Behavioral addictions begin the same way that drug or alcohol addictions do; neurotransmitters and other natural chemicals will flood the brain whenever an addiction-prone or an individual that has an affinity to addiction engages in these activities. While most of the population can take part in these behaviors without becoming addicted, vulnerable people can find themselves craving and participating in the action at unhealthy levels. While it’s true that behavioral addictions don’t cause a physical dependence like opiates or meth, people with a behavioral addiction will experience similar adverse consequences.
What makes a behavioral addiction so hard to treat is that these activities are deemed acceptable in society. For example, it’s incredibly difficult to abstain from using the internet because the internet is pervasive in modern society.
There are four distinct behavioral addictions that healthcare officials and addiction specialists currently recognize:
What are the signs and symptoms of a behavioral addiction?
Behavioral addictions don’t display the same withdrawal symptoms prevalent in drug and alcohol abuse. However, the emotional and mental symptoms are similar.
- Guilt and shame
- Missing work, school, or significant events
- Fighting with friends and family
- Sleep disturbances
- Lack of self-care
Also, there are physical consequences to these behavioral addictions. For example, people with sex addiction may suffer from STIs, and internet and gaming addicts can develop carpal tunnel, headaches, and suffer from neck and back pain. Psychological withdrawal symptoms are similar to those seen in drug addiction, including cravings, anxiety, and problems sleeping.
How are behavioral addictions diagnosed?
Growing evidence suggests that behavioral addictions are closely related to substance abuse and addiction, and respond to the same type of treatment methods. The disorders are diagnosed with similar criteria, too. If a person has a compulsion to participate in these behaviors but experiences negative consequences and still can’t bring themselves to stop, a behavior addiction is diagnosed. From there, mental health professionals and therapists can begin formulating a treatment plan tailored to the individual.
Who is most at-risk for gambling addiction?
Recent statistics show that older adults are more likely to gamble, but young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are the most likely to develop a gambling addiction or become ‘problem gamblers.’ Overall, gambling has increased throughout all levels of society because it’s now easier than ever for anyone to place bets thanks to technology. While gambling has increased in the last ten years, gambling addiction levels have remained constant. The only difference is the rise in young people reporting a gambling addiction.
Surveys conducted throughout North America in recent years suggest the trend of young people with gambling addictions is on the rise, most notably in teenagers. While up to 88% of adult populations report not participating in gambling activities within the last calendar year, between 39% to 92% of surveyed teens say they’ve engaged in gambling activities. Studies with higher numbers of male adolescent participants reported higher levels of gambling.
While most of the surveyed teens don’t have a gambling addiction, a significant subset of teenagers do, with even more at risk for developing a severe addiction in the future. Between 4% and 8% report gambling-related problems, and between 10% and 15% are considered high-risk for developing a gambling addiction. People with gambling addiction are more likely to be male, between the ages of 14 and 30, and also suffer from comorbid alcohol abuse.
Up to 41% of people who play video games say they do it as a way to escape from real life. Again, technology plays a crucial role in the rise and prevalence of gaming addiction. Researchers claim that up to 7% of all video game players are addicted to the activity.
Adolescents and young adults are at a higher risk of developing a gaming addiction than their older peers. Male adolescents with authoritarian parents, who believe they are smarter at role-playing games than personal relationships, are the most likely to suffer from gaming addiction. People with high levels of anxiety, aggression, and neuroticism are also the most at-risk of developing this behavioral addiction. Online role-playing games and multiplayer games are reported to be the most addictive.
People who use the computer, obsessively checking emails, social media, or compulsively shop online despite the consequences are diagnosed as having an internet addiction. Up to 8.2% of the adult population in Europe and North America suffer from this behavioral disorder. Adolescents and senior citizens are the most likely to suffer from internet use addiction disorder. Nonsmokers, nondrinkers, and women are the most likely to develop an internet addiction. Up to 61% of surveyed adults claim that they would have a hard time giving up the internet for a week.
How are behavioral addictions treated?
Unfortunately, these behavioral addictions are relatively new to the medical and mental health lexicon. The prevalence of these disorders has increased in tandem with the rise in technology, which is a new phenomenon. Right now, there is no standardized method for diagnosing these disorders, but mental health professionals can help people overcome them and develop healthier ways of dealing with these compulsions. Cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy, and group therapy are known to be effective in helping treat these addictions.
Also, people with behavioral addictions often suffer from comorbid mental health disorders or substance abuse. Doctors will usually diagnose and treat these disorders while also developing a treatment plan for the behavioral addiction.
People with behavioral addictions may not suffer the same physical risks to their health that people with drug addiction experience. But, leaving a behavioral disorder untreated can cause immense suffering for the person addicted and their loved ones. If you or someone you care about has a behavioral disorder, don’t hesitate to contact a qualified therapist and get the help you need.
Treating Behavioral Addictions
Other Behavioral Addictions
HOW TO TELL IF YOU HAVE A BEHAVIORAL ADDICTION
Though most people engage in the above behaviors, they’re not classified as addictions until the following criteria are met:
- The person starts struggling with mental health or physical health issues as a consequence of the behavior and/or the inability to stop.
- The person develops issues with significant relationships at home and/or at work because the behavior is so all-consuming.
- The person experiences various negative effects that have been caused specifically by continued, elevated or chronic engagement in the behavior.
- The person is unable to quit despite how negatively their life may be impacted.
Overall symptoms include:
- The inability to resist impulses
- Loss of interest in anything else
- Withdrawal in forms of irritability when addiction can’t be engaged in.
Unfortunately, there’s rarely one single cause that is responsible for a process addiction; oftentimes, they’re born from a combination of elements that include:
- Genetic Predisposition
- A Permissive Environment
- A severe trauma
- Acute stress
As with substance abuse, treatment may necessitate a highly structured environment to help the person interrupt acting on urges.