A brilliant timeline charting the rise of the organization and the importance its had in helping alcoholics is on the AA website and it’s a fascinating chronology.

The organization is important for a number of reasons, but perhaps it’s of considerable significance because:

1.  Its techniques (principally the 12 step program) has proven results for addressing most, if not all, of the aspects of alcohol addiction.

2.  Its network of members, and unfortunately, the sheer scale of alcoholism in modern society means that there is a constant source of people who need help.  Present estimates suggest there are around 12 million alcoholics in the US alone.

Other forms of addiction.

Alcohol is probably the most socially recognized form of addiction in Western society.   But, the range and extent of possible addictions are increasing.  A good summary of different forms, either substance or behavior related is available at http://www.sobernation.com/22-different-types-of-addictions/ and it classifies addiction into the following areas:

  • Drugs (including nicotine, opiates, caffeine and alcohol)
  • Food
  • Shopping
  • Gambling
  • Love
  • Exercise
  • Work
  • Other Impulse control disorders and addicitons including
  • The Internet
    -Stealing (kleptomania)
    -Setting fires (pyromania)
    -Video games
    -Rage (intermittent explosive disorder)
    -Body Image

Such a classification is interesting precisely because it deals with both substances and behaviours – which are often difficult to categorize as clearly as physical, substance addiction. Behaviour evolves and, in the future, its likely that the things that we can form disorders around or get addicted to, will increase, one hypothesis to put forward is the role that technology, specifically, the internet will have in creating these new forms of addiction.

Alternative reality and addiction

One area that could see the most growth in addiction is with ‘alternative reality’ – the gaming sphere.  The space that gamers inhabit when they are in the game – be it stand-alone games or online multiplayer communites, an alternative reality is when ‘you’re in the game’.

The games we play get better and better and more and more lifelike.  More and more people play them.  Currently, estimates suggest around 1.2 billion people play games worldwide and 700m of them do so online.   And of this group, it seems all ages play them, any time, anywhere.


So, we have the conditions where we have a lot of people gaming, any where, any time.   It’s logical, that such practices alter behaviours.  Everyone is gaming, being online is a community, access anywhere means we can do it anywhere, therefore it isn’t a problem…right?

Could Alternative Reality addiction be a problem in the future?

The reality is any form of addiction is probably bad.  Addictions to a gaming universe that is perhaps more compelling, more enticing than real life is probably going to a problem both individually and societally. Over the past 7 years, notable deaths have occurred in extreme cases in China, the US and South Korea, generally following excessive game playing.

There are lots of examples from Science fiction, where creative works have explored the impacts of ‘alternative reality’ and the challenges presented by living two lives simultaneously and preferring the ‘alternative’ life over ‘real life.’ From Star Trek to South Park, this is a compelling idea and one that does seem to affect to us and will probably do so more in the future.

Addressing Alternative Reality Addiction

As with other forms of addicition, gaming or internet addiction is being increasingly recognized.  Internet gaming disorder was added to the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders in January 2014. Programs based on the alcoholics anonymous 12 step programs have been established and are available online, the following is an example from http://www.olganon.org/?q=12_step_program

The Twelve Steps and Principles of OLGA

These twelve steps and principles (the principles can also be used by athiests and agnostics) are guidelines for members of On-Line Gamers Anonymous to live by. We can recognize and overcome excessive gaming issues by using the twelve steps and/or principles in our lives.  

1. We admitted we were powerless over gaming, and that our lives have become unmanageable.  Principles – Honesty and Acceptance

  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 
Principle – Hope

  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.  Principle – Faith

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  Principles – Action and Courage  

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Principle – Integrity

  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 
Principle – Willingness  

7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.  Principle – Humility

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Principle – Brotherly love

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.  Principle – Justice

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. Principle – Perseverance

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.  Principle – Spirituality

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we carried this message to others who game excessively and practiced these principles in all our affairs.  Principle – Service

Such programmes are important in helping forming strategies and groups for addressing addiction.  As with Alcoholics Anononmous such programmes use practices and values from the Christian faith to help form the habits required to combat religion.  And it raises an interesting question for the future as the links between the internet and religion are often complicated.  For example, internet usage doesn’t tend to follow religious affiliation, so will the current cornerstones of faith used by the programme be as applicable to a gaming addict?

However, almost regardless of individual attitudes to religion, the 12 stage program represents an important treatment model that does have a positive impact on people suffering from addiction.  In the future, the need for such treatments and programs to support people who prefer an alternative, probably unobtainable, life online will, its fair to assume, be increasingly important.