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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Let It Go: Taming Soft Addictions

Do mindless activity and bad habits have a hold on you? Get the tow truck, you're in a rut.
WebMD Feature

Downtime is America's favorite pastime. We zone out via television, the Internet, shopping, parties, movies, hanging out, and working out. Sure, some are bad habits; some are "therapy." Most are escapes from a gerbil-wheel life.

That's when it hits you: Is this all there is?

For Judith Wright, author of Soft Addictions: There Must Be More Than This, this philosophical crisis occurred when life was a flurry of activity -- and as her first marriage was ending.

"Something was missing," writes Wright. The crux of the problem: Her life had become exceedingly superficial, because of what she calls 'soft addictions.'

"Soft addictions are those seemingly harmless habits like watching too much television, over-shopping, surfing the Internet, gossiping -- the things we overdo but we don't realize it," Wright tells WebMD. "It seems like normal behavior, but that's simply because everyone is doing it, too."

Soft addictions can be a problem, Wright says, because life is to be lived and not escaped from.

It's true, anything in excess can be problematic, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychology and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta. "You need to ask yourself, 'How excessive is it? How much does it interfere with my life?'"

Not that all mindless indulgences are bad habits, says Kaslow. There's a place in our lives for pointless conversations, all those Seinfeld reruns, and mocha- almond fudge. "We do these things to cope with stress in our lives," she tells WebMD.

"It's legitimate after you have a stressful day, you need to chill out some," says Kaslow. "But if that's all you do, and you do it every night, all weekend, that's another matter and it's not good for your mental health.

Wright agrees. "It's when they become habitual and we're just going through the motions that they become a problem," she says. "These bad habits keep us from living a greater life of meaning and satisfaction that we really deserve."

Superficial Just Doesn't Satisfy

Upwards of 90% of Americans admit they have soft addictions, one survey showed. "I actually think it's 100%," says Wright. "I have not met anyone who doesn't have them. No matter how well off or how educated they are, everyone has them."

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