Understanding Behavioral Addictions

January 11, 2016

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Behavioral Addictions

During the course of a person’s life, he or she may engage in different activities which can result in addiction. These activities can include shopping, eating, internet usage, and gambling which are behavioral addictions. In some cases, the method of classifying behavioral addictions is similar to drug and alcohol addiction. Although there is not a specific factor that decides if someone will become an addict, there are similar traits that are universal to addiction.

Behavioral addictions are commonly referred to as non-substance addiction or process addiction. This type of addiction may result in similar negative effects related to drug and alcohol addiction. This type of negative behavior is associated with impulse control and can cause an individual to engage in the behavior compulsively. Similar to drug and alcohol addiction, behavioral addiction is directly linked to the “rush” an individual experiences when engaging in the behavior.

There are common signs of behavioral addictions. Many of these signs are parallel to drug and alcohol addiction. For the most part, these signs are so similar because of the fundamental meaning of addiction. The definition of addiction is to be dependent on a practice or habit that is physically or psychologically habit-forming. Psychological dependence is more common in behavioral addiction because the addiction is directly related to compulsive behavior.

Any activity, behavior, or substance that has become the main focus of an individual’s daily routine, to the elimination of other activities, is considered an addictive behavior. More importantly, this is addictive behavior if it begins harming the individual socially, physically, or mentally. It is important to add that an individual can become compulsively dependent, obsessed, or addicted to anything. Research suggests there are similarities between psychological dependence to activities and physical addiction to chemical. The research implies that these behavior activities can create beta-endorphins in the brain, which offers a feeling of being “high.” Experts believe that when an individual engages in the activity consistently to attain the feeling of euphoria that an addictive cycle is created. In some cases, this can cause the person to become physically addicted to the chemicals in their brain that cause this feeling. Experts suggest that this is why the behavior is repeated, even though it has negative consequences.

Similar Characteristics of Behavioral Addictions

There are several similar characteristics of addictive behaviors:

  • The individual becomes obsessed with the substance, activity, or object
  • The person will engage in the behavior although it causes harm
  • A person compulsively engages in the behavior and finds it difficult to stop
  • When the behavior is not fulfilled the individual experiences restlessness, irritability, depression, or cravings
  • The person does not have control over how much or how long the behavior will last i.e. buying 6 pairs of shoes when they only wanted a belt
  • Denying problems associated with engaging in the behavior, even though others notice the negative effects
  • The individual conceals the behavior after friends or family voiced concerns

The Cause of Addictive Behaviors

Currently, there is no explicit cause of addictive behavior. There is confusion as to why some individuals are more susceptible to addiction and others are not. For example, some people consider an addictive behavior such as compulsive gambling a disease. While others suggest the behavior is a response to the combination of environment and heredity. The lack of consensus between experts causes difficulties with treatment and prevention. Some experts suggest total abstinence, while others suggest a moderate use approach.

Why Behaviors Become Addictive

When individuals engage in certain behaviors, particularly behaviors that are gratifying or risky, they experience an instant response. This response is generally an adrenaline rush or a feeling of euphoria. When the feeling or the rush of euphoria is repeated, the activity is reinforced. Stimulating behaviors such as eating or having sex are required for sustenance and procreation. These behaviors are a critical part of human survival, and are not typically considered dangerous when done in moderation. However, the impulse and immediate feeling of gratification caused by these behaviors are extremely addictive for some.

In most cases, the brain releases dopamine and this causes the euphoric feeling the person feels when engaging in behaviors like eating and having sex. This is directly associated with the reward center in the brain. Similar to drug addiction, dopamine is released at a higher level than normal, and this reinforces the feeling to repeat the behavior. Normal behaviors such as having sex or eating typically produce low levels of euphoria; however, the behavior can become increasingly addictive for an individual who suffers from a behavioral addiction.

Other behaviors such as shopping, gambling, and gaming offer a risk which creates an adrenaline rush. This rush also produces a dopamine release. Stressful or exciting behaviors that cause an adrenaline rush may cause a person to experience sweating, rapid heart rate, and pupil dilation. A few of these effects are slightly similar to effects caused by stimulant drugs like cocaine and heroin. An adrenaline rush serves as the body’s natural method of preparing for action, and this feeling can be extremely addictive for some people. In some cases, this can be addictive for people who are not considered addicts. For example, some people are referred to as “adrenaline junkies.” These are individuals who actively seek out thrills by engaging in high risk activities such as parasailing, sky diving, and bungee jumping.

It is human nature for people to want to feel good and engage in activities that are pleasurable. The brain has a natural method of rewarding positive and negative behaviors. For the most part, this method is not generally problematic; however, for people who are at a higher risk for addiction, compulsive behavior can quickly lead to addiction.

What People are at Higher Risks for Behavioral Addictions?

People with Low Self-Esteem

Generally, when a person does not realize their own worth, happiness, and self value, addictive behaviors can offer a sense of euphoria, relief, and power. Many people suffering from low self-esteem receive happiness from an outside source, rather than from within, and this opens the door for wanting a higher reward when engaging in enjoyable and pleasant behaviors.

Those Suffering from Guilt, Trauma, and Loss

In some cases, repressed trauma or the loss of a loved one can cause inner turmoil when unaddressed. There can also be pent-up guilt over transgressions that can be devastating. When the reason for the turmoil is identifiable, it is easier for some individuals to “escape” through addictive behaviors. Pain and depression caused by suffering can open the door for addictive behaviors. When these events occur, there is a continuous desire to want to “escape” the reality of the problem.

Those with Poor Communication and Social Skills

One of the most effective methods of solving problems is communication. This is a life-sustaining skill and socialization is vital to human survival. Those that have yet to develop communication skills have difficulty conveying how they feel and what they need or desire. The inability to cope with life’s problems and find the path to happiness can cause an increase in addictive behavior. The lack of communication and social skills can weaken self-esteem, and cause stress that has no positive outlet. This type of stress can easily lead to engaging in isolating behaviors such as cutting, internet usage, gambling, and gaming.

Behavioral Addiction Treatment and Prevention

When a person suffers from addiction, there is typically a basic cause for the behavior. The addiction can develop for a number of reasons. Similar to drugs and alcohol, the most effective method of overcoming the addiction is to understand the root of the problem. It is important to understand that behavioral addiction is usually a symptom of deep, underlying issues. These issues can drive an individual to engage in compulsive and destructive behaviors. For that reason, it is crucial to help the person and heal the mind. More importantly, the body and spirit need healing.

When dealing with behavioral addiction it is vital to implement the required tools to feel empowerment. Awareness of the addiction and understanding the root cause can help reclaim a cheerful and healthy life. Although there are many causes of behavioral addiction, these problems can be overcome with individualized treatment. This type of treatment is most effective because it helps to understand the specific problem an individual may have. This treatment is beneficial because it is specifically tailored to the individual. Individualized treatment helps understand the individual’s personal belief systems and preference.

It is important to note that many behaviors can be addictive, and in order to avoid these dangerous behaviors a person has to maintain control. Although there is not a specific factor that decides if someone will become an addict, there are similar traits to pay attention to that are universal to addiction. When an individual loses control of his or her impulses, this opens the door for addiction. Overcoming behavioral addictions requires significant insight and understanding in order to effectively heal the individual.

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