Behavioral Addictions

Often referred to as process addiction or non-substance addiction, behavioral addictions can result in many of the same adverse effects as drug and alcohol addictions. Behavioral addictions are associated with impulse control, causing an individual to engage in behaviors compulsively beyond the point at which said acts have led to negative personal consequences.

Like addiction to drugs and alcohol, behavioral addiction is directly connected to the “rush” or “high” one experiences when engaging in a particular behavior.

Most behavioral addictions are activities in which people participate on a regular and sometimes infrequent basis, but for the most part, encounter no unmanageability. Some activities that can become the subject of behavioral addiction are:

When most individuals engage in the behaviors mentioned above, there may be a “rush” or “high” associated with it, but it does not result in compulsive and uncontrollable repetition of the behavior. There are several signs of behavioral addiction, many of which are parallel to the signs of drug and alcohol addiction. The reason the signs of behavioral and substance addiction are so similar is that of the meaning of addiction, being the state of enslavement to a habit or practice of something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming. In behavioral addiction, contrary to some substance dependence, it is the psychological dependence that creates the addiction and related compulsive behaviors.
Some of the signs of behavioral addiction are as follows:

  1. Obsession, or constant thoughts of the behavior
  2. Continuation of the behavior despite negative consequences, risky situations, and poor performance of responsibilities
  3. Compulsive engagement of the behavior or inability to stop despite a desire to stop
  4. Cessation of the behavior causes irritability, cravings to resume the behavior, restlessness, and depression.
  5. Denial of addiction and issues resulting from the behavior
  6. Concealment of the behavior from family and others close to the addict
  7. Amnesia regarding the behavior (i.e., inability to recall how much money was spent)
  8. Depression, even when engaging in the behaviors

Most of these signs are those indicative of addiction, regardless of the subject (i.e.) substances or behaviors.

How Can Behaviors Become Addictive?

When people engage in certain behaviors, specifically those that are pleasurable or risky, they experience an immediate response of either a euphoric or adrenaline rush respectively. When people feel a rush of euphoria surrounding any particular activity, the repetition of that activity is reinforced, stimulating survival instincts like eating and having sex. Necessary for sustenance and procreation, eating and sex are a vital part of human survival, and not considered dangerous when done in responsible moderation. However, the stimulus and immediate reward resulting from engaging in these vital activities can also be addictive for some. The release of dopamine in the brain is what produces the euphoric effects one feels when doing things like eating and having sex, which is connected to the reward system in the brain. As with drug addiction, when dopamine is released at higher than normal levels, the reinforcement to repeat the behavior is greater. Natural behaviors like eating and having sex produce lower levels of the euphoria than those associated with drug addiction, but the behavior is intoxicatingly addictive for many people who suffer from behavioral addictions.

Other behaviors like gambling, gaming, cutting, and shopping carry with them a risk which produces an adrenaline (epinephrine) rush, which also stimulates dopamine release. Responsible for the “fight or flight” mode associated with stressful or exciting activities, an adrenaline rush may cause one to experience things like rapid heart rate, sweating, increased heart rate, and dilation of pupils. Some of these effects are mildly similar to those produced by stimulant drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. An adrenaline rush acts as the body’s natural stimulant to prepare itself for action, and that feeling can be addictive for many people, even those who are not considered to be addicts. An example of this is those referred to as “adrenaline junkies,” who seek out thrills like skydiving, bungee jumping, parasailing, etc.

Everyone wants to feel good and do things that are pleasurable, as it is a part of human nature and the brain’s natural reward process to encourage life-sustaining habits. While this process is usually not problematic, for those who are at risk for addiction and compulsive behavior, this natural and essential function can quickly lead to addiction.

Who is at Risk for Behavioral Addiction?

Over the course of an individual’s lifetime, he or she will likely engage in many activities that are common subjects of addiction, like shopping, having sex, using the internet, gambling, and eating. The process of classifying those who are more at risk for developing behavioral addictions is similar to that of analyzing why some people who drink alcohol or use drugs become addicted, and others do not. While no single factor determines whether or not someone will become addicted, there are certain commonalities among most addicts that imply a strong connection to addiction.

  1. Low Self-Esteem
    Often, when an individual does not feel his or her self-value, and worthiness for health and happiness, addictive behaviors can provide a sense of power, relief, and euphoria. When suffering from low self-esteem, happiness is obtained from outside sources, rather than from within, opening the door for a sense of higher reward when engaging in pleasurable and exciting behaviors.
  2. Trauma, Loss, and Guilt
    Whether it’s a repressed childhood trauma, the recent loss of a loved one, or guilt over a transgression, inner turmoil can devastate lives when left unaddressed. While the cause of the turmoil is often identifiable by an individual, it is often easier to “escape” the resulting pain and depression rather than address and process the cause. When this happens with any person, he or she is more susceptible to an addiction of all kinds, as there is a constant desire to escape the reality of the trauma.
  3. Poor Social and Communication Skills
    The most effective means of problem solving and survival is communication. As life-sustaining skills, socialization, and communication are inherent to human survival. Without developed communication skills to convey how one feels and what one needs or wants, the ability to solve problems, cope with life’s stressors, and find paths to happiness becomes hampered. Lack of skills to properly communicate and socialize deteriorates self-esteem and causes problems and stress to be internalized with no outlet. Living in such a state can easily lead to the compulsive engagement of isolating behaviors like gambling, gaming, internet usage, and cutting.

Behavioral Addiction Can be Treated

When an individual suffers from addiction, there is almost always an underlying cause for the behaviors from which the habit developed. Like with drugs and alcohol, the most effective means of overcoming addiction is to get to the cause. At A Forever Recovery, we understand that addiction is most often a symptom of underlying issues that drive a person to engage in destructive behaviors compulsively. This is why it is imperative to treat the individual and heal the mind, body, and spirit, facilitating the necessary empowerment and awareness to reclaim a happy and healthy life. No matter what the cause, behavioral addictions can be overcome with an individualized treatment specifically tailored to the person, his or her belief systems, and preferences. Understanding that any behavior can be addictive and dangerous when a person loses control of his or her impulses gives significant insight into the importance of healing the individual.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a behavioral addiction, please call us now at our toll-free number to speak with one of our trained counselors. We understand how hopeless addiction feels. We get to the core of each and work on an open-ended basis to build the awareness and self-value for him or her to heal, and live a life free of addiction. We can help. Call now.