The word addiction might bring to mind alcohol, drugs, or prescription medications, but addiction isn’t limited to substances. The loop that causes addicts to get hooked on substances can function similarly in someone’s brain to get them hooked on a behavior.What kinds of behaviors, you might ask? Well, any type of behavior that involves high risk and high reward is prone to becoming an addiction.
“Ingesting drugs and alcohol may produce short-term rewards that then result in a lack of control over the behavior. Several behaviors similarly produce short-term rewards and result in a lack of control over the behavior. Diminished control is a core deﬁning concept of substance addiction.” (Psychology Today)
When you no longer have control over the behavior, you might be experiencing behavioral addictions. It can show up in a few different ways:
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop
- Having negative consequences in your life as a result of the behavior
- The experience of a psychological “high” during the activity, followed by guilt or remorse (American Addiction Centers)
So, what kinds of behaviors are addictive? And what can you do if you suspect you or someone you love might have a behavioral addiction? Keep reading to learn more.
What are Behavioral Addictions, Anyway?
People sometimes use the word addiction lightly, as in, “I’m addicted to Oreos,” or, “I’m addicted to this song.”
Not all mental health experts agree that behavioral addiction is diagnosable, but it’s become generally accepted in the psychology field that behavioral addictions are real and can affect the brain, creating feedback loops similar to substance addiction.
According to American Addiction Centers:
“Often, it is assumed that physical dependence characterized by withdrawal symptoms is required in order for someone to be diagnosed with an addiction disorder, but the fact is that behavioral addiction can occur with all the negative consequences in a person’s life minus the physical issues faced by people who compulsively engage in drug and alcohol abuse.”
So, behavioral addictions are real and harmful. It’s easy to feel trapped, unable to break free by stopping the harmful and destructive habit. Help and accountability are needed to break the cycle.
How Do You Know if a Behavior is an Addiction?
It’s important to know first that the only behavioral addiction recognized as diagnosable by the DSM-V is gambling. But there are generally accepted criteria that can be used to evaluate other behaviors.
If you recognize these signs in yourself or a loved one, stop and think about whether you’re struggling with a behavioral addiction, not just a bad habit. Maybe you need help to overcome it, and it’s almost impossible for you to “just stop.”
Verywell Mind lists the following red flags of behavioral addiction:
- Having withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop the behavior. (You might become more anxious, depressed, or irritable.)
- When you try to cut back, you are quickly drawn back in.
- You use the behavior to feel normal or cope with your emotions on a day-to-day basis.
- You spend most of your time on the behavior, or on thinking about it or planning how to do it.
- You downplay the extent of the problem to others, or you lie or hide it.
- You neglect your responsibilities to engage in the behavior.
- You continue in the behavior even though you know it’s hurting you and/or others.
Does a particular behavior come to mind when you read this list? If you’re able to recognize the problem, you’ve already taken the first step towards change.
Acknowledge that you’re only human. Being addicted to a behavior doesn’t make you a lesser person. It means you’ve gotten stuck in an addictive risk/reward cycle and you need help to get out:
“When a person with addiction initially uses the substance or engages in the behavior, they receive an intense rush of dopamine, causing feelings of pleasure and reward. Over time, their body may produce less dopamine and rely on the substance or behavior to feel the dopamine rush.” (Medical News Today, emphasis added)
Making the effort to change requires strength, motivation, and hard work, but you don’t have to do it alone. Christian counseling for behavioral addictions can make the difference between permanent and temporary change.
As Christians, we believe that when we are weak, Christ is strong in us (2 Cor. 12:9-11). Asking for help is a sign that you are willing to acknowledge your weakness. Having a Christian counselor walk alongside you as you recover from addiction can help you see God’s power in your life and your potential for growth, hope, and change.
What are the most common behavioral addictions?
Up to this point, we haven’t discussed the various types of behavioral addictions that we see most often. That’s because the underlying issue is the same, regardless of the addiction.
However, different addictions do have different mechanisms – in the brain and your real life. Pornography addiction, for example, can normalize coercion and deviancy and is correlated with depression, infidelity, and divorce. Other potentially addictive behaviors, like exercise, can be healthy when they are done in balanced ways but are harmful when taken to an extreme.
Sex and porn addictions are common behavioral addictions. The Recovery Village estimates that about 3-5% of American adults have some type of sex addiction, while around 5-8% have a porn addiction (also known as PPU, or problematic pornography use).
Shopping addiction has become easy to get trapped in now that online shopping is so easy and ubiquitous. We use the word shopaholic in casual conversation, but compulsive shopping can cause huge financial, emotional, and relational problems:
“People who struggle with shopping addiction typically spend more time and money on shopping than they can afford, and many get into financial problems as a result of their overspending. Shopping addiction can involve both impulsive and compulsive spending, which produce a temporary high.” (Verywell Mind)
Gambling addiction, or compulsive gambling, “is the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on your life.” (Mayo Clinic) Getting gambling addiction help is crucial once you’re asking yourself how to stop gambling. This addiction is difficult to stop without professional help.
Gaming addiction is classified as a disease by the World Health Organization. Warning signs include fatigue, headaches/migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome, and poor hygiene habits. It’s thought that about 1-10% of gamers have an addiction issue.
Food addiction, or compulsive overeating, can be a factor in certain eating disorders, or a behavioral addiction in its own right:“Experiments in animals and humans show that, for some people, the same reward and pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered by addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin are also activated by food, especially highly palatable foods.” (WebMD)
Exercise addiction can be correlated with eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorder but can also occur on its own when someone becomes addicted to the pleasurable feelings triggered by exercise and needs to exercise more and more to get the same effect.
Internet or phone addiction has become increasingly widespread with the prevalence of smartphones and social media. In South Korea, Internet addiction has been recognized as a national health problem. Internet addiction can also foster other addictions, such as gaming or porn. Many apps are designed to “hook” the user’s attention and keep them scrolling.
Other behavioral addictions may include plastic surgery, risky behavior, and work. Individual counseling can help you identify a behavioral addiction and uncover the root causes, side effects, and recovery options.
How to overcome a behavioral addiction
Self-help is often the first thing a person tries when they recognize that their behavior is problematic. When you can acknowledge the problem and start looking for solutions, you’ve taken a giant step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, although self-help often causes an addiction to go into remission, a relapse often occurs. If this is the case for you, getting outside help can help you create lasting change and stay out of the trap of the addiction.
Some options for treating behavioral addictions include individual counseling, group counseling, twelve-step programs, and treating co-occurring mental health issues that can exacerbate the addiction.
In Christian counseling, we integrate proven therapeutic techniques with a faith-based worldview. We believe that God can give you the power for change and that he has provided practical means for healing and living a sober lifestyle from any substance or behavior that has hijacked your brain and habits.
After all, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
If you are struggling with addictive behavior, whether it’s compulsive buying, compulsive shopping, or any other behavior we discussed, don’t let yourself be enslaved to shame and secrecy. Reach out for help today.
“Red Dice”, Courtesy of Jonathan Petersson, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Drugs”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Cigarettes”, Courtesy of Basil MK, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Breaking the Shackles”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Pexels.com, CC0 License