What are Behavioral Addictions?

According to a study on the different types of addiction, “Behavioral science experts believe that all entities capable of stimulating a person can be addictive” (NCBI). Behavioral addictions, similar to substance addictions, are thought of as compulsions to engage in a certain pleasurable behavior or action to the point where it becomes a detriment to the individual and begins to affect their entire life.

Some of these addictions are currently recognized as legitimate, medical issues while others are not. Because behavioral addiction covers such a wide territory, it can be difficult to consider the broad possibility of just what may constitute as one. These are similar to substance addictions; however, they

  • Do not all have a specific criteria that has been widely accepted in the medical community
  • Have been research less than substance abuse disorders with conflicting findings
  • May or may not qualify as a legitimate addiction depending on the individual and whether or not they are merely obsessed with a behavior or experiencing a detrimental force in their life

What are the Types of Behavioral Addictions?

Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addiction is the term used to refer to addictions that are not to substances, but rather to things people regularly do.

Theoretically, any type of behavior or repeatable action that produces a stimulation or positive response in an individual could become an addiction. However, there are several main types of behavioral addictions that are widely acknowledged in one way or another, even if they are not officially accepted as a medical condition.

  • Gambling
    • The NLM states, “Most people who gamble don’t have a problem, but some lose control.” Compulsive gambling is the less intense form of this condition (characterized by lying about time spent gambling, feeling guilty after doing so, and using money meant for necessities like food and rent on the habit), but pathological gambling is even more dangerous. People who fall under this category are likely to commit crimes in order to gamble more or lose everything (job, family, finances, etc.) to their gambling habit.
  • Sex
    • According to the USDA, “Endorphins are believed to be associated with the mood changes that follow sexual release,” and any chemical that changes the mood of a person can become addictive. Those who suffer from sex addiction compulsively engage in different sexual activities over and over, often needing to intensify their behaviors because they become tolerant over time, an issue similar to drug abuse.
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  • Shopping 
    • Another behavioral addiction that has been medically recognized, compulsive buying disorder (or shopping addiction) often occurs when someone is attempting to cover feelings of sadness or anxiety with unnecessary shopping. This becomes detrimental to those who “go on shopping binges all year long” and experience massive debt as a result (Indiana University).
  • Internet 
    • “Internet addiction is an umbrella term that refers to the compulsive need to spend a great deal of time on the Internet” (BHC). Similarly to the other disorders listed above, it has been accepted in certain medical circles. This behavior is only considered to become an addiction when the person’s Internet use affects the rest of their life negatively in ways such as causing withdrawal symptoms when they cannot go online and damaging their job and relationship statuses.
  • Video games
    • Similar to Internet addiction, people who play video games to the point where they cannot control themselves can be considered an addict. Neglecting to sleep, eat, and spend time with friends and family are all signs of video game addiction. According to the NIDA Teen, “Scientists say that more research is needed before they can tell whether being hooked on a video game is actually an addiction,” but facilities do exist in different parts of the world where individuals can be treated for this disorder.
  • Food
    • Compulsive eating disorder is sometimes thought of as food addiction, although many feel that it is not the same issue. Still, according to an NCBI study, “Food addiction has been implicated as a putative casual factor in chronic overeating, binge eating, and obesity.”
  • Plastic surgery
    • Another lesser known behavioral addiction is that of plastic surgery. Some people will continue to pay for and undergo unnecessary cosmetic surgeries, even when it becomes harmful to their health and other aspects of their life.
  • Risky behavior
    • Some people consider themselves addicted to risks: the more dangerous the behavior, the more of a thrill they will get from it. This condition may cause obvious issues and a great deal of harm, which those who suffer from it can often see but are not deterred by.

In addition, there are other individuals who suffer from a compulsive need to engage in an action that, while initially rewarding, is harmful to them in many ways. Anything like this may possibly become an addiction as well, which is why the types of these disorders are often so difficult to cement.

How do the Principles of Effective Treatment Apply to Behavioral Addictions?

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Are There Treatments for Behavioral Addictions?

There are treatments for behavioral addictions, although they have not been as thoroughly researched and streamlined as those for substance abuse disorders. According to Indiana University, “Though the theories for the causes of addictive behaviors and their treatment are numerous, various types of therapy can help a person who has an addictive behavior.” Cognitive-behavioral therapy (or CBT) has been known to be extremely effective in treating substance abusers, and this method can translate well to behavioral addictions.

In addition, medications have been found to be beneficial in some cases. An NCBI study states that antidepressants have been used with some success in the treatment of compulsive buying disorder, and a psychiatrist studying the effects of naltrexone (an opioid antagonist) on gambling addiction found that the medication was able to “inhibit both the urge to gamble and the high from it in 75% of the group–compared with 24% of a comparable group on placebo” (Stanford).

While there are unfortunately no treatment standards for most behavioral addictions, therapy is usually effective, and treatment is often handled on a case-by-case basis. Still, for someone who has been harmfully affected by one of the conditions above, treatment should be sought out in whatever way is most effective for the specific individual.

Behavioral addictions can, in many ways, be just as real and equally as harmful as drug addiction. However, it can be difficult for an individual to accept the fact that they have a problem, let alone to find a solution. If you believe you may be struggling with a behavioral addiction, seek treatment right away.

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