The brain controls a wide range of basic emotional and psychological responses, and the following mental and behavioral functions are all directly affected by this intricate system:
- Sleeping and waking
- Sexual response
- Relational bonding
- Pain management
- Anxiety control
- Impulse control
- Happiness and sadness
Slight spikes in brain chemicals stimulate the pleasure center of the brain. Whatever behavior led to those sensations will be craved by the brain on a level that is stronger than rational thought. These behaviors can lead to addictions that are similar in structure to the psychological aspects of drug and alcohol addiction.
How Behavioral Addiction Forms
Substance abuse intensely and immediately boosts “feel good” chemicals in the brain. The result is a strong emotional need for those substances which is often accompanied by a physical dependency as well. But drugs and alcohol abuse is not the only behavior that can create these spikes. A number of behaviors can become habits or addictions as they lead to slight boosts in the natural chemicals in the brain. Some of the behaviors that can become addictions include the following:
- Sexual activity
- Food-related behaviors
- Spending money
Addictions to these behaviors are as difficult to overcome as those to any drug.
Psychological Addiction Recovery
There are many similarities to recovery from chemical and behavioral addictions. The first step is to detox and complete the process of allowing the body’s natural chemical balance to be reestablished by abstaining from substance use or addictive behavior for an extended period of time. While drug detox involves physical withdrawal symptoms, the withdrawal symptoms associated with behavioral addictions are primarily psychological.
Many people mistakenly believe psychological addiction to be less significant than physical addiction. The truth is that the part of the brain that is most directly affected by both substance abuse and behavioral addiction is that same part of the brain that includes the pleasure center and drives behavior. Lasting freedom from either substances or addictive behaviors thus requires careful rehabilitation of the mind from the effects of the disease.
Rehabilitation Programs for Behavioral and Substance Addictions
The most effective rehab programs use a variety of therapeutic techniques depending on the specific needs of each patient. However, the primary goal of any addiction recovery program is to reprogram the brain to its pre-disease state. The following techniques can be effective for all types of compulsive behaviors and addictions:
- Specialized individual counseling
- Education about the causes and effects of addiction
- Support group meetings
- 12-step programs
- Introduction to healthy new activities and coping skills
- Establishing healthy boundaries and accountability structures
Behavioral addictions often lead to substance abuse and chemical dependency. Individuals may subconsciously attempt to self-medicate the frustration and pain they feel with drugs or alcohol. Addiction is an intricate disease that can be successfully overcome with the right help.