Whilst most people believe that addiction is simply related to drugs or alcohol, it is actually a fact that there are numerous behavioural addictions that have the potential to create chaos in someone’s life.
In this article, we break down what behavioural addiction really means. We discuss its most typical forms and explain how these types of addiction differ from substance addiction.
What is a Behavioural Addiction?
Behavioural addictions, also known as process addictions, can be defined as a compulsion to engage in rewarding non-substance-related behaviour. This can include engaging in gambling, overeating, or gaming, despite the negative consequences to the individual’s physical, mental, social, or financial well-being.
A behavioural addiction manifests by turning into addictive patterns, meaning that they become compulsive in daily routine and may disrupt many areas of your life. It may be a euphoric feeling that you get from behaving in a certain way and not consuming something physically.
This addiction can often be underdiagnosed because it is often more elusive to people. When you consume alcohol or drugs, your physical and mental state is altered, and people can easily see the change. You may also be behaving erratically or unable to function fully. Behavioural addictions can be a little more subtle. This may include certain types of mental stress, anxiety and changes in how you behave. These red flags must be noted before other areas of your life are impacted.
Behavioural addictions produce dopamine, which makes us feel happy and prepared to function well. People with specific disorders, such as ADHD, may need to seek out more dopamine, which means they may be a little more susceptible to these addictive behaviours – although this is not always the case.
Behavioural addictions may also have an underlying cause, a mental health issue that must be adequately dealt with. There is no altered brain chemistry through substances, but rather the happy hormones in the brain. However, this type of addiction should still be dealt with as a mental illness.
What’s the Difference Between Behavioural Addictions and Substance Addictions?
With a behavioural addiction, the individual typically experiences an intense craving to perform the behaviour and a sense of relief or pleasure when doing so. Over time, it may take more and more of the behaviour to achieve the same level of satisfaction, leading to an escalation in frequency or intensity. Despite the lack of an external substance, the neurochemical changes and reinforcement mechanisms are similar to those seen in substance addictions.
Substance addictions, on the other hand, relate to the compulsive use of drugs or alcohol. These substances alter the brain’s chemistry and can lead to physical dependence, requiring higher doses for the same effect (tolerance) and causing withdrawal symptoms upon cessation.
While both types share common characteristics such as loss of control, continued use despite negative consequences, and denial, generally speaking, the key differences include the physical dependency and withdrawal symptoms associated with substance addictions. However, in some cases, severe behavioural addictions can cause withdrawal symptoms that are comparable to substance addiction withdrawal.
5 Common Behavioural Addictions
There are varying types of behavioural addictions, but there are several that have been found to be more common. Reputable rehabilitation clinics are able to deal with a wide variety of issues, but let’s cover some of the common ones so that you can familiarise yourself with the most common behavioural addictions:
1. Gambling Addiction
Gambling addiction is characterised by uncontrolled gambling, either online or in a gambling environment.
The feeling of gambling may create a sense of escape, and the incentive may be to win money (or more money). Even when there is a loss of money, someone who has developed a gambling addiction may feel that they have to compensate for the loss, convincing themselves that next time they will win. This can be incredibly destructive and lead to financial difficulties, along with many other strains.
2. Internet Addiction Disorder
Internet addiction disorder, often simply referred to as ‘internet addiction,’ has increasingly come under the spotlight due to its normalisation in our everyday lives. With the variety of devices now readily available, such as smartphones, tablets, and other internet-enabled devices, it’s not surprising that we find ourselves glued to screens for extended periods. In fact, the act of continually checking our devices, playing games online, or endlessly scrolling through social media has now become an accepted norm. But when does this habitual use of the internet cross the line into addiction?
The boundary between normal internet usage and addiction isn’t clear-cut and can often be a grey area. However, a general rule of thumb is that if the use of the internet is causing significant distress or is negatively impacting major areas of life, it might be better defined as an internet addiction disorder.
A group that is particularly vulnerable to this form of addiction are children and adolescents. The concern arises when their internet use starts affecting their academic performance or impacts their ability to form and maintain social relationships. Teenagers are more susceptible as they navigate through the complexities of their social world, which is increasingly taking place online, and they often struggle to strike a balance between their online and offline lives.
In adults, this can manifest as becoming something more than just social interaction and practical for daily life. If you spend more than 7 hours a day online, and focus your thoughts only on being online, then it may be that you have an addiction. Symptoms may include neglect of daily life, losing sleep to be online and gaining weight.
3. Gaming Addiction
Whilst playing video games can be fun and healthy for the mind in moderate amounts, it can also have a negative impact and major consequences.
Gaming addictions such as playing too many computer games, for example, have been found to have both negative physical and mental effects on an individual’s overall wellbeing. Playing for more than 6 hours a day and prioritising gaming around other things is a key indicator of addiction. Constant thoughts about gaming and neglect of many other areas of life are damaging to your health.
4. Sex and Pornography Addiction
Intimacy and love are part of a natural healthy relationship. However, there may be times when this becomes more than a healthy hobby to share intimacy and love and slant more toward an addiction.
Obsessive sexual thinking and fantasies become unhealthy when they are obsessive and when you feel a need to partake in these acts often. If you feel controlled by these feelings, and think about it non-stop, then it may be that you have an addiction and should take control before the situation becomes more intense. Sex or porn addictions can create unrest in your relationships and even lead to chronic infidelity.
5. Shopping and Excessive Spending Addiction
Shopping and spending releases endorphins, but sometimes, spending too much in a constant stream can be destructive.
The patterns of wanting something and needing it so much that you can’t function without it is a sign that a behavioural addiction has formed. Spending without watching the pennies, maxing out credit cards or not spending within your means will affect your financial health. You will therefore encounter many issues. Spending and collecting shopping items for self-validation, self-soothing, or to simply feel a sense of happiness can be the first sign of a shopping addiction.
Seeking Professional Help for Behavioural Addictions
There is no need to suffer in silence. Behavioural addictions may feel as if they are uncontrollable or, in the beginning, unmanaged and undiagnosed. However, help is there in the form of therapies, counselling and specific treatments tailormade to your needs.
Seeking help professionally for behavioural addictions is a vital component of getting mentally healthy again. It may be that you need to engage in a type of rehabilitation that deals intimately with the reasons behind the addiction.
You can get in touch with the team at Rehab Clinics Group, who are there to support individuals in their recovery journey. Get in touch today or phone 0800 470 0382 to learn more. Alternatively, text HELP To 83222 to speak to someone about available treatment options.