Jo Talks Books: Can Reading Be An Addiction? Is That Necessarily A Bad Thing?

Hi everyone! I know it’s taken me a while to get my first September discussion post of the month up, but what can I say, I’ve gone back to Uni and things have been really busy for the past few weeks. We’ll probably be going back to my usual schedule of two posts a month for Jo Talks as I have a feeling already that this is going to be a busy year for me! Anyway, enough of my rambling, on to this week’s topic. It’s kind of random month this month, I don’t have any real theme for my discussion posts this month, I’m just going to talk about things I’ve been thinking about recently. This week, I’m going to be talking about whether or not reading is an addiction and if that’s a bad thing or not as it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. After all, I’m sure a lot of us would probably say that we’re addicted to books and reading, or call ourselves a bookworm or book dragon or whatever term you prefer, but it all comes down to the same thing, we love reading. But is it an addiction? Well that’s what I’m going to be talking about today.

Addiction is defined (according to Wikipedia anyway, I know, not the most reliable source!), as a medical condition characterised by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences. Well, by this definition, reading could not be an addiction because there are no adverse consequences from reading (aside from to our poor bank accounts), but then again it is a rewarding stimulus! However does an addiction have to be something negative? Can something positive like reading be an addiction? Would we want it to be? Positive addiction is a termed coined by a psychologist named William Glasser who claimed that positive addictions “strengthen us and makes our lives more satisfying”. Reading would definitely fit into this definition of addiction as it strengthens our minds and I think all readers would agree that it makes our lives more satisfying. By definition, a positive definition does not consume your life in the same way as a negative addiction, it is limited to a given time frame and you can stop and start whenever you want.

However I’m not sure if I necessarily agree that there can be such a thing as a positive addiction. I think addiction at it’s heart is something that you do to such an excess that it negatively affects you, though these things in small doses are not necessarily terrible for you. Reading isn’t like this, any amount of reading is good for you and it doesn’t negatively affect you if you do a lot of it (I mean you could read hundreds of books in a year and it’s not going to negatively impact your health and life). However there is something to be said about a negative side to reading as people can escape into books to avoid reality, which is not a bad thing in small doses but if you are using reading as a way of escaping real life and not interacting with people at all then that’s obviously not good. But I think reading is so often seen as a good thing that we don’t acknowledge that like anything, if you do it to an excess where you are neglecting family, friends, rest, food, drink and everything then you clearly have a problem. Don’t get me wrong, reading is a positive thing. It opens our minds to new worlds, new ideas, new vocabulary and it is such a joy in my life, but whilst our love of books is definitely something to be celebrated, describing an addiction to books is probably not a great thing for those who are truly unhealthily addicted to books.

I don’t consider myself a reading addict in the way that reading gets in the way of other things in my life, but at the same time, not reading does make me feel bad, like I haven’t done something I should have (blogging has definitely contributed to this though) and I can’t imagine going a day without doing it. Does this make me an addict? I don’t think so, because reading has never negatively impacted my life to a severe extent, but I definitely do have an obsession with books (kind of stating the obvious here!). I would consider this a positive thing because books have given so much to my life and become such an integral part of my personality, essentially, I feel that what I’ve read has shaped who I am as a person but I can definitely see how an obsession with books could turn into a negative thing.

Does the fact that reading is good for you mean that it’s not an addiction? Well no, because plenty of things that can be good for you can also be an addiction if you do it to an unhealthy extent, drinking, food, exercise etc. In some ways, something that’s good for you can be an even worse addiction than something that’s bad for you, for instance, we all know smoking is bad and addictive, but most of us would probably not think of something like reading as a bad thing. But anything that is pleasurable can be addictive, since addictions are triggered by a pleasurable stimulus. There is also such a thing as bibliomania, which is the hoarding or collecting of books to an unhealthy extent, although this is not a recognised psychological disorder.

So whilst all of us would most likely not consider reading an addiction, because addictions are generally considered unhealthy things and reading is a healthy habit, and in fact if we did consider reading an addiction, then we are happily addicted and proudly display our addiction to the world, even something as wonderful as reading can turn into an addiction if it negatively affects our health and relationships (and I have to admit, this is honestly not something I considered until I started researching for this post and found out that there are people with genuine unhealthy reading addictions that affect their lives!). Like everything that is pleasurable, if you read to such an extent that you neglect other things in your life, then it is an addiction in the same way that drinking or smoking is. I reckon as far as addictions go though, if reading is in addiction, it’s not the worst one you can have and just because you read a lot does not mean you have a negative addiction. There’s a definite difference between being  so addicted to books that it overwhelms your life and you can’t do anything else but read and just plain loving and enjoying books. Plus if loving books is wrong, I don’t want to be right, and I reckon all you fellow bibliophiles out there would agree!

Over to you! Do you think reading is an addiction, either positive or negative? Would you describe yourself as addicted to books? Can being addicted to books and reading be a bad thing or do you think any and all reading is good? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll try to get my next discussion post done either at the weekend this week or during the week next week, but either way, I think it’s likely that I will only do two discussion posts this month! In the meantime though, I will have a new Top Ten Tuesday post for you guys later on today, so look out for that!


12 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: Can Reading Be An Addiction? Is That Necessarily A Bad Thing?

  1. Puput @ Sparkling Letters 20/09/2016 / 5:53 am

    Interesting topic! I think ‘addiction’ is a strong word, as you mentioned above it’s related to medical condition and probably withdrawal syndrome 😛 but for the sake of this discussion, yes, I think reading addiction could be a bad thing. Too much of a good thing is never good, after all. Reading could be a bad habit if done in an inappropriate time, like when you have exams and you’re supposed to be studying but you read fantasy instead? This happened to me on my final year of uni (which is like 3 months ago lol). I was supposed to focus on finishing my minor thesis but I got distracted by some books. I spent days reading in my room instead of going to the library with my friends. I kept convincing myself that reading would refresh my mind so I’d have a fresh mind when I’m back on working, but I couldn’t deny that it was a major setback for me. I did finish my thesis in time though haha but as a notorious bookworm, I believe in reading absolutely every time! 😛

    • iloveheartlandx 21/09/2016 / 12:10 am

      Thanks! Yes, I was talking about addiction more in the context of obsession here, I would never relate reading as an addiction in the same way that something like alcoholism is. Yes, it could definitely be a bad thing if it takes over your life and stops you doing things that you need to. Oh really, that’s interesting. Yeah from a fellow bookworm, unless your obsession is harming your life, reading is always a good thing!

  2. trishaj 20/09/2016 / 4:42 pm

    I agree with the above commentor about addiction being a strong word for reading but also with too much of a good thing in anything can be bad. I read an article a while back about video game addiction and I think some of it can be applied here. For someone to become addicted to a thing, any one thing, they already have an addictive personality in place. If it isn’t a video game (or just a video game) it will be drugs, alcohol, gambling, or any of the other addictions people are typically more aware of. Reading could be included in these addictions if it’s done obsessively and/or compulsively, it’s done at inappropriate times or in inappropriate amounts, if it’s done to avoid “normal” things in life like eating, bathing, or leaving your home or if reading negatively impacts other areas of your life like spending too much on books and not having enough to pay your electric bill.

    My husband and I joke all the time about the amount of books we own and how often we go to the bookstore saying, “there’s worse things we could be buying,” which is true. And while books are slowly taking over my house, lol, we also have other interests and have to actually set aside time in our days for reading. As with all things in life, there should be a balance.

    • iloveheartlandx 21/09/2016 / 12:08 am

      I definitely agree with that, addiction is a strong word for a love of reading, I was more talking about when reading gets in the way of other things in your life. Yes, too much of anything pleasurable can be a bad thing. That is true about the addictive personality thing though, if I’d had more time, I might have touched on that more. Yes, there definitely should be a balance, I agree.

  3. lindseyhabets 20/09/2016 / 7:01 pm

    Great discussion topic! I count my reading as an addiction because I actually feel bad when I haven’t read a lot in a while. It kind of feels like withdrawal symptons. But I don’t think it’s a negative addiction, I do lean more towards thinking about it as a positive addiction. There are indeed way worse things to be addicted to. But I do agree that too much of a good thing can be bad as well. Reading should still be fun and not something that gets in the way of getting work done or socializing or anything like that. As long as there is a balance, I think it’s all good 🙂

    • iloveheartlandx 21/09/2016 / 12:04 am

      Thanks! Oh really? I don’t like it when I haven’t read for a while, but I don’t think I experience anything like withdrawal symptoms! Oh no, definitely not a negative addiction, there are worse things to be addicted to than books. Yes, it should be a hobby, not something that gets in the way of other things in your life. I totally agree 🙂

  4. cw @ readthinkponder 23/09/2016 / 8:48 am

    Great discussion and topic, Jo! I’ve thought about this myself, because at one point, I became a little tooooo obsessed with reading, insofar as reading during work. (I’m not sure how I did it now? Though in my defense, it was in the quieter season. But yeah, it was not good.) I don’t do that anymore, but I still read everyday. But I agree with the commenters above – I think we use ‘addiction’ quite loosely in every day language, but if it’s obstructive to everyday life, then that’s when it gets serious. :I
    I can’t imagine myself not reading at least once during the day – it’s such an integral part of my life. But, when I love something, I love it wholeheartedly and I think that rings true for reading. I think I have found a balance now though. 🙂

    • iloveheartlandx 23/09/2016 / 5:28 pm

      Thanks! I have to admit, I’ve read at work too, but I worked in a village shop and we had a lot of lulls, so I need something to do! I think we’ve all been guilty of taking our reading a little too far at one point or another. I still read every day too, it’s a part of my daily routine and always will be. Yeah addiction in this case is probably too strong (which I did say in the post), it’s only when reading is obstructing your everyday life is it a problem. Me either, I have been doing it ever since I could read, so I don’t think I’d want to stop now!

  5. boderick 06/10/2016 / 12:19 pm

    As someone who is both an addict (drugs and alcohol) in long-term recovery (over 30 years), and an addictive reader, I would say that there are some slight differences. I never ended up in prison or mental hospital through reading, and I don’t believe I’ve ever stolen to feed my book addiction. But there is, as with alcohol and other drugs, an element of compulsion. The thought of being somewhere for a period of time without anything to read fills me with a certain amount of dread.
    I have an e-reader (love it) and I don’t know how many e-books I’ve got. I read whenever I get the chance, fiction, fantasy, SF, biography, science and most other genres except romantic fiction and celebrity memoirs. I’ll read menus, posters, labels on tins if there’s nothing else. But, up to now, reading hasn’t ruined my life so I’ll probably carry on.
    By the way, I’ve written about my own book addiction at
    Take care

    • iloveheartlandx 06/10/2016 / 1:24 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtful perspective on this, I really appreciate it. I will definitely check out your post!

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