Is angling addictive?

by Angling Times |

As anyone who regularly fishes will testify, it can be a habit forming or even an obsessive activity. But is it all harmless fun or can it become addictive in the true sense of the word?

A surprising number of theories and commentators exist on this topic, including a paper entitled: Becoming hooked? Angling, gambling and “fishing addiction” from Mark Griffiths, a Nottingham Trent University expert in gaming research and psychology.

Bringing together many sources, including books, academic studies and comments from real anglers, it contains some surprising revelations. So, should we be surprised, or even alarmed?

Hobby or compulsion?

Although Griffiths is cautious to put angling on a par with gambling or drug addiction, he identifies that anglers themselves admit to patterns of behaviour that show “many of the core components of addiction” and that these include “withdrawal symptoms, conflict with job and/or relationships, relapse, and tolerance.”  He also adds that “fishing, when taken to excess, does appear to have addiction-like properties, akin to problematic drug use or gambling.”

If that sounds like a cast too far, however, a wide body of opinion and evidence might just change your mind. Previous studies have drawn upon aspects such as angling’s combination of skill and chance involved, along with the thrill of unpredictability and the need for the participant to keep coming back. But is it too much to suggest that fishing is habit forming or even mind-altering? Not necessarily. “Both activities lead to mood-modifying experiences and can be both relaxing and exciting,” says Griffiths, while “the participant repeats the same behaviour over and over in the hope that they will attain something.”

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Positive and negative compulsions

Before we get too carried away with the negative associations around so-called addictive pursuits, it’s also worth noting that human compulsion is not always destructive or problematic. In this aspect another theorist, Bill Glasser, says that there are clearly “positive addictions” as well as vices. After all, jogging or meditation can also be deeply habit-forming.

His gentler definition of beneficial addiction includes habits that can be done quietly, alone, and involve some form of reflection or self-improvement.

Perhaps, therefore, one conclusion might be that there are different kinds of angler on a sliding scale, from the relaxed Sunday fisher to the swim-hogging, tunnel vision obsessive? From Izaak Walton to Dick Walker, great anglers of the past have advised us to seek quiet contentment and avoid one-upmanship, suggesting an awareness that even fishing can become too serious.

But which personality are you? Intriguingly, other past studies have asserted that a proportion of humans are simply more aggressive and adventurous or, for want of a better phrase, have more ‘addictive personalities’ than the rest. Are these individuals our true angling fanatics? Interestingly, some experts have also noted that fishing can form a healthier ‘substitute activity’ for recovering drug or gaming addicts.

So, while Griffiths seemingly ducks controversy by concluding that “the present paper does not argue that fishing addiction exists”, he quite clearly states that “some people (including fishers themselves) conceptualise their excessive behaviour as an addiction”.

Some key similarities between fishing and gambling addiction

  • Both activities can be escapist, and lead participants to forget about time altogether.

  • Both activities involve ‘near misses’ and repeated attempts, with some commentators even comparing the likes of repeated casting with playing a slot machine.

  • Success in both activities is ‘a combination of skill and chance’ that gives the individuals concerned a sense of ‘achievement and mastery’. Thus, there is a danger that these factors become blurred (was that last net-filler skill or luck? Can I repeat it?).

  • In angling, just as in gambling and other addictive pursuits, a selective mentality develops. We tend to remember our ‘highs’ while glossing over losses or hardships. Anglers keenly remember a PB fish or a match win, for instance, while any number of blank or tough days are forgotten.

  • In fishing, as in gambling or drug use, one big win or catch is never enough. We always want more!

  • Angling can become obsessive and even generate withdrawal symptoms or family friction (such as when dad gets grumpy because he has to miss his fishing trip to visit the in-laws!).

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