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Behavioral Addictions

There are two types of addiction – addictions that involve substances and addictions that involve behaviors. When we speak about addiction, we are most commonly referring to drug and alcohol dependency. The term itself, and all the ways in which it’s used, has been a hot topic of controversy in the medical community for many years. How does one define addiction when it is a mental disorder that varies so significantly on a person-to-person basis? Some suggest that addiction is easily defined by a distinctive pattern of behaviors and symptoms pertaining to a specific substance or activity. The DSM-V confirms that addiction can be defined by behaviors, and by specific responses that result from not being able to use the substance or engage in the activity. Once an addictive disorder has manifested, it will look extremely different on a person-to-person basis – even if the substance or activity is the same. For example, one individual who struggles with alcoholism might resent with completely different psychological symptoms as another individual that struggles with alcoholism (of course, the same base symptoms will be the same – heavy and persistent drinking despite personal consequences).

The International Journal of Preventive Medicine published a study entitled “Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction: Correspondence of Psychiatric and Psychological Views” in 2012. The study examines the relationship between substance abuse and behavioral addictions. The results of the study are as follows, “Behavioral addiction such as internet addiction is similar to drug addiction except that in the former, the individual is not addicted to a substance but the behavior or the feeling brought about by the relevant action. In addition, the physical signs of drug addiction are absent in behavioral addiction. Others have stated that behaviorally addicted individuals have certain symptoms and will undergo the same consequences brought about by addiction to alcohol and drugs as well as other obsessive behaviors.” What does this all mean? Basically, the two disorders have similarities and differences. Both involve obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Some symptoms of the two disorders are similar, symptoms like issues within interpersonal relationships, problems within the professional life, and general mental well-being. Other symptoms are dissimilar, and the overall treatment methods will also likely be dissimilar. Whereas those addicted to a chemical substance will need to undergo medical detox and inpatient addiction treatment, those suffering from a behavioral addiction will benefit more from prolonged and intensive psychotherapy.

Types of Behavioral Addiction

In many instances, behavioral addictions and substance abuse disorders will be comorbid – or, exists at the same time. For example, someone with a gambling addiction may also suffer from alcohol abuse; someone with an eating disorder may also be addicted to methamphetamine. This could be because one addiction eventually leads to another… maybe a gambling addict drinks to help cope with his rapidly accumulating financial debt. Maybe a woman struggling with anorexia nervosa will turn to methamphetamine, a known appetite suppressant, to assist her in losing weight. No matter what the case may be, behavioral addictions and substance dependence disorders are often closely intertwined.
Below is a list of several common behavioral addictions:

  • Gambling addiction. The American Psychiatric Association considered addictive gambling a serious addictive disorder, and notes that of all behavioral addictions, compulsive gambling most closely resembles drug and alcohol abuse. Similar parts of the brain are affected – namely the reward center. Gambling addicts can engage in a wide range of activities, from compulsively purchasing scratch-off lotto tickets to placing bets on sporting events. Not all gambling addicts will be found in the casino.
  • Sex addiction. Hypersexual activity can present itself in numerous forms. An individual who is struggling with sex addiction might engage in promiscuous, unprotected sex with multiple partners, or might masturbate compulsively. As is the case with substance dependency disorders, it has been found that sex addiction is usually best treated with a combination of psychotherapy and a 12 step program of recovery (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous). Love addiction is similar, but with a focus on romantic relationships and falling in love/bouncing from partner to partner after the “honeymoon phase” is over.
  • Eating disorders. Eating disorders are considered to be behavioral addictions, and are characterized by an unhealthy and obsessive relationship with food. Eating disorders take on many different forms. Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that leads to self-starvation and harsh dietary restrictions, while bulimia is characterized by bingeing and purging behaviors. Compulsive overeating is another common food-related disorder.
  • Shopping addiction. Shopping addiction concerns those who compulsively spend money on things they don’t need. Individuals who struggle with shopping addiction will spend ample time at the mall or other retail outlets and spend money in order to distract themselves from feeling uncomfortable emotions.
  • Internet addiction. This is a relatively new behavioral addiction, one that – of course – did not exist prior to the invention of the internet. Internet addiction is characterized by a disproportionate amount of time spent online. It is suggested that those suffering from internet addiction will spend as much as 11 hours per day browsing the web.
  • Video game addiction. Video game addiction is most common amongst members of the male sex. A recent study concluded that 1 out of every 10 men under the age of 18 are compulsive gamers, meaning that they spend a disproportionate amount of time playing video games. For video game addicts, the games act as a form of escapism – they begin to feel more like reality than fantasy.
  • Plastic surgery addiction. This addiction has become more and more prevalent with the rise of celebrity and physical comparison. From time to time, we all compare ourselves to celebrities… “Wow, if only I was that skinny,” or, “I wish I had that same sense of style.” In large part, social media is to blame. This has truly become the age of comparison – many of us are dissatisfied in our own skin. Plastic surgery addiction is often tied to body dysmorphic disorder. No matter how good an individual thinks he or she looks, they feel there is always room for improvement. Many plastic surgery addicts will do irreparable physical damage to their bodies.
  • Adrenaline addiction. You have probably heard the term, “adrenaline junky.” Those who are addicted to adrenaline are addicted to the feeling of danger; of being out of control. They seek out dangerous situations, like skydiving, bungee jumping, or riding the most intense roller coasters at theme parks. Usually, adrenaline addicts will seek out things that get their heart racing to the point that they forget other, deeper issues that are occurring in their lives.

Intrepid Detox Residential and Behavioral Addictions

At Intrepid Detox Residential, we treat behavioral addictions and substance abuse simultaneously. We understand that the two often go hand in hand, and our staff is made up of a combination of psychotherapists, addiction specialists, and highly trained and compassionate counselors who will work together to ensure you are receiving the most comprehensive and quality care available. To learn more about behavioral addictions or our addiction treatment program, please feel free to give us a call today. We look forward to speaking with you, and getting you started on your personal journey of addiction recovery as quickly as possible.

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