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What Is Behavioral Addiction?

Written By: Harris House

Category: Addiction, Blog

Person paying for a purchase online with their credit card.

Is it a harmless shopping trip, or is it an addiction?

We often think of addiction within the context of physical addiction to drugs and alcohol. People struggling with addictions to these substances undergo changes in their brains’ wiring which cause them to have intense cravings for the substance and equally intense withdrawal symptoms when the substance is unavailable.

However, many people fail to realize that experts believe that addiction can occur without a single substance entering the body. We’re talking about behavioral addiction, which simulates the same phenomenon in which a person compulsively engages in activities or behaviors despite their detrimental impact on their mental and/or physical well-being.

Here’s a closer look at the topic of behavioral addiction, common types of behavioral addiction, and how an addiction treatment program can help.

Understanding Behavioral Addiction

You may be wondering how it’s possible for someone to get addicted to something without ever using or ingesting it. Explains Psychology Today, “We now know that the brain can react to behaviors much as it does to drugs or alcohol. Certain behaviors produce a strong reinforcement in the brain that makes us want to do them over and over again, even if they interfere with our lives.”

Not only that, but as with drug and alcohol addiction, the feelings that derive from engaging in these behaviors are so powerful that they may also lead to withdrawal symptoms, including agitation, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and personality changes.

While some people are skeptical of whether behavioral addictions can be put in the same category as drug and alcohol addictions, Psychology Today points out that all types of addictions have varying levels of severity. “Although certain drug addictions lead to the complete devastation of people’s lives, this does not mean that everyone with a drug addiction has the same level of problems. Similarly, some individuals with behavioral addictions may have significant consequences due to their behavior (such as bankruptcy, arrest, homelessness), but others function fairly well despite the behavior.” In other words, depending on the level of severity of a particular instance of behavioral addiction, it can be just as bad as an addiction to a substance.

Group of people working out in a gym.

Exercise is good, right? Not when it’s an addiction.

Common Behavioral Addictions

Many different activities can lead to behavioral addiction. These include:

  • Sex and love addiction
  • Food addiction
  • Shopping addiction
  • Gambling addiction
  • Exercise addiction
  • Internet addiction
  • Work addiction

Many of these are relatively innocuous “everyday” activities. They may not seem harmful and can actually be enjoyable in moderation. However, they can cross the line into addiction when the “high” associated with engaging in these behaviors leads to the inability to stop despite negative consequences. In fact, as with substance use addictions, behavioral addictions can result in repercussions related to personal relationships, work, and finances.

Making the problem even more alarming? Not only do substance and behavioral addictions serve similar functions,  but co-occurrence between the two is common. 

If you think you or someone you love may be experiencing addictive behavior, there are some symptoms to look for including:

  • Spending the bulk of time engaging in a behavior
  • Thinking about the behavior
  • Making scheduling arrangement around the behavior
  • Recovering from the behavior
  • Using the behavior as a coping mechanism
  • Continuing the behavior despite mental or physical harm
  • Neglecting responsibilities to engage in the behavior
  • Experiencing depression, irritability, and other symptoms of withdrawal when trying to stop
  • Attempting to conceal the extent of the problem

The good news? Just like substance abuse treatment can help addicts learn to understand their addictions in order to manage them, so can an addiction treatment program serve the same vital purpose for people with behavioral addictions. Furthermore, a treatment program that acknowledges and addresses all addictions can facilitate the best pathway for lasting recovery.  Contact us at Harris House today to learn more about our targeted St. Louis area addiction treatment programs.