Behavioral Addictions: Types, Symptoms & Treatment
We live in a society that has many people struggling with various forms of disorders and behavioral addictions are no exception. Why? Studies indicate that the conditions share common biological and behavioral characteristics similar to the act of obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of drugs or alcohol.
While these actions can be misinterpreted by others as deliberate self-destruction, they too are compulsive-impulsive habits that can drastically lead a person towards disrupted relationships and failures in life. In this post, we will discuss behavioral addiction, its types, symptoms, and treatment methods.
What is Behavioral Addiction?
Behavioral addiction is when someone does something uncontrollably that they think is pleasurable or makes them feel good. They might do it again and again, even though it might have bad consequences for them.
People who have a substance addiction use drugs or alcohol, and depending on how much and how often they use, their addiction causes them to compulsively focus on using the drug or alcohol, even when they know it has negative consequences. Clinicians who diagnose psychiatric illnesses including alcohol and drug use disorders believe that the repeated patterns of addictive behaviors also trigger similar activations in the brain as seen with alcohol or drug addiction.
A person with a behavioral addiction has trouble resisting the impulse to perform certain reinforcing actions which, arguably, have a negative impact because their behaviors intensify the disturbance of one’s cognitive and emotional balance.
Different Types Of Behavioral Addictions
There are different types of behavioral addictions. Some of the most common ones are pathological gambling, pornography, sex, and sugar addiction. But did you know that the impulse to steal, known as kleptomania, is in some ways an addiction? It has even been classified as a compulsion-control disorder in the latest revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Keep reading to see if any of the below compulsive–impulsive behavioral addictions sound familiar.
Gambling addiction is a problem where someone craves gambling and uses more and more money to do it. They might think that they are doing it for a reason, like needing money or wanting excitement, but really, the addiction controls them.
Gambling addiction can have very serious consequences aside from financial loss. People who are addicted to gambling often have symptoms that are similar to those of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. They also experience highs while gambling, and intense cravings. When they try to quit, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, unease, insomnia, and agitation.
Pornography addiction is a compulsive and habitual behavior of viewing pornographic content for gratification. A person with a pornography addiction will store and download sex videos, nude magazines, and photos secretly and repetitively, often knowing or not knowing the negative consequences of this addictive behavior.
Sex addiction is a condition where someone has difficulty controlling their sexual urges. They might do things like have sex a lot, or think about sex all the time. This can be really tough for them and can cause problems in their life. People with this behavioral addiction will continue to seek sexual gratification even if they are aware of the risks.
If you have uncontrollable cravings for sweet things or if you eat more food than the recommended regular diet, you may have a sugar addiction. There have been debates that sugar is as addictive as cocaine, but it is more dangerous because it is available and not regulated. Sugar addiction can lead to health problems like obesity, type II diabetes, and heart disease.
Other forms of behavioral addiction include;
- Internet addiction or problematic internet use
- Compulsive shopping
- Eating disorders like Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa, binge eating with or without purging episodes to prevent weight gain
- Compulsive–impulsive skin picking
- The impulsive, repetitive, and deliberate act of fire setting called Pyromania
- Risky behavior addiction
- Not forgetting the impulsive stealing behavior known as kleptomania
Signs of Behavioral Addictions
Addiction is a complex disorder that is treated with a combination of therapies, medication, and behavioral treatments. It’s important to catch any early signs of addiction before it gets too bad. This way, you can get help before the addiction controls your life.
Common signs include:
- Obsessive thinking of the activity
- Building up a tolerance as the behavior progresses and becoming dependent on the behavior to cope or feel “normal”
- Ignoring the adverse consequences associated with the addictive behavior
- Making several attempts to quit the unhealthy behavior in vain
- Hiding the activity from others to hide the extent of the problem and then experiencing shame or guilt for doing the behavior
- Neglecting day-to-day responsibilities to engage in the behavior more often
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as depression, anxiety even irritability when trying to stop
Key Strategies to Overcome Behavioral Addictions
Behavioral addictions can be caused by different things. Internal and external factors can both play a role in how quickly someone becomes addicted. If you want to help yourself or someone you love who is struggling with this problem, try using some of the following strategies:
1) Seek Professional Advice
Just as with substance abuse disorders, people suffering from these conditions can also benefit from a treatment specialist. You should see a professional if you think you have a behavioral addiction. Behavioral addictions can be treated with the help of a psychiatrist or psychologist. Do not try to self-medicate, because this will not help you get better.
2) Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies
Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT, is a talk-based therapy. The goal of CBT is to pair positive and negative reinforcement to improve behaviors. The benefits of therapy for a patient include:
- Increase self-awareness or a better understanding of a person’s perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and understanding
- Helps pinpoint events that trigger destructive thoughts and feelings
- CBT approaches can help restore a patient’s quality of life because it focuses on mindfulness, acceptance, and commitment to self-care
3) Know Your Triggers
People can become addicted to doing the same things every day. Knowing what your triggers are for unhealthy behaviors such as eating, exercising, sex, video game playing, and gambling can help you stop yourself from doing these things.
Common external or internal triggers for addiction include:
- Depression, stress, boredom
- Physical, mental pain
- A genetic predisposition to addictions
- Certain social, environmental, or emotional situations
- It’s equally important to formulate a healthy coping mechanism and here are some suggestions;
- Joining self-help groups
- Working on self-improvement
- Talking to a friend or family
4) Setting Guidelines
People with behavioral addictions tend to compulsively do things that harm their life. Unfortunately, this can make them unhealthy and unable to do everyday activities. This can be helped by setting clear guidelines and sticking to them closely. This will help you be more aware of your weaknesses and triggers.
For example, people with a gambling addiction will have trouble quitting “cold turkey” but they can gradually learn how to manage the behavior consequently with intensive and integrated therapies.
5) Own Your Happiness
People often feel negative emotions when they stop a destructive behavior that they used to do regularly. It can be very hard to avoid relapse. A good way to stay on track is to find healthy recreational activities that offer similar positive effects.
Make sure you have a supportive network of people who will encourage you to stick with your goals.