Behavioral Addiction: Know the Signs & How to Treat Them
Addiction can take many forms and often spans beyond substance abuse.
The disease of addiction is often defined by the psychological dependencies it creates, largely because of the way it triggers the reward system in the brain. Some activities have the ability to ignite the brain’s reward system similarly to substance abuse. These are defined as behavioral addictions and it is not uncommon for these addictions to quickly spiral out of control and require professional treatment.
Behavioral addictions are often activities that many people engage in throughout their lives.
Eating, shopping, and going online are enjoyable activities that activate the brain’s reward system, but that does not always mean an addiction will develop. In some cases, the rewarding feelings associated with these activities can cause a person to change their behaviors in order to support that activity. They may ignore physical or mental consequences of their behaviors, be unable to stop, and experience negative consequences financially or socially because of it. Despite these consequences, an addicted person will continue to engage in these behaviors.
Common Behavioral Addictions
While there is a wide array of behavioral addictions that can negatively impact a person’s quality of life, some are more common than others.
- Gambling addiction: Many experts agree that addiction to gambling closely resembles drug or alcohol addiction. The act of gambling lights up the same parts of the brain that substances due, making the behavior feel rewarding and addictive.
- Sex addiction: Although it is not officially recognized as an addiction, there are forms of treatment available for it. Sex addiction is often identified through a person’s disregard for risks and consequences when engaging in sexual activity. In addition, they often cite feeling a lack of control regarding their behaviors.
- Internet addiction: Internet addiction has skyrocketed in recent years as our world becomes more connected. Although not officially categorized as an addiction, compulsive Internet use can be problematic for some, resulting in issues at work or at home. They may not be able to control their impulses to get online regardless of the consequences of use.
- Shopping addiction: Shopping addiction is regarded as an impulse control disorder. Items may be purchased in order to not feel sad, but the person feels guilty afterwards. Compulsive shopping seems to affect women more often than men and it often leads to financial and personal problems. Counseling and behavioral therapy is often used to address this problem.
- Video game addiction: Video game addiction tends to affect men more often than women. Video games can quickly evolve into a person’s preferred method of decompressing, interacting with others, and spending free time. When video games begin to feel more like reality and playing them takes precedence over everything else, the past time can quickly become a problematic habit.
- Plastic surgery addiction: People with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) are more likely to develop an addiction to cosmetic surgeries. Those with this addiction are preoccupied with their appearance and often have a misconstrued view of how they appear. They may engage in behaviors like doctor shopping in order to find surgeons who will agree to provide surgery.
- Binge eating disorder: Binge eating is a growing problem along with other food-focused obsessions. Symptoms may include eating to feel better, overeating (especially when alone), and feeling guilty for binge eating. Eating disorders are often linked to other mental health disorders, such as depression.
- Risky behavior addiction: Thrill-seeking behaviors can provide the same rush and excitement that substance abuse does. A person may begin looking for more dangerous activities to engage in in order to feel a rush of endorphins.
Not all behavioral addictions fall into the traditional tropes of how we view addiction, but many of these addictions can be treated with therapies used in substance abuse counseling. Once the behaviors begin to interfere with a person’s daily life and their ability to manage finances, work, health, and relationships, it may need to be addressed through a professional intervention.
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Addressing Behavioral Addictions
It can be difficult to identify when a behavior has evolved into a problematic addiction. Many of the same signs and symptoms observed in those struggling with substance abuse will also be present in those with a behavioral addiction.
Recovery from this form of addiction often follows a similar structure and is effective at helping someone successfully change their patterns. In some cases, a behavioral addiction is not something a person can just stop altogether. For example, it would be unreasonable to expect a person with an online addiction to never use the Internet again. Instead, a person must learn to develop a healthy relationship with the behavior and engage with it in a productive manner.
Treatment for behavioral addictions tends to follow a structure that includes an initial detox, the development of a treatment plan, therapy, and in some cases, aftercare. Treatment is designed to help the person overcome their dependencies while also working to uncover any co-occurring disorders that may be contributing to the development of addictive behaviors. Through an individualized treatment plan, clients are able to develop goals and work towards achieving them with the help of healthcare professionals. In many cases, family and friends may be part of the recovery process as well in order to build a support network that can help them following the completion of treatment.
Cross addiction and dual-diagnosis are often confused for one another. Dual-diagnosis is a term generally reserved for those who have two or more completely different psychological disorders, such as a substance addiction and a mental health condition.
Cross addiction is used to refer to those who have an addiction to one substance, but also develop an addiction to something else. This could be an addiction to another substance or a behavioral addiction.
Cross addiction is most commonly observed in those who are new to recovery. As a person withdraws from the effects of the substance they are addicted to, other addictions can satisfy the reward system in a similar fashion. This leads to the development of another unrelated addiction. In some cases, a cross addiction may initially seem like a harmless activity, but can quickly evolve into another crutch. This can open the door back up to the initial addiction, even well after a person has recovered from it.
Cross addictions and behavioral addictions often go hand-in-hand. When a person is recovering from substance addiction, it is not uncommon for other forms of addiction to take its place. Sometimes, behavioral addictions can satisfy cravings and fill the void a person has when they stop using substances. Although some behavioral addictions are not illegal, it does not mean that the activity is not detrimental to physical, mental, or emotional health. Treatment centers should be aware of this potential pitfall and prepare to treat any cross addiction as they arise.
If you or a loved one are suffering from a behavioral addiction, we’re here to help. Contact us today and speak with one of our trusted recovery advisors.