Understanding Behavioral Addictions

Millions of Americans battle addiction each year, whether it be to a substance like alcohol or cigarettes, or activities like shopping and eating. Substance use disorders (SUDs) are particularly challenging due to the physical dependency the body develops over time and the associated health risks of use and withdrawal symptoms.

Nevertheless, behavioral addictions – also known as process addictions – are likewise characterized by the uncontrollable compulsion to act out the behavior or engage in the activity. They continue, regardless of the negative and even harmful consequences that may be inflicted on their mental and physical health. Relationships with their friends and family may start to deteriorate along with their finances and career.

Connection to Substance Use Disorders

Behavioral addictions are indeed quite similar to SUDs. This condition tends to reveal itself in adolescence and young adulthood. Persons typically report “tension or arousal before committing the act” and “pleasure, gratification or relief at the time of committing the act.” In other words, engaging in the activity can alleviate anxiety and promote a kind of high like drugs can. Moreover, research has shown that negative feelings analogous to substance tolerance and withdrawal are also found in process addictions. Such intense cravings and urges can lead to chronic and relapsing behavioral patterns that make it hard to quit without help.

Some evidence also suggests that there may be a link between behavioral addictions and SUDs. For example, high rates of alcohol use disorders co-occurring with gambling and internet addictions have been found in U.S. and Canadian population studies. Clinical samples on other addictions like kleptomania, pathological skin picking, and compulsive sexual behavior suggest that such co-occurrences are far from uncommon. This may indicate that there is common pathophysiology between SUDs and process addictions.

Could I Have a Problem?

There are numerous kinds of addictions and according to a study published in the National Institutes of Health, behavioral scientists figure that “any source which is capable of stimulating an individual could become addictive.” The following are just a few of the activities that some people are addicted to sex and porn, gambling, shopping, exercise, eating, internet browsing, gaming, stealing, and skin-picking.

So, maybe you play Call of Duty every day or enjoy cookies. How do you know if these habits are becoming a problem? There are variations on diagnostic criteria for behavioral addictions, although, there are a few questions you can ask yourself:

#1 Does the activity dominate your thinking, feelings, and behaviors?

#2 While engaging, do you experience great satisfaction, high, or something akin to escaping?

#3 Do you have to spend more and more time engaging to feel satisfied?

#4 If you can’t engage, do you become moody, irritated, or physically discomforted?

#5 Are you experiencing inter-and intrapersonal conflicts – especially with friends, family, and at work – because of the activity?

#6 Have you reverted to engaging after periods of abstinence or control over the behavior?

If you answered yes to these questions, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a behavioral addiction. However, it is a strong indicator that you should consider speaking to a trained professional.

What’s the Root Cause?

Although research is ongoing and the underlying causes of behavioral addictions specifically are not clear, some precursors indicate the condition may develop. These include psychopathologies like depression, social anxiety, a lack of social support, and substance dependence or withdrawal. Moreover, behavioral addictions may be the result of using the activity as a coping mechanism to deal with past and present psychological pain.

More generally, though, the causes of substance and behavioral addictions can be the result of biology, trauma, and severe stress that alters the brain, environmental factors, and genetics. More than one hundred genes may be associated with a person’s risk of addiction. There is also some evidence that suggests that the dysfunction of chemical pathways involving serotonin and dopamine significantly contributes to both disorders. Serotonin is important to the inhibition of behavior, while dopamine is involved with learning, reward anticipation, and motivation.

Help is on the Way

If you or someone you know is struggling with a behavioral addiction, it is important to take action as soon as possible. The longer you participate in the activity or behavior, the more likely negative consequences may result. Depending on your particular situation, you may risk losing your job, home, friends, or spouse. It isn’t worth it. The good news is that there are programs that can help you identify the driving force of your condition. A trained therapist can guide the development of strategies that will help you overcome your unique challenges. Don’t lose hope.

Experiencing an addiction of any kind can be scary and life-changing. Substance use disorders and behavioral addictions are different, but related classes of addictions. Both are characterized by compulsivity and the inability to stop the behavior regardless of the negative and even harmful consequences. Cravings, withdrawals, and tolerance are likewise found in behavioral addictions as they are in SUDs, and some research indicates there may be a larger connection between the two. Addictions can cause your mental and physical health to suffer. Determining if you have a behavioral addiction requires an evaluation by a trained clinician. If you feel as if you’re spiraling out of control and you just don’t know what to do, there is hope. At Achieve Concierge, we specialize in psychological disorders like this and are dedicated to finding the best treatment option for you. Call us today to find out how we can help you at (619) 393-5871.

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