‘Harry Potter’ Is Addictive, Study Concludes

Survey finds that 10 percent of participants showed signs of addiction, withdrawal after finishing 'Deathly Hallows.'

No more trips to Hogwarts. No more will-they-or-won’t-they for Ron and Hermione. No more theorizing if Snape is good or evil. Has the magic gone from your life?

Many Potter fans would say yes, that ever since the culmination of the series with the publication of last year’s “Deathly Hallows,” they’ve been in the throes of post-Potter depression — which a group of Pennsylvania-based researchers say shows that being a Potter fan is more serious than you might think. It can actually become an addiction.

In a just-finished study that’s being submitted to the Journal of General Psychology, psych professor Dr. Jeffrey Rudski and two of his undergrad students at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, report that they found characteristics of addiction in at least 10 percent of the 4,000 Potter fans they polled online. For “Harry Potter and the End of the Line: Parallels with Addiction,” they used craving scales that had been established for smoking, substituting “Deathly Hallows” for cigarettes. They surveyed fans before the book’s release, upon completion of the book and six months afterwards as a follow-up. The 10 percent of respondents that Rudski considers addicted described spending more than four hours a day on Potter-related activities, experiencing interference with appetite and sleep patterns, engaging in less physical activity, having a lower sense of well-being and being more irritable after completing the series.

“Some readers can become so engaged in the series and the ancillary world that grew out of it that they report behaviors that truly fit definitions of addiction or dependence,” the synopsis of his draft reads.

Granted, there are at least two more Potter movies (three if they split “Deathly Hallows”) and a theme park to come, but for these participants, reaching the end of the story triggered a withdrawal, akin to quitting a drug cold turkey after having being hooked for years. “An addiction is an addiction is an addiction,” Rudski said. “An addiction to a drug is no different than an addiction to Harry Potter or the Internet or pornography. Although it’s not always a bad thing. There’s a community that you get with Harry Potter that you don’t get with heroin.”

The threshold for addiction is even more blurry than the one for alcoholism — with alcohol, you note whether someone’s drinking alone or more of a social drinker. But if the addiction involves a community, it’s harder to draw the line between fandom and compulsion. “A lot of the addiction isn’t even to the series itself,” Rudski said. “The series is over. The addiction is to everything that goes along with it, the ancillary world.” So while he only characterizes 10 percent of participants as being addicted, there was an additional 20 percent who gave him cause for concern, reaching what he called “a critical threshold.”

That would likely include participants who wrote things like “I want Rowling to know that I hate her … because I have nothing to live for now,” “I feel like someone close to me has died” and “I had trouble getting out of bed Monday morning. I was depressed and had nightmares all night long. I dreamed I was being attacked by Lucius Malfoy and Fenrir Greyback and didn’t have a wand because I was Muggle-born.”

Rudski, who teaches courses in psychopharmacology and learning theory, originally wanted to make a study about addictions to popular culture when he saw people “walking around in a daze” following the O.J. Simpson verdict. “I thought, ‘These people are addicted to the trial! And now they’re going through withdrawal,’ ” he said. “And I thought, if I ever have an opportunity to look at this phenomenon, I’m going to study it.”

It was a toss-up for him between studying people’s reaction to the end of “The Sopranos” and the end of Harry Potter, but ultimately, Rudski chose the boy wizard because his 15-year-old daughter is a fan — well, he calls her an addict but says her addiction has positive outlets. “She’s picked up guitar because she wants to be in a wizard-rock band ,” he said. “She’s studying Latin because she wants to better understand J.K. Rowling’s choices of names for her characters. She started reading Stephen King and John Irving because they spoke with Rowling at Radio City two summers ago.” If that’s being an addict, he’s down with it.

Likewise, Rudski’s subjects didn’t all turn their addictions into negative forces, but he found that those who were the most creative with their fandom showed the least disruption to their personal lives, addicted or not. For instance, those he calls the “core” fans, who read the books and liked to theorize, had the greatest amount of withdrawal symptoms. Online community fans, however, showed more of an intermediate level of withdrawal after reading the last book, but six months afterwards, still reported continued disruption (as opposed to core fans, who moved on). And for those who turned Harry Potter into a creative outlet — either through fan fiction, fan art or wizard rock — didn’t show hardly any withdrawal symptoms at all, though they continued to spend just as much time engaged in those activities as they did before. What does that tell us? “It’s more like a caffeine addiction,” Rudski said. “The withdrawal can be over, but the addiction is still there.”

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