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Mental Health

Are You Addicted to Drama? Here’s What It Is — And How To Break Free From It

Drama addiction is more common than you might think.


Have you ever called someone a “drama queen” — or been called one yourself? While the concept isn’t flattering, it does speak to something universal. In a fast-paced, chaotic world, many of us may begin to relish hearing about other people’s problems, or overreact to our own circumstances in order to get attention. Think of the last time you indulged in gossip or picked a fight with your partner, only to feel bad about it later. These behaviors, while often satisfying in the moment, can become toxic if they become a pattern. 

Dr. Scott Lyons, a licensed holistic psychologist, educator, and author of the book Addicted to Drama: Healing Dependency on Crisis and Chaos in Yourself and Others (Buy from Amazon, $21.83), believes that the concept of the “drama queen” is an oversimplification of a more nuanced issue. Here, Dr. Lyons shared his theory of drama addiction, as well as tips for dealing with this surprisingly common phenomenon, with FIRST for Women.

What does it mean to be addicted to drama?

Dr. Lyons’ investment in drama addiction is personal. His book’s concept was inspired by recognizing his own personal addiction to drama. “I was overcomplicating my own life and getting in my own way, and my intense responses were actually distracting me from living my life and addressing my underlying emotions,” he explains. He noticed a pattern of “suppressing underlying emotions by exploding into bigger emotions” — something he says can manifest in subtler ways, like listening to a sad song when you’re already sad or feeling disappointed by a friend, only to then think about all the times any friend has ever disappointed you. 

Since drama addiction can apply to anyone, Dr. Lyons sees the more widely-known idea of the drama queen as derogatory, due to its obviously gendered connotations. Drama addiction, on the other hand, speaks to something deeper. Like other forms of addiction, it “fills a void and creates space from inner trauma.” Dr. Lyons believes drama addiction is a coping mechanism that allows us to hide our pain; but giving into our dramatic impulses can eventually cause even more pain. It’s a vicious cycle in which you need to indulge in more and more drama to stay energized and push away difficult feelings.

What causes drama addiction? 

Drama addiction is rooted in a number of societal and social factors. Dr. Lyons says stress can be a “social glue” which bonds us, and while it feels great to vent to friends after a difficult day at work, it can also render us repetitive and self-absorbed. “Drama becomes the bridge through which people connect,” Dr. Lyons says; to be overly dramatic is a learned behavior, and while it may not always be harmful, it’s worth being aware of when we indulge in it and how it impacts those around us.

Dr. Lyons also sees social media as adding fuel to the fire of drama addiction. “People’s focus is the hottest commodity there is,” he notes — and social media unfailingly attempts to grab our attention by appealing to our ongoing need for drama. Combine the fast-paced, cutthroat nature of today’s internet culture with our innate social insecurities and desire for attention, and you have a perfect storm to facilitate drama addiction.

What is the impact of drama addiction?

At its worst, drama addiction can cause emotional strife and put a strain on our relationships. “The thing about addiction is, there’s a disconnection from one’s own self,” Dr. Lyons says. When you’re caught up in drama, there’s an absence of self-awareness, which makes it “easy to project and put the blame on other people” instead of doing the hard work of self-reflection. Often drama addicts “pick the same patterns and then get angry about it” — which, unsurprisingly, leads to even more drama. 

What are signs of drama addiction?

Dr. Lyons acknowledges that everyone knows someone who is addicted to drama — but points out that “if we all know someone addicted to drama who isn’t us, then that doesn’t make any sense.” Simply put, “it’s much easier to recognize drama addiction in someone else than it is in yourself.” Ready to do a little self-reflecting and wondering if you’re the drama addict in the room? Dr. Lyons has quizzes to help you figure it out. If the quiz says you may be addicted to drama, don’t panic! There are ways of dealing with this surprisingly common tendency.

What are the strategies for dealing with drama addiction?

Dr. Lyon offers a variety of helpful strategies for addressing drama addiction and relieving some of the emotional pain it causes. Here are his recommendations.

  • Slow down. In times of stress, slowing down can be an effective remedy. “In the throes of drama, it feels like you’re revving yourself up and the catharsis is like rolling down a hill,” says Dr. Lyons. It can be hard to stop this cycle, but he suggests trying to slow down before things build up. “Don’t go over the dramatic situation more than once. If you didn’t get what you needed to feel better, that’s good information.” He urges us instead to “go back to what’s under the hood of the drama and the story,” noting we can find clarity through simple yet mindful practices like taking a walk, or even slowing down as we eat. “Slow down and find the nuances of the flavors” during a meal, he says, and it just might allow you to start feeling the nuances of life. 
  • Set boundaries. Setting social boundaries can be difficult, but it’s a valuable way to cope with drama addiction. If you’re dealing with drama addicts, ask yourself, “How am I participating in their drama, which is affecting me? What are the boundaries that I need to put up to protect my energy?” It can be tricky to know how to interact with a drama addict, but Dr. Lyons suggests you avoid asking them detailed questions, so that you don’t get further roped into the mess. “It’s okay to walk away,” he says. “You deserve to thrive, and sometimes you can’t do that when people are trying to bring you into their chaos.” 
  • Recognize insecurities. Dr. Lyons sees an inability to accept our own insecurities as a common cause of drama addiction. “We stir ourselves up by getting a hit of drama” rather than “being present with our feelings of insecurity.” Sometimes, it helps to let ourselves be vulnerable and acknowledge that we need something as simple yet powerful as a hug. 

Although it’s a common enough phenomenon, drama addiction can really mess up our lives — and the lives of those around us. Thankfully, there are effective ways to step back and reassess our reactions. Breaking free of this psychologically harmful pattern may be difficult, but it will ultimately provide you with a sense of much-needed peace.

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