Although behavioral addictions are seldom deadly, they can destroy your quality of life as effectively as substance abuse does. Gambling addiction or shopping addiction, for example, can ruin you financially. Sex addiction can destroy your family life, food addictions can mess up your health, and internet addiction makes you unsociable and physically inactive.

In recent years, behavioral addictions are finally being taken seriously as the potentially crippling disorders that they really are.

Is it just something you like doing, or are you an addict?

Behavioral addictions have many of the same symptoms as alcohol or drug addictions. Ask yourself these three questions if you think you may have a behavioral addiction:

  1. Do I have control over how much and how often I indulge in my behavior?
  2. Do a feel uncomfortable or experience a feeling of craving when I’m not able to practice the behavior?
  3. Do I continue with my behavior despite adverse consequences?

Look out for the signs that characterize addiction:

  1. You get defensive if someone asks you about your addiction.
  2. You hide what you are doing because you are ashamed.
  3. You have financial and / or relationship problems because of your addiction.
  4. You constantly think about the behavior you’re addicted to.
  5. You neglect things you know you ought to do in favor of the addictive behavior.

Common behavioral addictions

Behavioral addiction works in much the same way as substance addiction. The addict gets a kick or a ‘high’ out of the activity. They begin to practice that behavior to a point where it is excessive and it starts adversely affecting their lives. They keep on with the activity even though it is causing problems for them, and they experience psychological withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop.

Almost any activity can become a behavioral addiction, but common ones include:

  • Gambling or gaming
  • Internet
  • Exercise
  • Sex
  • Shopping
  • Food-related addictions
  • Risky behavior
  • Work addiction

What causes behavioral addictions?

Behavioral addictions may not be physical, but they’re still a very real problem for those who suffer from them. As with substance addictions, the root cause is often psychological. Something about the behavior they are addicted to serves to fulfil an emotional need – and quitting can be just as hard as recovering from drugs or alcohol.

Experts say that’s behavioral addicts repeatedly flood their brains with ‘reward’ chemicals such as a dopamine, and when the level of dopamine begins to drop, the typical ‘craving’ sensation takes over.

Drug users find that they have to increase doses or frequency of use to get the same effect as they did the first few times, and behavioral addicts have a similar problem. As time goes on, going on a $500 shopping spree or betting a few dollars on the turn of a card just isn’t enough to be satisfying. They up the ante only to find that in a little while, the $1000 shopping spree and the high-stakes bets aren’t enough either.

What treatments work?

Outpatient treatments are more often successful in curing behavioral addictions than substance addictions, but inpatient treatment offers a good chance of success since it takes the person away from the familiar environment they associate with the addiction. Once they have a head start, recovering addicts undertake the difficult process of recovery while living a normal life.

Whichever option is chosen, one-on-one counselling and group therapy will form the basis of the treatment. Group therapy follows the familiar 12-step program that is so successful in helping addicts to overcome their issues through facilitated meetings with peers who share their problem.

It’s also important to take care of your health through proper diet and exercise, and build an active social life. With the help of your counsellor, you’ll discover what caused you to slip into a behavioral addiction, so you’ll be working on your mental health too.

What’s the first step towards recovery?

Knowing that you have a problem that has to be overcome is the first step towards recovery. You will probably find that you need help in order to quit. That doesn’t mean that you are a bad or weak person, it’s the nature of true addiction. You have to get help.

Nowadays, there are several organizations that help with behavioral addictions and treatment centers that specialize in addiction are increasingly getting geared up to help people with behavioral addictions. After all, the same therapies work. Reaching out for help is the next important step to take once you realize that you have a problem.