Addiction Doesn't Include Just Drugs and Alcohol...

Updated: Jan 16, 2019


When we hear the word “addiction,” I think it’s easy to automatically think of someone being addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, some sort of substance. Addiction is something that has been very prevalent in our families, but as we grew up and saw the many faces off addiction, we realized that it included so much more.


Honestly, you can be addicted to basically anything…addicted to drama, people, abuse, dysfunction, etc. These more or so fall into the realm of addictive behaviors.

Some activities are so normal that it’s hard to believe people can become addicted to them, yet the cycle of addiction can still take over, making everyday life a constant struggle as they seek out more and more opportunities to engage in the behavior. The desire to experience a “high” from the behavior becomes so strong that the individual continues to engage in the activity despite any negative consequences. They can also experience withdrawals or negative emotions and other symptoms when they aren’t able to engage in the activity. Behavioral addictions follow the same pattern as substance-based addictions, and they result in problems in many areas of the individual’s life.


Behavioral addictions have similar effects to substance addictions on relationships, which are often neglected in favor of the addictive behavior, undermining trust and putting pressure on partners and other family members to cover up and make up for difficulties arising from the addiction.


Why Are Certain Behaviors Considered Addictions?


Most people engage in hundreds of different behaviors throughout the day, each one with its own set of consequences. In general, people make choices about which behavior to engage in next relatively thoughtfully and with the intent to improve their experience. For example, if you are hungry, you may choose to get a healthy snack that will not only satisfy your hunger but also give you energy to continue your day. However, someone who is living with a food addiction may choose to eat even when they're not hungry and may binge eat unhealthy foods in large amounts. Though this is an unhealthy choice, many people can and will overeat, or eat when they aren’t hungry, and do not struggle with a food addiction.


When the behavior becomes impulsive in nature and begins to contribute to the development of a range of physical and mental health problems and the person is unable to stop, it is termed as an addiction.


What Are the Underlying Causes for Behavioral Addictions?


Like a substance abuse and addiction, there is usually no single cause responsible for the development of the addiction disorder. Often, it is a combination of issues, including:

  • Biology

  • Genetic predisposition to the development of an addiction disorder

  • Issues related to stress that trigger the person to attempt to utilize the behavior as a coping mechanism

  • Living in or growing up in an environment that is permissive of the behavior

  • Trauma that alters brain function

Signs of Behavioral Addictions


Understanding the addictive process and the danger signs can help you tell the difference between addictive behavior, problematic behavior that’s not an addiction, and normal behavior that’s non-problematic or healthy.


Red flags include:

  • Becoming dependent on the behavior as a way to cope with emotions and to “feel normal”

  • Continuing despite physical and/or mental harm

  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal (for example, depression, irritability) when trying to stop

  • Having trouble cutting back despite wanting to stop

  • Minimizing or hiding the extent of the problem

  • Neglecting work, school, or family to engage in the behavior more often

  • Spending the majority of your time engaging in the behavior, thinking about or arranging to engage in the behavior, or recovering from the effects

Common Characteristics Among Addictive Behaviors


There are many common characteristics among the various addictive behaviors:

  1. The person becomes obsessed (constantly thinks of) the person, object, activity, or substance.

  2. They will seek it out or engage in the behavior even though it is causing harm (physical problems, poor work or study performance, problems with friends, family, or co-workers).

  3. The person will compulsively engage in the activity. They will do the activity over and over again even if he/she does not want to and find it difficult to stop.

  4. Upon stopping the activity, withdrawal symptoms often occur. These can include irritability, cravings, restlessness, or even depression.

  5. The person does not appear to have control as to when, how long, or how much he or she will continue the behavior (loss of control).

  6. He/she often denies problems resulting from his/her engagement in the behavior even though others can see the negative effects.

  7. The person hides the behavior after family or close friends have mentioned their concern.

  8. Many individuals with addictive behaviors report a blackout for the time they were engaging in the behavior.

  9. Depression is common in individuals with addictive behaviors. That is why it is important to make an appointment with a counselor to find out what is going on.

  10. Individuals with addictive behaviors often have low self-esteem, feel anxious if they do not have control over their environment, and may come from psychologically or physically abusive families.

Addiction can occur in many forms, but it is the compulsive nature of the behavior that is often indicative of a behavioral addiction, or process addiction, in an individual. The compulsion to continually engage in an activity or behavior despite the negative impact on the person’s ability to remain mentally and/or physically healthy and functional in the home and community defines behavioral addiction. The person may find the behavior rewarding psychologically or get a “high” while engaged in the activity but may later feel guilt, remorse, or even overwhelmed by the consequences of that continued choice.


Unfortunately, as is common for all who struggle with addiction, people living with behavioral addictions are unable to stop engaging in the behavior for any length of time without treatment and intervention.


When Is It Time to Intervene and How?


Because almost everyone engages in the behaviors listed above–social media use, shopping, etc.–it is not always easy to recognize when someone’s engagement with these behaviors reaches an addiction level and thus requires treatment. Though the signs of an addictive issue may vary depending upon the behavior at the focus of the addiction, it is time to get help for a behavioral addiction when:

  • Other serious consequences result from an inability to stop the behavior (e.g., problems at work or maintaining a job, financial issues, health problems, legal issues, etc.).

  • Practice of the behavior becomes an obsession.

  • Practice of the behavior becomes frequent–daily and/or multiple times per day.

  • Relationships are harmed by the person’s chronic engagement in the behavior.

  • The person chooses to engage in the behavior rather than work, spend time with family, or engage in other activities that were once enjoyed.

What Type of Programs Are Offered to Treat Behavioral Addictions?


Many of the same programs that are effective in the treatment of dependence upon drugs or alcohol are effective in the treatment of behavioral addictions. An effective behavioral addiction treatment program should offer all clients access to the resources they need. This may include any combination of the following:


  1. Detox support: Some clients describe insomnia, feelings of agitation, panic, angry outbursts, headaches, and other withdrawal symptoms when they stop indulging in the addictive behavior. Therapeutic support through this transitional period can assist the client in reaching stability in treatment and improve the capacity to focus on growth and healing going forward.

  2. Diagnosis and evaluation: Just as with substance abuse and addiction, there are often co-occurring disorders at play that may be impacting the person’s compulsivity and ability to remain abstinent in recovery. A thorough evaluation process can help to identify any co-occurring substance abuse issues and/or mental health disorders that may be contributing to, causing, or in any way impacting the person’s experience with behavioral addictions.

  3. Family support: It is often just as important for loved ones and family members to engage in their own healing processes as it is for the person living with the behavioral addiction. Family members are encouraged to not only take part in their loved one’s recovery but also to engage in support groups designed for family members, personal therapy sessions, and family therapy sessions with the person in treatment.

  4. Treatment plan: A unique combination of therapies will be chosen based on the person’s evaluation and diagnosis results, personal circumstances and comfort level, and goals for recovery now and in the future.

Choosing a range of therapies that assist the client in reaching treatment goals and staying in treatment for as long as necessary to ensure that the client is strong and stable in recovery are key to an effective behavioral addiction treatment program.


What Therapies Are Used in Treating Behavioral Problems?


There is a range of therapies that can be useful in the treatment of behavioral addictions. These include:

  1. Alternative therapies: Sports and adventure therapies, nutritional therapy, animal-assisted therapy, journaling, and psychodrama – there is a number of holistic therapy options that may be beneficial to the person in developing new methods of self-exploration and paths for healing.

  2. Family therapy: Often, relationships at home are negatively impacted by the person’s chronic engagement in the behavioral addiction. It can contribute to feelings of broken trust and resentment that must be addressed therapeutically if the family unit is to continue and thrive in recovery.

  3. Personal therapy: Discussing the acute issues that may be triggering the urge to engage in the behavior during treatment while also discussing childhood and other past events that may have contributed to its development can empower the person to take responsibility for behaviors and institute new, healthier coping mechanisms.

  4. Support groups: Connecting with others who also struggle with behavioral addictions, especially those who are in recovery for the same behavioral addiction, can help the person to feel less alone and increase the support network that is necessary for long-term healing.

What Kinds of Relapse Prevention Skills Exist for Behavioral Addictions?


Avoiding relapse is a daily task, sometimes an active task that takes place minute by minute. Some of the ways that people can improve their ability to avoid relapse in recovery from a behavioral addiction include:

  • Building a support system in recovery that includes people who genuinely support the client’s desire to avoid relapse and engage in more positive behaviors

  • Creating an actionable plan to mitigate the impact of those triggers and deal with the urge to relapse that may occur

  • Determining how best to eliminate those triggers

  • Identifying the people, places, situations, feelings, and other events that can trigger the urge to engage in the behavior

  • Learning how to return to recovery if a relapse should occur

If you believe that you, or someone you love, are struggling with a behavioral addiction, the good news is that treatment is a powerful tool. Learning how to manage the behavior and begin to address the issues caused by the long-term behaviors begins with intensive and integrated treatment.


Even if you can’t find a service specializing in a behavioral addiction, a counselor will still be able to help you change your problematic behaviors, improve your relationships, and cope without the addiction.Happy healing, Queen! #rp #share #queenshealingqueens #mysisterskeeper #wegotus

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