Who Are We to Judge “My Strange Addiction”?
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Who Are We to Judge “My Strange Addiction”?


Although I’d heard about the show My Strange Addiction, I’d never watched it and didn’t realize how truly freakish some of these addictions were until I stumbled into Buzzfeed’s Greatest Hits gif party. Go ahead. Take a look at them. I’m not proud to say that my first reaction to some of these gifs was to immediately start judging—just like a clueless non-addict from the 1950s:

1) “That’s disgusting.”

Yes. Eating cat hair is disgusting. Is it any less disgusting to snort gobs of white powder that may or may not contain heavy quantities of cattle-deworming agent? Or to boil some more powder and inject it in into your scabby, rotting vein? Tough call.

2) “They’re just doing it for attention.”

How many parents have spoken those words about their tween daughter’s cutting, only to realize later that she needed serious help? Watching the show reveals how many of these problems have cost people their health, their livelihoods and their ability to function. Dying your hair is something you do for attention. Pulling it out by the roots for three hours is not.

3) “They’re not REAL addicts, they’re just crazy.”

I’m supposed to abstain from all addictive substances (even the ones that aren’t my favorite, like pain pills), yet somehow nobody warned me to steer clear of sand or mattresses. So it’s easy for me to protest that this isn’t “real” addiction at all. So what is it, then?

I’m not in any position to diagnose anybody, but the first thing that struck me about these gifs was that most of them depicted eating. That’s when I dipped down into the comments (I know, I know) and learned about something called pica— an actual disorder in the DSM-5, defined by a persistent desire to eating things that are categorically not food. No, the KFC Double Down does not count. But paint, drywall, mattresses, your husband’s ashes, your own urine, rocks, sand, cat food, cat hair? You bet.

While pica often co-occurs with mental disorders like schizophrenia and severe OCD, it also has strong links to environmental factors like parental neglect. But it can frequently result from a simple iron deficiency. These people just need vitamins! Pregnant women are particularly prone, so excuse me while I put another check in the “no thanks, childbearing” column.

Depending on the situation, treatment for pica varies from SSRIs to aversion therapy to iron supplements. But disappointingly, My Strange Addiction devotes minimal time to the actual treatment recommendations and results. I watched a few more videos from the website, where I met a woman who constantly picks scabs and started to identify. Even though I don’t spend two hours a day doing it like Rachael, I definitely fight a milder version of the same compulsion. Even the woman stinging herself with bees is just hooked on a very creative sort of self harm. I’m terrified of bees, but I loved the mild, controlled pain of tugging on my loose teeth as a child, and I kind of almost get it.

As for the people who want to marry inanimate objects and the ones who are hooked on plastic surgery, there’s a different set of issues at play. But I imagine that the vast majority on the show are not making it up to get on reality TV. They have real disorders, even if it feels strange to call them addictions, and they deserve to be treated as more than just a sideshow act.

Maybe start with a bottle of vitamins?

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About Author

Erica Larsen AKA Eren Harris blogs at Whitney Calls and Clean Bright Day. Their writing has also been published on Salon, Selfish, Violet Rising and YourTango. They live in Los Angeles with their husband and their enormous cat.