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Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions are similar to substance addictions in several ways.  Both disorders exhibit diminished control over one’s behavior.  Currently, the concept of behavioral addictions is somewhat controversial.  Yet, studies show that a person’s inability to resist harmful temptations or impulses is a core defining factor in behavioral and substance addictions.

People with behavioral addictions report feeling an urge or craving to engage in the behavior.  As with substance addictions, the cravings cause a compulsive need to repeat the behavior and experience a sense of gratification.  

Another similarity between the two disorders is that the person will commit illegal acts to achieve their goal.  Substance abusers often resort to lying, burglary, embezzlement, prostitution, or other nefarious means to support their addiction.  Likewise, someone with behavioral addiction will also engage in desperate measures to get their fix. 

Behavioral addictions are also referred to as non-substance addictions or impulse control disorders.  The individual becomes dependent on specific behavior and will compulsively seek opportunities to engage in the act.  

What Are the Most Common Behavioral Addictions?

In today’s society, people are conditioned to seek instant gratification.  With the constant deluge of entertainment and other distractions, people become desensitized.  Boredom or apathy soon leads a person to seek other outlets for the stimulation or excitement they crave.  

Some of the most common non-substance addictions that give people a sense of calm or euphoria can include:

  • Social media
  • Internet
  • Gambling
  • Shopping
  • Food
  • Kleptomania
  • Sex, pornography
  • Gaming
  • Exercise
  • Risk-taking behavior

The above non-substance addictions are characterized by a compulsive, recurrent pattern of behavior that can interfere with a person’s essential functioning in daily life. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) does not list any behavioral addictions except gambling.  After gambling was included in the DSM-5 edition, it became recognized as the first behavioral addiction.  

Of course, not all impulsive control disorders can be classified as behavioral addictions.  However, the similarities between obsessive-compulsive disorders and substance use disorders warrant further research.

Relationship Between Behavioral Addictions and Substance Use Disorder

Studies show that there is a connection between behavioral addictions and substance use disorders.  For instance, individuals with gambling disorders are also likely to engage in tobacco use or alcohol abuse.  The following statistics suggest that the co-occurrence of SUDs and non-substance disorders are common.  For instance, the likelihood that a person with behavioral addiction will also have substance use problems is as follows:

  • Gambling and SUD:  35% – 63%
  • Shopping and SUD:  21% – 46%
  • Kleptomania and SUD:  23% – 50%
  • Internet addiction and SUD:  38%
  • Sex addiction and SUD:  64%

Furthermore, people with bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, OCD, or ADHD are also likely to struggle with co-occurring behavioral addictions and SUDs.

Do Genetics Influence Addictive Behaviors?

Experts agree that genetics may be a contributing factor in a person’s behavioral addiction.  A family history of substance use, depression, or other psychiatric disorders is common among individuals with SUDs or behavioral problems.  

Genes are part of DNA and they provide information that is vital to the body’s cellular activity.  Changes in the genes, known as mutations, can be inherited from a parent or can occur during a person’s lifetime.  These genes can make a person more vulnerable to addictions.  Scientists estimate that about 40 to 60 percent of a person’s propensity for addiction comes from genetic factors.  

According to the NIAAA, genes alone don’t determine whether a person develops substance use disorder.  Environmental factors also play a significant role.  Factors such as stress, peer pressure, and relationship problems are some of the environmental influences that lead a person to addictive behaviors.

Risk Factors for SUDs and Behavioral Addictions

Addictive behaviors are often the result of a combination of risk factors.  The more of these risk factors a person has, the more likely they are to develop substance use problems or behavioral addictions.  Some of the more common risk factors include:

  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • Poor social skills
  • Poverty
  • Access to drugs or alcohol
  • Peer pressure
  • Witnessing violence or crime

According to researchers, behavioral addictions and SUDs are not driven by only one of the above.  In most cases, a person is subjected to a combination of mental disorders and environmental influences that increase their vulnerability.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Non-Substance Addiction

As with substance addictions, a person with behavioral addictions enjoys a “high” followed by feelings of remorse, guilt, or shame.  These individuals also struggle with withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t able to engage in their activity.  Their withdrawal symptoms are more emotional than physical.  Some of the symptoms include irritability, anxiety, sadness, moodiness, anger, and guilt.

Warning Signs of a Behavioral Addiction

Some behavioral addictions are the same as normal activities.  So, it’s hard to realize that a person has become addicted to them.  To determine if someone is developing an addiction to a specific activity or behavior, become familiar with the following warning signs:

  • Inability to stop the activity or behavior despite adverse consequences.
  • Dependence on the behavior as a coping mechanism.
  • The behavior is a primary focus each day such as thinking about it, planning it, and recovering from it.
  • Neglects school, work, or family to engage in the behavior.
  • Experiences withdrawals such as depression, irritability, or anxiety when trying to stop the behavior.
  • Lying or otherwise trying to hide the extent of the problem.

Whether a behavior is considered an addiction or not, the results can be devastating.  Compulsive behaviors can become a priority in a person’s life.  As a result, they neglect daily responsibilities.  Relationships fall apart.  Also, their family members struggle with guilt, shame, anger, and money problems. 

How to Avoid Developing Behavioral Addictions

People who have a family history of substance use are at increased risk for developing SUDs or behavioral addictions.  But, this does not mean that it has to happen.  Some of the most effective methods for preventing addiction are as follows:

  1. Learn the symptoms of addiction.
  2. Find effective methods for managing stress.
  3. Maintain healthy relationships with substance-free individuals.
  4. Learn about your family’s history regarding substance use or mental illnesses.
  5. Work to enforce strong family ties.
  6. Seek relationship counseling if needed.

If you are genetically predisposed to addiction and have symptoms, professional treatment is the best option.  

What are the Best Treatment Options?

Treatment for behavioral addictions should include psychotherapy or counseling to address the emotional aspects of the disorder.  Also, many of the methodologies used to treat substance addictions are effective in helping a person manage their behavioral disorders.  

These programs provide the skills training and education a person needs for overcoming their emotional difficulties.  Some of the treatment options may include self-help groups, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and group or individual counseling.

Most addictions develop due to a combination of physical, emotional, environmental, and social components. Effective, lasting recovery is dependent on the simultaneous treatment of all contributing factors.  At Cycles of Change Recovery, we offer a comprehensive, holistic approach to treatment that is individualized for each client’s unique needs.  

To learn more about our programs, please contact us at our Lancaster, California facility today.  Our skilled representatives will be happy to answer your questions and recommend a treatment plan that is right for you.  You can relax in a secure, comforting facility where you can focus on healing.  

With the guidance and support of our compassionate staff, clients get the level of respect and attention they need while in our care.  We strive to help clients take back control of their minds and bodies so they can enjoy the freedom that comes when addiction no longer dominates their life.



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