Can Chess Be Addictive?

The Chess Files

The answers are out there.

By Jim Eade

Can Chess be Addictive?

The answer is it depends.  We must first define our terms.  Let’s say that addiction is a psychological or physical inability to stop consuming a drug, chemical, activity or substance, even if, it is doing oneself harm.  There can be a change in the brain’s wiring, which may be diagnosed medically.

Some people become addicted, while others do not.  You can play chess without becoming addicted to it, but can you become addicted to playing chess?  The answer seems to be clearly: yes.  Most of us know someone who has become addicted to playing chess, even when it interferes with their physical or psychological health.

Can you cure a chess addiction?  Of course, you can.  Sometimes it means a total abstinence from the behavior.  Any attempt to play chess normally may trigger a relapse into dependency.  Chess is not the worst thing to be addicted to, but any addiction does harm to the addict.

It seems harmless enough, but is it?  If you play chess to the extent that you cannot form normal human relationships, it seems to be anything but harmless.  If you play chess to the extent that you cannot earn a living, it seems to be detrimental to your wellbeing.

Yes, chess can be an art, and if it is your passion, you must pursue it.  Artists are somewhat notorious for ignoring material things.  Should you give up your passion?  Perhaps not.  How does one decide whether one is pursuing one’s passion or in the clutches of addiction?

This must be an individual decision, but friends and family might see it before the individual does.  If you have ever participated in an intervention with an addict, you know how uncomfortable it can be.  The addict must be desperate enough to want to change.  Intervention prior to that state of desperation only rarely ends in success.

Personally, I became addicted to online bullet chess.  I had to quit cold turkey.  Was it easy?  No, it was not.  However, my life improved as a result of my decision to quit.  Was I desperate?  No, I was not.  I was lucky enough to become aware of my addiction, before it got too strong a hold on me, and I was able to quit.

Ask yourself whether you are enjoying what you are doing, or whether there are unintended consequences from your behavior.  If you are doing something that is no longer enjoyable, although at one time it was, you may need to ask yourself whether you need to stop.  Take a break.  If you find that you cannot take time away from the activity, without becoming uncomfortable, you may be flirting with disaster.  These are not easy questions, and there are no easy answers to them.  Chances are you are not addicted to chess, even if, you play a great deal of chess.  It is worth thinking about it though, with all the honesty one can muster.

You can send your chess questions and answers to me at jimeade@eadefoundation.org

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