Behavioral Addictions

The Various Types of Behavioral Addictions

When people hear the word ‘addiction’ they will typically think about alcohol or drugs. While these substances do have the potential to cause a person a lot of physical and psychological harm, there are other things that you can develop a dependency to as well. Known as behavioral addictions these can include all sorts of different things and lead to consequences including loss of control, harm and regret. What is an addictive behavior?

Behavioral addictions, also called impulse control disorders, produce short term reward that diminishes control despite the knowledge of any adverse consequences. It is a compulsion which continues to happen regardless of negative impacts on physical, mental, social or financial well-being. They are highly controversial with some people thinking they do not exist while others saying they do, and that they change the brains wiring (like substance addictions). Behavioral addictions are currently the center focus of research groups from around the globe; thus, it is important to stay up to date on these subject matters if you believe you may be affected by one.

Behavioral Addiction vs. Substance Addiction

Behavioral science experts believe that anything is capable of stimulating someone so much that it could cause him or her to develop an addiction. These experts continue to say that when the habit changes into an uncontrollable obligation, it is an addiction. Researchers believe there are a number of similarities between behavioral addictions and substance addictions. In the case of the former, there is no addiction to a substance, but rather a behavior or feeling brought about by the action. With substance addictions, there are physical signs both during using and once it’s discontinued (withdrawal) which are absent in behavioral addictions. Experts do suggest that both types of addiction can lead to similar consequences; thus treatment is advisable for either.

Causes of a Behavioral Addiction

Behavioral addictions can alter a person’s mood or emotional state. During the activity feelings of euphoria, pleasure and relaxation may be prevalent. This is a result of a release of serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline in the brain. When the activity is not engaged, the brain attempts to seek out or recreate this high which results in cravings and psychological withdrawal like symptoms. Behavioral addictions can lead to a tolerance in that the person will want to engage in the activity more often or increase the intensity to get the same “feel-good” effect.

What are Some Kinds of Behavioral Addictions?

Addiction to different behaviors can be spread across various sectors and activities. Many of these are an everyday part of people’s lives. For most, they will never become out of control, but for others, their behaviors may begin to actually control them. Addictions can include gambling, sex, food, video games, the internet, social media, shopping, plastic surgery, extreme sports and risky behaviors. Each of these would carry their own risks. For example, extreme sports can lead to serious injuries and death; whereas gambling could lead to financial ruin, legal problems and suicidal tendencies. This is not to say that one is worse than the other is, but rather that it should be uniquely addressed and treated.

Signs and Symptoms of Behavioral Addictions

Signs of substance addictions can be relatively easy to spot. Physical effects to the body and various psychological warning signs will be noticeable. However, in the case of behavioral addictions, these are generally not visible until they’ve reached a very serious point. For instance, problem gamblers often are able to hide their debts until things start to go very badly. Sex addicts may have been engaging in risky behaviors for years until they are caught. The following are signs and symptoms of behavioral addictions which may be exhibited:

  • Increasing the frequency, or time, of the behavior
  • Constant need to engage in the behavior
  • Attempts to decrease or stop, but fail
  • Spending a majority of time in the behavior or recovering from the effects
  • Preoccupation with the behavior itself or with the actions required to prepare for it
  • Neglecting other obligations
  • Becoming isolated so it is easier to engage in the behavior
  • Experiencing negative consequences as a result
  • Mood swings when the behavior cannot take place

Treating Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions can be effectively treated through psychotherapy such as CBT, and medications as well as, mindfulness meditation and yoga. The primary therapies will focus on identifying patterns of abuse and then work to make healthy changes so the behavior will no longer take place. Some behavioral addictions may work on an outpatient treatment basis. However, in the case of problem gambling, sex addiction or co-occurring addictions (when a drug is also involved), rehab treatment will be most practical.