What Are Addictive Behaviors?

When we think of addiction, what normally comes to mind are drugs and alcohol. After all, substance abuse is what gets the most attention. What many people don’t realize is that certain behaviors can be as addictive as any drug for some people. These people might not develop an obvious physical dependency to a substance, but they still crave the feelings that these behaviors give them, and they are still compelled to engage in them, often at the expense of other things in their lives. These addictive behaviors aren’t inherently bad. Most of them are totally innocuous for most people, and some of them can even be healthy. It’s when people become all but obsessed with them and feel compelled to engage in them to an unhealthy degree that they become a problem.

What Is an Addictive Behavior?

An addictive behavior is any behavior or stimulus that is both rewarding and reinforcing. Simply put, if you do something that makes you feel good enough that you’ll want to do it again, it can become an addictive behavior. Some common addictive behaviors include:

  • Playing video games
  • Gambling
  • Using a smartphone
  • Sex
  • Shopping
  • Using the Internet
  • Exercising
  • Binge eating
  • Any thrill-seeking activities

This is by no means a complete list. As we said above, any activity that makes you feel good can become an addictive behavior. You might also notice that many of these activities seem fairly innocent and are very common. Not everyone engages in dangerous thrill-seeking activities, but just about everyone these days uses a smartphone and spends time on the Internet.

Phones and the Internet are tools that are useful for just about anyone, so how can they be considered bad things? The same goes for exercise and sex. Everyone should exercise regularly, and sex can be a healthy and beautiful thing as long as people are responsible when they engage in it. The problem is that all of these things provide some kind of reward for us and influence our future behavior to some degree. Most people can handle that, but some crave those rewards so much that they feel like they need to constantly seek it out.

Signs of a Behavioral Addiction

A behavioral addiction can be difficult to spot, if only because a lot of people don’t realize that it can be as serious as an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Still, there are still plenty of signs that someone might be addicted to a certain behavior. Some of these include:

  • An inability to stop the addictive behavior even when you know it’s harmful.
  • A feeling of shame after the behavior is done.
  • The desire to engage in increasingly risky behavior.
  • A craving for the behavior when you’re not engaged in it.
  • Using drugs and alcohol while engaging in the behavior.

A lot of people with behavioral addictions try to justify their actions by saying that it is a defense mechanism to cope with mental health issues. For example, someone with low self-esteem or poor body image might develop an addiction to exercise. They might never feel like they’re thin enough or muscular enough, so they spend all of their time exercising to the detriment of their jobs, their relationships, and just about every other aspect of their lives.

Treating Behavioral Addictions

Addictive behaviors can be just as damaging as an addiction to drugs or alcohol. They can and have ruined lives when they go untreated. The good news is that treatment for behavioral addictions are available. Many of these treatments are similar to the treatments that we offer for drug and alcohol addiction, except there is obviously no need to get over a physical dependency.

Much of the treatment involves therapy either in a one-on-one setting with a therapist or with a support group to treat the underlying issues that may have led to the addiction. Some of these treatments might require you to stay in a structured environment for at time similar to a sober living house, but many people are able to stay at home. If you believe that you are struggling with a behavioral addiction or someone you care about is struggling, contact us at any time. We will be happy to help you find the treatment that you need to live a healthy life. Call us at 302-842-2390.