Behavioral Addiction

Behavioural addiction is the compulsive need to engage in a non-drug related activity, which, despite not having any direct negative effects, can be harmful to a person’s wellbeing. For instance, if you feel the urge to shop constantly, even though you don’t have any need for the things you are buying, and you constantly give in to your compulsive urge to buy things, without considering the negative effect it can have on your finances, your state of mind, your relationships and even your personal health, this is known as behavioural addiction.

You may wonder how it is possible to become addicted to something intangible. Well, it can be because the brain’s reward system reacts to behaviours in the same way as it does to substances like drugs and alcohol. There are certain actions and behaviours that produce a strong pleasant feeling in the brain, which makes you want to do them over and over again. These feelings are so strong that you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you try to stop these activities, just like you would with quitting drugs and alcohol.

One of the most common forms of behavioural addiction is gambling, especially internet gambling. Others include food, sex, shopping, excessive use of the internet, computers and cell phones use, exercise, and pornography. These behavioural addictions, also known as impulse control disorder. are easily treatable.

What are Common Signs of Behavioural Addiction?

One of the realities of any form of addiction is that it comes with a heavy dose of denial. You are unlikely to admit to someone else, or even to yourself, that you have are showing compulsive behaviour – and because some of the behaviours that lead to these addictions are unavoidable, such as shopping and eating, you may consider writing them off as just a harmless vice.

People struggling with addiction often experience different symptoms because of many tiny differences in their physiology, so the fact that you don’t have some of the symptoms of addiction listed below is no reason to believe that you don’t have an addiction. Rather, it is better to take a critical look at how your behaviour affects the choices you make, including the company you keep, the places you stay, the expenses you rack up, and how all of these affect your quality of life. If not handled in time, behavioural addiction can jeopardise your relationships, finances, and health.

When you understand the addictive process, and the signs to look out for, you will be able to tell the difference between addictive behaviour, behaviour that is problematic but not addictive, and normal behaviour that is neither problematic nor addictive. Some of these signs include:

  • Spending a lot of your time engaging in the activity in question, thinking about the activity or planning to engage in the activity while still recovering from the effects of previous engagement.
  • When you become dependent on the behaviour or activity as a way to deal with issues and circumstances that you don’t really know how to cope with.
  • Continuing to engage in these activities despite the physical, mental, and even financial harm they
  • When you have trouble putting an end to these activities despite wanting to stop.
  • Neglecting other important engagements, such as school or work, just so that you can engage in the behaviour more.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, just like in cases of substance abuse, when you try to curtail or stop these behaviours.
  • Hiding the extent or nature of the behavioural addiction even though you know you need help.
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What are the Causes of Behavioural Addiction?

There are a number of factors that contribute to the development of behavioural addictions. Some of these factors include genetics, personality, and previous or ongoing substance abuse. For example, if you have a history of substance abuse, chances are you will also have developed one form of compulsive behaviour or another. Research has shown that people who suffer from substance abuse and those who suffer from behavioural addiction often have similar personality traits.

Researchers have also studied the relationship between behavioural addiction and substance abuse. For instance, studies have shown that people who gamble are more likely to have alcohol disorder alongside it than people who don’t. In a lot of cases, substance abuse increases the risk of developing behavioural addictions such as gambling and sex addiction.

Genetics also play an important role in whether or not an individual will develop behavioural addictions. For example, if a parent or sibling suffers from a type of behavioural addiction or any other form of addiction, you stand a higher risk of suffering from the same, or even multiple addictions, yourself. In-depth studies have shown that about 64% of the risk of developing either gambling addiction, or alcohol addiction, or both, can be attributed to genetics.

While it may be difficult to determine the exact factor or combination of factors that contributed to an individual’s behavioural addiction, what is certain is that each time you engage in these behaviours, your brain is being rewarded; this makes the addiction more difficult to overcome. Studies show that when you engage in compulsive behaviours such as gambling, sex or kleptomania, your brain releases a hormone called dopamine, known as the brain’s reward chemical, which causes a feeling of pleasure. This happens each time you engage in these activities; however, as time goes by, your brain becomes dependent on these behaviours in order to feel that sense of reward, the absence of which can then leave you feeling depressed and sick. This will compel you to further engage in these compulsive behaviours, if only to feel the resultant pleasure.

Even though compulsive behaviours, such as gambling, eating, shopping and sex can be enormously rewarding, creating a strong motivation for you to engage in them more, you have to understand that rewarding behaviours can also become dysfunctional, especially if you have a predisposition towards addiction and mental health complications, or if you have a prior history of traumatic or painful experiences.

As time goes on, the possibility of an addiction increases, and the signs of behavioural addiction may not be distinguishable from those of other forms of addiction, such as substance abuse or alcohol addiction.

How Can Behavioural Addiction be Treated?

Even though behavioural addiction has the power to potentially ruin your life, it can also be treated. No one really wants to engage in compulsive behaviour, but a variety of factors including genetics, hormonal imbalances, and social and environmental conditions, can play a huge role in how these addictions develop. If you, or someone you know, show signs of behavioural addiction, there is nothing to feel ashamed about; you are one in more than two million people in the UK with one form of addiction or another. Just like any other kind of illness or addiction, behavioural addiction requires medical and professional help to overcome.

Treatments may include psychotherapy and medication, or a combination of both. CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is one of the most common forms of psychotherapy used in treating behavioural addictions. This type of treatment will focus on identifying the patterns that trigger compulsive behaviour, and involves making certain lifestyle changes that will encourage healthier behaviours. Essentially, this treatment works by changing the way you think, effectively helping you eliminate these problematic behaviours.

While there is currently no medication approved for treating behavioural addiction, other medications used to treat drug addictions may also work in these cases. Additionally, if compulsive behaviour causes you to feel anxiety and depression, the medications used to treat those conditions may also help you. However, there is the chance that you may be susceptible to other forms of addiction as a result of your behavioural addiction; therefore before recommending any medications, your doctor should weigh up the pros and cons of prescribing a medication that is potentially addictive.

If you or, anyone you know, is suffering from behavioural addiction or showing signs of it, it is imperative that you seek professional help before it damages your life and the lives of others around you.

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