Mikołaj Czyż
Psychotherapy and Seminars
03 26 2011

Hobbies, passions, and addictions an article


There are plenty of things people do because they bring joy, fulfillment, are interesting or exciting. Some people decide to paint, some jog, other watch TV, appreciate a good read or meetings with friends, engage in challenges. The interesting thing is that while two persons can be engaged in the same activities, e.g. dance, their experiences will always differ. Their subjective feeling about it is different and different aspects of the experience are crucial to them.Let’s think for example about someone who is a passionate philatelist. Every afternoon he spends one hour handling his collection, classifying, etc. In his daily job and his marriage he may be rather obedient and likely to accept others’ viewpoints. Yet his daily stamp ritual is an exercise in absolute power and his own kingdom, where no one else is invited or allowed to control it. He certainly does not think about it this way. Instead he thinks about his collection and just loves it!

Tidying up stamps performs the function of connecting him with an experience that would be rather of a royal (or tyrannical) quality than his regular role as a submissive partner. And that’s a part of his life and identity he really wouldn’t like to give up on. So he is living these two qualities, two states that are so opposite. And he is both.

Sure there is an infinite number of activities that people engage in. Some however are not always so innocent. They can be risky, destructive, socially degrading or unhealthy. Excessive sexual behaviors, smoking tobacco, alcohol abuse are all in this category (with a huge number of others and new ones emerging). If they are the only or much preferred way to experience certain, yearned for, states the activity starts to fulfill the criteria of an addictive tendency. If they are being actively exercised, too – it’s an addiction.

what are addictions?

There are numerous perspectives on conceptualizing and defining addictive patterns. The psychiatric viewpoint stresses the importance of objective, outer, diagnostic criteria. It distinguishes between substance abuse and dependency, and behavioral addictions. Alcohol, cigarettes, prescription drugs and narcotics abuse all fall into the first category, while gambling problems, excessive sexual activities or shopping fall into the second one. Some, like eating disorders, are included in other diagnostic categories even though they share some of the characteristics with addictions. So what one intakes or does defines the addiction (there are obviously more criteria than that!).

In the psychiatric model addictions are pathological and should be treated with a procedure that aims at modifying behavior and getting rid of the dependency (addictions therapies). By its very definition a state of “sobriety” is the one that should be sustained, the “other” – disavowed.

An alternative approach is to consider addictive activities as a way of reaching for a particular state or experience. As an illustration drinking alcohol may be considered e.g. a way to feel free, relaxed, and smoking – socially engaged. The actual experience is to be explored. It may have a very sophisticated structure or be plain and simple. It is subjective, even though the underlying changes may be not. A substance or particular behavior may temporarily alter the chemical balance of the brain. Still what is important in this perspective is the access to living unique, yearned for, experiences. This may be as important to a particular person as her regular, daily identity.

The experiential approaches, including processwork/psychotherapy, stress the importance of searching for meaning in both states – the “sober” state and the “under influence” one. It values and supports both experiences (an experience is not a substance or addictive behavior!) and explores their relationship and the conflict that divides them.

The whole mechanism of addictions is very common and we all share it.


The article was published in “cogo – Central and Eastern Europe Matters” in March, 2011.