Within the world of addiction, anything that causes a person to lose control over the amount of time, money and energy invested in it qualifies as an addictive behavior. With drugs and alcohol, a substance becomes the center of a person’s world. With behavioral addictions, an activity takes center stage.
While not as well known as substance addictions, most people are familiar with gambling, and even sex addictions. According to Semel Institute, three other “identified” behavioral addictions do exist: shopping, internet and food addictions.
Since the process behind the addiction remains the same whether a substance or a behavior is involved, treatment for behavioral addictions works in much the same way as treatment for substance abuse addictions.
1. Gambling Addiction
Of the five identified behavioral addictions, the symptoms associated with gambling addiction most resemble those of alcohol and drug addictions, according to Stanford University.
- Compulsive gamblers crave the activity
- Tolerance level increases take the form of betting increasingly larger amounts of money
- Compulsive gamblers experience highs comparable to those of substance abusers
- Compulsive gamblers experience mild withdrawal symptoms, such as problems sleeping, sweating and irritability
Most notably, people battling gambling addictions are willing to sacrifice relationships, job and home for the sake of gambling.
2. Food Addiction
While still considered a behavioral addiction, food addictions do center around a substance that actually alters brain chemical processes much like drugs and alcohol do. As food addicts tend to focus on certain types of foods, such as salts and sweets, the brain chemical “surges” experienced when eating work to reinforce the food habit not unlike drugs and alcohol.
3. Sex Addiction
With sex addictions, addicts obsess over the activity, thinking about favorite practices and/or imagining scenarios. As with any other addiction, sex addicts never seem to tire of the activity and easily lose control as far as time spent and number of partners. Ultimately, sex addicts continue to engage in the activity regardless of how much it disrupts their lives.
4. Shopping Addiction
With shopping addicts, emotions and shopping tend to go hand-in-hand. Compulsive shoppers may go on shopping binges in an effort to soothe feelings of anxiety and depression. The activity itself also produces a “high” effect. Feelings of guilt and anxiety often follow shopping sprees once a person with a shopping addiction realizes what he or she has done.
5. Computer/Internet Addiction
As one of the newly identified behavioral addictions, computer addictions work in much the same way as shopping and gambling addictions. Interestingly enough, traditional gambling and shopping addicts can easily escape into internet addiction as an outlet or substitute.
Treatment for Behavioral Addictions
While treatment for behavioral addiction can vary depending on the type of addiction, the overall approach remains the same. Even in the case of food addictions, compulsive behaviors originate within the addict’s thought processes and belief systems that develop from the addiction. For these reasons, psychotherapy, group therapy and support group work are the primary approaches used in the treatment of behavioral addictions.
For many people struggling with behavioral addictions, other pre-existing psychological conditions may drive addictive behaviors. Treatment approaches used for behavioral addictions can effectively help addicts address any underlying conditions while helping them regain control over their addiction.