When people hear the term addiction, they most likely think of a dependence on drugs or alcohol. It has taken years for people to accept the fact that addiction is an actual disease and not just a moral flaw. Now a new topic in addiction has emerged, and this is the concept of behavioral addictions. Doctors and psychologists have declared that addiction is not strictly limited to substances and can involve activities or behaviors. The most common behavioral addictions include the following:
- Compulsive gambling
- Sexual addiction
- Food or eating addictions
- Exercise addiction
- Computer games or Internet addictions
- Shopping addiction
- Work addiction
How Do Behavioral Addictions Work?
Behavioral addictions begin with individuals who are unsatisfied (physically or emotionally) and need to find something that will heighten or improve their mood. Individuals with behavioral addictions find an activity or behavior that stimulates their mood such as exercising or gambling, and the positive experience leads to the behavior being repeated. Individuals begin to perform this activity more frequently until it becomes an obsession or compulsive habit. The elation, relief, or euphoria created from the behavior is produced by the release of dopamine or serotonin in the brain. These chemicals allow individuals to experience a rush of adrenaline or pleasure. Because the activity brings such joy and relief to the individual, he or she develops cravings to participate in the behavior. Both the brain and body need the activity to continue and progress to keep releasing pleasure-fulfilling chemicals.
Common Withdrawal Symptoms of Behavioral Addictions
A behavior is an addiction if the behavior or activity interferes with a person’s physical, psychological, social, occupational, or behavioral functioning. When the behavior or activity is stopped, the individual will experience withdrawal symptoms. A behavioral addiction meets both requirements. The symptoms of withdrawal will vary depending on the activity, but a few common physical and psychological symptoms include the following:
- Anxiety, nervousness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Emotional instability
- Sleep difficulties
- Appetite changes, significant weight loss or gain
- The need to switch addictions
Withdrawal symptoms recreate the feelings of stress or pain from which the addict was trying to escape. The physical and emotional exhaustion of withdrawal can cause individuals to relapse back into addiction or to switch addictive behaviors. Many people struggling with a behavioral addiction turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with pain related to the consequences of the behavioral addiction or to its withdrawal symptoms.
How Do You Treat a Behavioral Addiction?
Research has allowed us to learn more about the reality of behavioral addictions, and it has improved the options for effective treatment. There are a number of treatment options available for individuals struggling with behavioral addictions, and these include a combination of treatments and behavioral therapies. The quality treatment goes much further than getting an addict to “quit” the behavior. It treats the root causes that triggered the addictive behavior in the first place. The most successful treatment options involve a comprehensive treatment plan for holistic recovery.