative repercussions, including arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue.”

Excessive use, withdrawal, and negative repercussions (“tolerance” sounds a bit like impatience or anxiety); this sounds like many of the readers I know. Is reading an addiction or, more pointedly, a pathology?

Just think of those reading a book while walking or standing in an elevator (although perhaps this latter is as much social distancing as reading addiction). And what about those people reading their smartphones while driving? This is an extraordinarily dangerous habit (compulsion?) yet all too common. These people have made a clear choice of reading over safety.

What we call addiction with respect to TV, gambling, gaming, or the Internet is not so described for reading. How is compulsive gambling (in-person or online) different than compulsive reading? Outcome? Social value? Risk? Benefit? Or simply the odds of good things happening (which, admittedly, are far better for reading than gambling).

Explicit concerns about reading were much more common in the 18th and 19th centuries (when mass literacy was emerging as a result of improved educational practices and the availability of cheap reading materials increased). Many saw reading as a threat to children; reading was to be discouraged and children to be focused elsewhere.

As Arnim Polster (“On the Abuse of Reading”, 1993) notes “by the 1780s, the phenomenon of children reading had come to be viewed by many German pedagogues with anxiety, if not outright alarm”. Polster quotes Johann Gottfried Hoche (1762-1836):

“compulsive reading is a foolish and harmful abuse of an otherwise good thing, truly a great evil, as contagious as the yellow fever in Philadelphia.”

The “contagion” analogy is worth considering. The implication is not simply that obsessive (or unsupervised) reading is damaging but that the example of doing it, the public activity of this act, will lead others (infect them) to behave the same way. Is reading a disease?

Our concepts of addiction or dysfunction are clearly culturally shaped. We are comfortable talking about these in relation to TV, video games, the Internet, and many other things but reading is absolved of this.

Consider, for example, the way the medical community perceives hyperlexia.

Hyperlexia is the ability of a child to read very early and to become obsessed with words. It is often, although not always, associated with autism. This has lead to an academic debate about whether it is a “disability” or a “superability” (Grigorenko, “Hyperlexia”, 2003).

Just like the fish that doesn’t know it’s in water, we are so immersed in a literate environment (Ong would say “prison”) that we cannot easily question or assess its impacts (or constraints) on us. We are happily addicted. Our obsession is a mark of distinction. We are blind to the possibility of a future beyond literacy, beyond our drug.

26 Comments ↓

26 Responses to “Is Reading an Addiction?”

  1. Tom Russell October 23, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    I think I remember reading once that being able to read without verbalizing the words was once considered a mental disorder. (or a sign of demon possession)

  2. Harry Posner October 24, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    There is a spurious aspect to your argument. Heavy reliance on a particular tool for apprehending the human condition does not in itself constitute addiction, withdrawal symptoms notwithstanding. Are we addicted to the use of our eyes, our ears, our skin? The deleterious effects of sensory deprivation are well documented. Does that make sensual apprehension of our world the equivalent of a heroin addiction? Your argument is prone to the errors that come out of thinking by association. Maybe the addiction here is not our attachment to literacy, but our nostalgia for psychoanalytic thinking. Maybe a better title for the book is: Beyond Freudianism.

    • bdleaf October 24, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      I agree that there’s a leap being made here, though I wouldn’t necessarily make the essentialist argument. Aside from being biased toward modern Western society and evidencing mostly negative instances, literacy is conflated with use of modern communication technologies. The attack is not so much on the ability to read and write as much as it is on the methods that we’re afforded.

      Perhaps this goes hand in hand with the previous chapter that claims reading and writing aren’t “good enough” and those insufficient activities lower the stature of literate person. But now I’m also no longer sure I grasp what the author means or how he defines literacy. If taken broadly as “visual language,” then I would be tempted make the same argument as Harry Posner above. Or that it’s indicative of a larger issue, but not one rooted in language.

      But I’ll keep reading on.

      • Sarah Roberts October 30, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

        I think that when we talk about literacy, we’re talking about visual/alphabetic literacy: reading and writing.

        According to that definition, many activities that take place online are still forms of literacy (like reading the newspaper online, or reading a book on your smartphone).

        Something that MIGHT be an example of post-literacy is our Pinterest bibliography- check it out! http://pinterest.com/mikeridley/beyond-literacy-bibliography/

        Thanks for your comment!

        • Tanya Robyn Stockand October 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

          visual literacy predates and definitely does not equal the alphabet. Symbols/pictograms/hieroglyphys are foundations all alphabets now used, and alphabets just do not exist for many languages still to this day, and *never* will. I’m with bdleaf: there is a skewness towards western ways of thought/communication which does a disservice to notions of literacy.

  3. John Miedema October 27, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

    I was looking forward to this chapter because I have sometimes wondered if I have a reading addiction. Addictions by nature tend to blind the user to the negative consequences, so I’m open to the challenge that I might be reading addicted. I’m open, but not persuaded by what I’m reading in this chapter.

    Reading a book in an elevator? That is hardly withdrawal; no one talks in elevators anyway. It’s true that addictions by nature tend to isolate the addict from others, as a mechanism to perpetuate the addiction. The idea that reading makes readers anti-social is a tired stereotype which research has shown to be false. Take for example both the Reading at Risk study (NEA, 2004) and their followup report, To Read or not to Read (2007). Both showed that literary readers are more likely to participate in cultural and civic events.

    Reading their smartphones while driving? Is this reading? I will be challenging you more in this regard. As I see it, post-literacy is already here, and yes, digital technology is a key expression of it. Reading online is a very different type of knowledge acquisition than reading print. Both are good in different ways, but we currently see more addictive behaviours associated with digital activity.

    • Jeff Penfold November 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

      I wondered about the idea of reading addiction as well. One of the ideas I think about is the concept is whether reading is hurting those around you (as with alcoholism for example). I know a couple where the one person has the habit of breaking out a book or newspaper while waiting in line, perfectly sensible, I do it myself. But what is interesting is he often used to do this all the time when he was waiting in line with his partner and it drove them nuts. In some sense his desire to start reading was harming those around him. Maybe a bit of a stretch to call this an addiction but he found it a hard habit to break.

  4. Caitlin M November 1, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    It seems unlikely that reading can be considered a physical addiction in the way that a drug can be. It does not introduce a new chemical substance into our bodies which interacts directly with our existing chemistry.

    In a non-chemical addiction the “location” of the addiction doesn’t seem reside in the thing itself, so why define any particular activity/medium as addictive? We might still need a way to talk about the problems which those with “addictions” face, but defining addiction by the object of the addiction seems problematic.

    Many people do things that they enjoy compulsively – for example watching TV, knitting, playing video and traditional games, sex, the internet, artistic endeavors, stamp collecting and virtually every other hobby. So why define certain activities, such as reading, as addictive and not others? We’ve all seen those crazed wool-wielding knitters! Conversely, if we define all activities as addictive, then saying something is addictive loses meaning.

    It seems to me that in a post-literate future we would simply find new mediums and activities to act as conduits for addiction.

    • John Edwards November 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

      Caitlin is moving the focus onto a couple of important aspects of this chapter. These are: i) the definition of addiction; ii) the fundamental operational characteristics of the brain which link the reading activity to those defined within the addiction context. I will do some research on the subject and suspect that I will find aspects of compulsive or “can’t put the book down behavior” are likely to provoke or reflect similar brain chemistry responses as substances or behaviors which we more readily associate with addiction. Ultimately, it is all about the brain chemistry response. When looking at the topic of Post-Literacy we are essentially trying to look back to the future of human evolution and consciousness..a fascinating area of discovery.

      • Anon Ymous February 20, 2016 at 6:19 am #

        If you’re going to research with expectations of what you’re going to find, then don’t even bother with it. Just pretend that you did the research, and say that you found exactly what you thought you would. I suspect that’s what you’re planning on doing anyway, along with ignoring any evidence that contradicts what you want.

    • Anonymous March 11, 2015 at 12:09 am #

      Well I, being an avid reader, find myself a self proclaimed addict of books. Being in college I often find myself not focusing on lectures because I was thinking about reading or dreaming about reading or the book I’m on. I often decline friends invitations to hang out because I NEED to know what happens in the next chapter. I lose sleep because I NEED to find out how the story ends. I can spend a whole day and night just sitting in bed reading. I neglect duties like studying and cleaning and sometimes I just skip class completely. I spend over $150 a month in books. In alot of ways books are like a drug to me a constant state of need, even when I have it I crave more.

  5. Jessica November 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    This is the idea in Beyond Literacy that I had the easiest time accepting. There are a lot of good points regarding whether or not reading is an addiction, and I do see both sides, but for me the argument that it is (or can be) an addiction is more believable. Gambling and gaming for example are both serious and very real addictions, so I’m not convinced that we need to be ingesting chemicals, or otherwise altering our state of mind in order to have an addiction. I believe that gambling might cause our brains to release certain hormones or chemicals, adrenaline for example, that might make it more difficult to stop, but I might also argue that depending on what we’re reading that same phenomenon could be experienced.

    Mike mentions “social distancing” as a possible aspect of reading addiction, and I think that this is the most significantly negative aspect of compulsive or obsessive reading. I agree that reading in an elevator or on the subway hardly constitutes an addiction, but what happens when our intense preoccupation with the written word robs us of the basic human experience. I bring a book with me everywhere I go, and it acts as a sort of security blanket for me – I know that if I am reading people won’t bother me, and I do not have to interact or engage with the world around me. I guess this isn’t really addiction, but it is certainly a coping mechanism that can be detrimental to myself.

  6. Caitlin M November 15, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    I also believe that we do not need to ingest chemicals in order to alter our brains.

    The neurotransmitter dopamine plays an important role in reinforcing pleasurable behaviours and is thought to play a central role in the physiology of addiction. We know that the release of dopamine is not contingent upon ingesting a particular chemical (Physiology of Behavior, Neil Carlson).

    However, I wonder if it’s possible that by naming certain activities as addictive (and not others), we confuse addiction with the objects of addiction, somehow falsely attributing the characteristic “addictive” to objects and activities outside ourselves. To put it another way, maybe the source of the addiction is not (in) the addictive activity.

    If we do not need to ingest chemicals to illicit the physiological changes involved in addiction, and the same neurotransmitter is involved in various “types” of addiction, then isn’t any pleasurable behaviour potentially a focus of addiction? This would mean that when we choose to label specific behaviours as addictive – and not others – we are making a value judgement, engaging in a process of social construction rather than an “objective” – if this is even possible – evaluation of the activity that is being labeled addictive.

    If this is the case, then it might still be helpful to recognize certain activities as particularly significant focal points of addiction. They might stand in as a short hand to understand how addiction is affecting particular individuals and what social influences are at play, etc.

    However, in order to merit this type of recognition the activity or object would probably have to be the focus of addiction for a particularly large portion of the population, or result in particularly negative consequences. I haven’t seen enough evidence to convince me that either of these is the case for reading. While I can accept that there are probably people who are addicted to reading, I’m not sure it warrants being labeled as addictive any more than the many other activities we engage in which are not labeled as such.

    Does this make sense? I have to admit even as I’ve been writing this comment I’ve been starting to question it.

    • Peter May 7, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

      This article claims that reading is an addiction. “We are happily addicted. Our obsession is a mark of distinction. We are blind to the possibility of a future beyond literacy, beyond our drug.” I agree with Michael Ridley that we are blind to a future beyond literacy, but disagree with him that we are addicted to reading. In this day and age, reading is no longer a choice. We are forced to read from preschool. Teaching your children how to read is simply regarded as good parenting. Can we be addicted to something that we can’t choose and are raised with? I would argue that most of the reading that a student does is assigned reading. From my experience, the average college student reads at least 100-200 pages a week. Is it still addiction if we are forced to read?
      Ong argues, “the fact that we do not commonly feel the influence of writing on our thoughts shows that we have interiorized the technology of writing so deeply that without that without tremendous effort we cannot separate it from ourselves or even recognize its presence and influence.” For those who are literate, reading and writing are so engrained in our minds that we cannot separate its influence. I no longer believe it is possible to separate its influence, nor do I think it is beneficial to do so. While I agree that too much of a good thing can be detrimental, I do not believe the average reader is addicted to reading. Obviously there are cases of people who read too much and may display tendencies of addiction. Like the stats displayed on the article say only .01% of Chinese are addicted to the Internet. I doubt that number would be any higher for people “addicted to books.” The Internet is a stimulus that we can choose to ignore, whereas words are everywhere and cannot be. In the study, What Reading Does to Your Mind by Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich, the data show that “even when performance is statistically equated for reading comprehension and general ability reading volume is still a very powerful predictor of vocabulary and knowledge differences” (142). Furthermore, Evans et al. (2010) found that having books in the household is a common predictor in success levels of kids (kids with books in households generally receive three more years of schooling than kids with little or no books in their households).
      I guess my question is, if reading makes us smarter, more successful, and strengthens our vocabulary, is it still an addiction? Why label it in a term that culturally we understand as a generally negative thing? I do not believe reading is an addiction, rather a necessary set of tools that we need to engage in our society.

      • Michael Ridley May 13, 2013 at 10:27 am #

        There is no question that reading enhances our intellectual and society capabilities; especially within a context that values literacy. The idea of reading as an addiction is a way to provoke an assessment of our attitude to reading. Addictions cause us to ignore other things; we are blinded from aspects of reality; we delude ourselves; we persist in behaviour which is counterproductive (not all, even most, reading is effective/useful). My point about reading as an addiction is that it reinforces and confirms a specific view of the world and our selves. And as Ong says, literacy aggressively blocks out other perspectives (and other “literacies”).

      • Morgan July 7, 2013 at 10:06 am #

        The activity of reading is not the issue, nor will it ever be. The issue, is when the activity of reading becomes disproportionately the substitute for personal engagement ie real life.

        I for one do believe that any activity can become an obsession and usually, as reading is considered a healthy activity, the addictive reader is both hidden and justified by the comonality and obvious benefits of the activity. This ferociously feeds the denial as few other addicive activities can match. Society is near 100% complicit with exception being possibly groups which use the restriction of information as an agent of control. In general however, who would dare criticize anyone who reads?

        I live with an person who is by self admission addicted to the act of reading. I have discussed ith with her on several occasions over the 20 years we have been married. I noticed it as a newly married person. I could not fully articulate the issue, however my wife’s lack of personal engagement with myself and later my children is a serious problem from time to time. There has been anger, denial and greater withdrawal usually when I bring up the subject. The activity interferes with life and intimacy in my relationship.

        I have even been complicit in the per perpetuation of the addiction with the gift of an e-reader. I used the occcasion to try and establish ground rules on the reading which appeared to work for a short time. It is now much worse.

        To the original premise, reading addiction, I stand firmly in the camp that recognizes the effects of abuse of the activity.

  7. Adriana May 7, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    I believe that the problem many people find with other mediums of addiction, but not literacy, is the mimetic experience. This experience is one in which the participant becomes so engulfed in the activity (reading, watching a movie, etc.) that they forget it’s not real; they forget that they are being presented with a socially constructed object and take it as truth in that moment. With literacy, this seems to be a positive interaction, whereas those who fall privy to a mimetic experience while playing video games may be chastised. An example that I’m sure many have heard before is the debate over the safety of video games. In an essay by Selfe, Mareck, and Gardiner entitled “Computer Gaming as Literacy” they provide this insight, “…[M]any people, parents and educators alike, continue to fear the violent socialization seemingly inherent to the compelling games,” (21). Adults believe that through the mimetic, and often addicting, experience of playing video games, children will extract the violent themes and messages present within the games. Although the mimetic experience can be addicting, I think it is unwise to make claims that one medium’s mimetic power can be more damaging than another.
    Although addiction to video games is not as fondly looked upon as an addiction to literacy, I believe past generations would have thought very differently. One person who was vehemently against the written word and any interaction with it was Plato. In his dialogue called “The Superiority of the Spoken Word. Myth of the Invention of Writing,” he expresses the danger of the written word. He argues:
    If men learn [writing], it will implant forgetfulness in their souls: they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on what is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks… (157).
    Plato speaks to the seductive powers of writing and how it gets rid of the necessity to remember anything. He fears the day when interacting only with a text and not with other humans is considered an intellectual activity, which has been well established above. I believe this perspective is necessary when thinking about post-literacy. Although we have very specific beliefs about the powers of different forms of literacy today, it is also helpful to look back and see how our perceptions of addiction, literacy, and technology have changed from generation to generation.

  8. Ranee Stemann September 2, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    As someone who has written a creative non-fiction piece about my addiction to books, comparing it to my husband’s addiction to Starbucks, I believe there is some merit to reading being an addiction. However, I refuse to see this as a negative aspect of my life.

    While I am not one of those people to read in elevators or while driving, I am one of those people that you want to keep a safe distance from when I’m deep into a novel. The closer the book is to my face, the farther you should be away from me. I love to read. I love to get lost in another world, to escape the monotony of life for a short while. I’m saddened when I go through periods of time where I don’t get to read much, or don’t get to read books of my choosing (ex: when I’m in school).

    I spent my entire summer building bookshelves in my living room to ensure that I would always be surrounded by my books. I nearly had an anxiety attack when I sold, for the very first time, some of my books at the beginning of the summer; books that I didn’t even like. It was quite pathetic if I do say so myself. I love the smell of books and often buy a book just because I love the cover. I have been attempting to reign in this obsession for a while but it’s also an obsession that I’m not really ashamed of. I believe that it will always be difficult for me to see reading as a bad thing for I think reading does nothing but enrich my life, as well as the lives of my children (yes, I work hard to inflict my reading addition on them as well, and have even succeeded with one of them).

    I’ll end this by saying that I completely and happily agree with this statement from above: “We are happily addicted. Our obsession is a mark of distinction. We are blind to the possibility of a future beyond literacy, beyond our drug.”

  9. Kelsey September 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    It wasn’t until this weekend that I felt ‘addicted to reading’ for the first time. Of all things, I was reading a textbook for class. I was so consumed in the book that I lost my sense of time, place, and had no real cognition of the world around me.

    As the chapter mentions, our culturally created opinions of addiction make it acceptable to casually discuss some obsessions while noting no mention of others. Reading, to me, is a vital part of life and knowledge. It is difficult to grasp the future of literacy, or beyond literacy, when I am having difficulty comprhending the issues with being overly consumed with reading. Addictions like gambling or compulsive shopping will have obvious negative impacts on individuals’ lives, but I’ve spent much of my life being encouraged to read and learn from others’ writing.

    This is a chapter that will stay in my mind for a while as I attempt to decide whether reading as an addiction (or disorder) will make an impact on our society.

  10. Janice September 9, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    This article raises some interesting points. I’d like to raise another.

    Hi, my name is Janice, I am thirty years of age and I have been a reading addict since I was fourteen. Looking back, I can see the initial symptoms of the actual addiction beginning around age eight, but it was a few years before the addiction fully set in.

    In order to offer a full scope, I’ll backtrack my history of personal literacy. I began reading at around the age of three. Little Golden Books offered simple, easy to memorize stories that let me quickly associate letter patterns with sounds.
    At the age of four, I have memories of climbing into my fathers lap while he sat reading the newspaper, and picking out a short article or set of headlines to read. I would read the words I knew, and ask about the words I didn’t. He always said he never had to tell me a word twice.
    At the age of five, I had begun reading silently to myself, and by the time kindergarten was halfway through, I was reading aloud to my classmates at almost conversational speed.
    At the age of six, my mother read “Little House in the Big Woods” to me. After she finished it, I read it myself, then read “Little House on the Prairie”. At the same time, My aunt was reading “Heidi” with me when I visited her on weekends. It didn’t take long to realise that I could read faster silently than she could aloud. At this age, I was beginning to process the story as less a set of words, and more a full motion picture running inside my head. It was becoming very easy to be completely immersed in my reading material.
    At seven years, I spent two weeks sick with a flu and bored to tears. I read the entire “Anne” series and “Emily of New Moon”, by L. M. Montgomery while sick. I was somewhat slowed by the illness, I only managed one and a third books per day. Later that year, I read the entire “Narnia” series in three days.
    At the age of eight, I slowed down a little, realizing that when I read too quickly I missed things. I spent that year rereading many of my favorite books. Also that year, my third grade teacher told my mother that I was reading at a college-entry level. My parents were thrilled and encouraged me to continue my marathon reading.
    At the age of nine, my family moved to a new school district for the third time since I had started school. We moved into a large house in the country, and I attended a school that was a 35 minute drive from my home. I became fairly isolated, as all my classmated had their own little friend groups that they had had for years, and I was a weird little bookworm who didn’t like TV and wasn’t allowed to listen to the same music they were; who didn’t keep up on the latest Hollywood trends or gossip, and who thought Greek and Roman mythology was more interesting to discuss than makeup, clothes and boys. In response to this social exclusion, I pulled back into my books even more deeply. As a result, I started having trouble in school. I couldn’t focus on my schoolwork, except for assigned reading, because the group projects tended to remind me that I was on the outskirts of my own group and the individual assingments I couldn’t discuss with anyone. Anytime I tried to stretch out the hand of friendship to anyone I thought might have similar interests, I was rebuffed and laughed at, excluded even from study groups. This trend continued through the rest of the grades (with a brief period of tolerance in sixth grade, when my classmates realised my interest in Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology was actually useful) into high school, and caused me to give up on other people altogether. Books were far more reliable. I wasn’t diagnosed until after I had my second child, but I was developing depression. Unfortunately, it runs in my family, and the books were my primary cure.

    At the age of fourteen, my addiction began to take shape. I was constantly reading. I would get off the bus at school, and pull my book out to read on the way to my locker. I developed a “radar” of sorts that would let me focus on the book while still being aware enough of my surroundings to avoid running into anything or anyone. I would have one eye on my book and the other on what I was doing while I arranged my locker and backpack for my first few classes. I would read while I walked to my first class and keep my book out and open until class actually started. The moment class was done, I would put my classwork away, grab my book, and be reading it before I was out the door to my next class.

    Reading became a compulsion. I couldn’t read books in the car due to horrible motion sickness, so I would read and reread the road signs until they passed. Bumper stickers, car logos, liscense plates, business signs, all of these would be read and reread compulsively. If I restricted myself from my books to accomplish something, I would begin to have anxiety attacks. My hands would tremble. I didn’t realise it was a problem at the time, and no one else saw anything wrong with a book lover wanting to get back to her reading as soon as possible. If it had been TV or video games I was doing this with, things would have been a LOT different. Instead of worrying, everyone laughed it off, even when some of the more severe symptoms began showing up.

    By the age of sixteen, I would read by the window for hours, sitting down at one o’clock in the afternoon, and moving from book to book, not realizing how late it was getting until I couldn’t make out the words on the page anymore. I would turn on the light, decline dinner with an “I’m not really hungry” because I had long passed from hunger into nausea without even noticing, and continue reading. Maybe around midnight or two in the morning, I would notice that I was so cold I was shivering violently and the only thing that brought my attention to it was that my fingers were too stiff with cold to turn the pages. But I only had two chapters left; I could wait until then to put on my warm jammies and go to bed.

    By the time I was eighteen, these habits had cause my bodywieght to fall drastically. I was 5’8″ tall and weighed in t 106 lb. I looked like I had an eating disorder, but I simply didn’t get hungry often, and didn’t notice it when I did. Because the books were my very breath.

    At thirty years of age, I’ve managed to find coping strategies, but I will never beat this addiction, and I know that for a fact. I still have to force myself to choose cooking, cleaning, laundry, my children and family, over the next few pages of my book. My children have learned that they may need to call my name several times and tug on my sleeve in order to get my attention if they need something while I’m ‘getting my fix’.
    Controlling it, even partially, is a daily struggle that leaves me with frequent anxiety attacks that include nausea and shortness of breath. I often don’t sleep enough as it is, with three young children, and the books don’t help. I am trying to find a balance in order to model healthy living habits for my children, and when I fail, it triggers the depression that started the addiction in the first place. It is as real an addiction for me as cigarettes are for my husband and alcohol was for my mother’s oldest brother.

    Whatever else you take from my story, please understand that for some of us, a reading addiction is not something discussed abstractly. It’s a very real problem, with very real consequences for the people who struggle with it and their families.

    • mohsen April 14, 2016 at 7:17 pm #

      I couldn’t agree with you more
      I have had a childhood like you somehow. the difference is my addiction isn’t specifically about reading. it started by reading and is continuing by reading but what I like is novels and most of all fantasy novels. it started with novels but later on I got to know anime and manga and light novel and a new world showed itself before me. I love to live in my own fantasy world or could say worlds. I spend my days with reading light novels these days. I’m a univercity student and working in my thesis but when right now obvious thing like class or exam or friends are not stopping me, I run to my fantasy worlds and start reading . I’m 24 now and it has become an obstacle for me. I can’t do anything else when I am by myself, my light novels are just a few mouse clicks from me. Today I really believed that I am actually an addict and it I realized it has completely stopped me from becoming who I wanted to be and could be.
      But in spite of all these, I believe it isn’t late for you or me we should step in that roud and at least reduce our addictions to an agreeable degree if not completely stop it.
      I am trying, I hope you try too and succeed.

    • Denise May 16, 2016 at 9:09 pm #

      Thank you.

      I was googling reading addiction and not finding anything that took it seriously. Even this essay seems to just pose the question of it’s existence more than address the problem.

      reading that somebody else struggles with it is strangely reassuring.

      I began reading frequently sometime back in my single digits. I was up to piers Anthony and Terry Brooks by 6th grade, baffling my teachers with my use of vocabulary that I shouldn’t have been able to understand, much less spell and use properly. It was a way to avoid the cliques forming around me and the rejection of not fitting in with them. I could read a book serenely in a crowded auditorium with no problems.

      Nowadays, I look on new books like cake. I am so excited to see plot lines proceed, I devour the entire book in one sitting, and when I am done, I feel ashamed for my ocular gluttony and quickly move on to the next book to avoid thinking about what I had done.
      I am always in the middle of a book, reading more and more the more stressed or depressed I get, which only make my stress and depression worse as I judge myself for avoiding my life in favor of my books.

      I have read as many as 30 brand-new books in five days to avoid dealing with life. My reading gets in the way of living my life, but I can’t stop. I can only try to ration myself somewhat.

      This is a real addiction, but an addiction like none other that I can think of. With no other addiction can you tell somebody, honestly, that you have a problem and be told in response that it is a good problem.

      Sure, it won’t kill me the same way coke or heroin would, but it rips my life away nonetheless . . .

  11. jessica cap January 21, 2014 at 12:07 am #

    I can honestly say reading is an addiction because I am severely addicted. I barely sleep because I’m too busy with a book. I have called out of work not only to finish a book I’m reading but even because I can’t wait to start the next one. Every time I put my book up to go into work or take a shower or do anything else it almost physically hurts. I seldom speak to anyone outside of customers at work, not even co-workers and most importantly the idea of giving it up even for a few days will break me out in a cold sweat, sometimes hives, and often literal panic attacks. Yes reading can be an addiction.

  12. Cassandra McLaren January 19, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

    Book (or reading) addiction is quite real. I myself am addicted to reading. It started out as an escape because I wasn’t happy with my lot in life and the realities in books seemed more desirable. At that point, I was not addicted. I just liked reading.

    The problems came when I started failing all my classes in middle school because all I would do was read. I wouldn’t do homework because I wanted to start this new book. I started reading in class in the middle of lectures, completely tuning out what the teacher was saying. I would read in the car, I would read while I was eating, I would read while I was walking, I would sneak a flashlight into my bed and read until I fell asleep on my book. My best friend got frustrated and would sit on all of my books during lunch so that I was forced to socialize. The teachers started complaining to my mom, so my mom’s solution was to take away all my books and ban me from the school library.

    That’s when things took a turn for the worst. I became chronically depressed. I stopped eating, I couldn’t sleep, I barely said more than two words for weeks and when I did the words were always harsh and cruel, I thought about running away, I even thought about killing myself. Then I couldn’t take it anymore. I NEEDED to read as much as I needed oxygen. So I cut my hair, changed my wardrobe and started wearing makeup. I looked different enough that the librarians didn’t notice when I went in to the library for the first time in a month.

    Just walking into that library made me feel alive again. I picked up the nearest book and started reading.

    For a while I was satisfied. I could read in the morning before school and at lunchtime. But it wasn’t long before that wasn’t enough. So I did the only thing I could think of. I stole my first book. One became two, and two became 164. There are more than that, because even now, 6 years later, I am finding hidden books. And the books I stole weren’t just from the library. They were from teachers, friends, my mom, and bookstores. I got caught more often than not, I was suspended twice, and would have been expelled if it hadn’t been the second to last day of my last year at that school. Both my mom and principal threatened to call the police more than once. But no matter what happened and what punishments I had to endure, I couldn’t stop myself. Why couldn’t they understand that I NEEDED those books? And, as all of my friends kept telling me, books aren’t bad. Most parents want their children to read more, so why were mine trying to stop me?

    It wasn’t until my own therapist yelled at me to get my head out of my ass and take a look at myself that I realized what I was doing to myself. I looked like I had an eating disorder, I had circles around my eyes that were so dark I looked like a racoon, I hadn’t showered in days, there was a chance that I would have to retake 8th grade because of how many classes I was failing, and the school library had upgraded their security system 5 times over 2 years.

    The problem was, I didn’t know how to fix the mess that was my life. Then came marching band. Band saved my live. I was too busy and too tired to read most days, but because I had something else to focus on, I didn’t fall back into depression. My grades still sucked, I still read when I had the energy and time, but it wasn’t as bad as before.

    And then one day my band director told me that I sucked. I didn’t put any effort into my music and as such, should leave the program. I was so angry with him that I went home that night and memorized my music perfectly. It was then that I realized there were more outlets than books.
    Gradually, I started playing music instead of reading when I was upset or stressed instead of picking up the nearest book.

    Now I am in my freshman year of college. Last semester I only failed one class. I got A’s and B’s in the rest. I still read, I still lose myself in both my books and my music, and it is still a problem. It always will be. But bit by bit, I am beating back my addiction and moving on with my life.

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