What Is Conspiracy Theory Addiction?

A conspiracy theory can be defined as the belief that a secret-but-influential organization or individual is responsible for a circumstance or event. People often think that these beliefs are rare or sometimes absurd, but research shows they may be more common than previously thought. A study found that about 50% of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory.

Conspiracy theories come in all forms, but most theories involve political and social events. Some examples include the belief that certain celebrities are immortal vampires and controversial topics such as the belief that a small group of people are planning to overthrow the government. Often, one theory will have accompanying and sometimes contradictory conspiracy theories which can be dangerous if not challenged. On the other hand, it can be noted that some conspiracy theories have been proven to be true. With the increased popularity of conspiracies and exposure to information, it is possible to harm one’s mental health and relationships by developing a conspiracy theory addiction.

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Conspiracy theory addiction is a behavioral addiction that can have a hidden impact on the way one perceives events and has been linked to having more negative attitudes. Rather than helping one cope with their negative feelings, the belief in conspiracy theories can create a cycle of distrust and disempowerment. As a person encounters different sources, it is important to be able to analyze the information and distinguish between false theories and real threats.

People who strongly believe in conspiracy theories and become addicted may experience some of the following:

  • Anxiety or fear for no particular reason.
  • A perceived loss of control.
  • A need to make sense of complex topics or unrelated events, even with little or no topical knowledge.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • A strong urge to make connections between a series of unrelated events or behaviors.
  • A belief in paranormal explanations for scientific phenomenon.
  • A sense of not belonging or isolation.
  • A great alienation, disengagement, or disaffection from society

If the presence of the above feelings and behaviors significantly impacts a person’s ability to function in their daily lives, that person may have a conspiracy theory addiction.

Why Do People Believe In Conspiracy Theories?

Conspiracy theories occur when people create links between one or more unrelated events, a process that emerges from the need for the human brain to find patterns. New research also shows that people with certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem, are more likely to have a conspiracy theory addiction. Researchers have studied the different reasons why people believe in conspiracy theories, and many of the explanations include the following factors:

  • A need for understanding and consistency.
  • A need for control.
  • A need to belong or feel special.

Need For Understanding

When a person experiences distress over uncertainty or witnesses a large-scale event, the mind will start to look for explanations that connect the dots. Those with lower analytical abilities and less tolerance for uncertainty are more likely to believe a conspiracy theory. This is because conspiracy theories can often provide explanations for events that seem confusing or frightening, and believers can assume that they are being intentionally deceived. People are also naturally inclined to search for information that confirms their existing beliefs; this is known as confirmation bias.

The ability to easily share and spread information over the internet has increased belief in certain conspiracy theories. Someone with a conspiracy theory addiction may seek out information to support something they already think is true, rather than seek out new information or challenge their beliefs. A need for understanding and consistency can lead to addictive behaviors such as spending excessive time on the internet and ignoring relationships and responsibilities.

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Need For Control

Conspiracy theory addiction can also be caused by the need to feel safe and in control. When the human mind feels threatened, identifying what is causing the danger can be a way to cope with anxiety. One study found that people are more likely to believe in conspiracies if they are feeling anxious. Another study found that people who feel psychologically and/or sociopolitically disempowered are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. People who have a conspiracy theory addiction may be drawn to the theories as a way of making sense of the world and feeling more in control.

Researchers who have studied why people believe in conspiracy theories have found little evidence that believing in these theories actually helps reduce anxiety or satisfy the need to feel in control. People who have a conspiracy theory addiction are less likely to engage in actions that could improve their autonomy and sense of control. The long-term effects of conspiracy theory addiction may leave people feeling more disempowered and anxious than before.

Need To Belong

Conspiracy theory addiction can also form as a defense mechanism, especially in those who feel alienation and disaffection from society. Typically those with a strong belief in conspiracies have a distrust in authority, lower self-esteem, lower levels of interpersonal trust, and feel that they are the “heroes” in the story — while those who are conspiring against them are the “enemy.” As modern society becomes more complex and information is more easily spread, some people feel left behind in trying to keep up. When a person feels disadvantaged, they will often find ways to boost their own self-perceptions.

Risks

Conspiracy theory addiction can have long-term negative effects on an individual. Although belief in conspiracies is often motivated by the need to understand, be in control, and feel socially connected, these aren’t the results that are being gained. In fact, some studies have shown that believing in conspiracies can reinforce feelings of confusion, isolation, and loneliness. The cycle of addiction becomes destructive as negative feelings contribute to the belief in conspiracies and the belief in conspiracies results in negative feelings. Conspiracy theory addiction not only causes a cycle of distrust, but it discourages people from participating in their social worlds. Someone who lacks a sense of control may stop viewing themselves as a valuable contributor to society.

Overcoming Conspiracy Theory Addiction

An issue often faced when trying to disprove conspiracy theories is that people who believe in them also tend to suspect that others are involved in covering up the “truth.” People will often try to argue or ridicule those who believe in conspiracies, but this behavior often results in deepening the person’s commitment to their beliefs. Although certain factors that contribute to belief cannot be easily or quickly changed, researchers have found that promoting messages of self-control and empowerment can reduce conspiratorial thinking.

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In one study, researchers found effectiveness in encouraging believers to pursue their goals using the “promotion-focused” approach. Those who are promotion-focused are less likely to believe in conspiracies and more likely to believe they have the power to control their future. Someone who has a conspiracy theory addiction may want to seek help from a counselor who can help them work toward personal goals and increasing a sense of personal empowerment. Creating an action-oriented mindset can help discourage belief in conspiracies and encourage self-responsibility and control.

Conspiracy theory addiction can cause long-term psychological and social harm to an individual. Therapy that centers on personal goals and strategies to achieve these goals can have a powerful impact on improving a sense of control and empowerment. If you’re interested in treatment for conspiracy theory addiction, contact a therapist today.

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Ginni Correa

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  • Ginni Correa is a Latinx writer and activist living in Orlando,FL. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and double majored in Psychology and Spanish with a minor in Latin American Studies. After graduation, Ginni worked as an educator in public schools and an art therapist in a behavioral health hospital where she found a passion working with at-risk populations and advocating for social justice and equality. She is also experienced in translating and interpreting with an emphasis in language justice and creating multilingual spaces. Ginni’s mission is to build awareness and promote resources that can help people transform their lives. She believes in the importance of ending stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse while creating more accessible treatment in communities. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, crafting, and attending music festivals.

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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional:

David Hampton

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  • David embarked on his journey into sobriety in June of 2005, which led him to his current career path as a Certified Professional Addiction Recovery Coach in private practice in Greater Nashville. David is also a public speaker and the author of two books. David is cohost of the weekly Positive Sobriety Podcast, as well as being a frequent contributor to various articles and recovery based materials. As a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), David works closely with area treatment centers, recovery orientated nonprofit organizations, as well as being a keynote speaker for various recovery-focused events.

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