A Guide To Behavioural Addictions And Treatment

Alcohol and drugs are not the only forms of addiction. In fact, any activity that produces a high (a release of dopamine) to the user can become habit forming. Behavioural addictions are just as destructive as drugs or alcohol and can leave individuals in financial ruin and/or in trouble with the law. The below guide looks at a number of different behavioural addictions and treatment options.

What Is A Behavioural Addiction?

Behavioural addiction refers to a condition in which a person engages in a particular behaviour repeatedly; and despite being aware that it is causing them harm, they simply cannot resist engaging in it. Common behavioural addictions — also known as process addictions — include gambling addiction, shopping addiction, sex and love addiction, and kleptomania (impulsive stealing). While the compulsivity associated with behavioural addictions may seem uncontrollable, treatment options are available to those who suffer from them.

Some of the most common behavioural addictions we treat here include internet addiction, sex and love addiction and gambling addiction.

Internet Addiction

The warning signs and symptoms of internet addiction will vary from person to person, so there is no definitive number of hours per day or a total number of messages sent or games played that would indicate an addiction. However, there are ways in which to tell if your internet use has become problematic. But why do people become addicted to the internet?

  • Accessibility: Most people can get online easily and almost immediately, at any time of day or night.
  • Control: People can go online when they want and without other people knowing, causing them to feel in control.
  • Excitement: Going online gives people a sort of “high.”
  • The combination of accessibility, control, and excitement make the addicted person want to continue going online.

View our internet addiction treatment page

Gambling Addiction

For many people, gambling is a low-risk recreational activity, for others however, it can quickly shift from casual pastime to serious addiction.

As is the case with any addiction, gambling becomes a problem when it begins to affect a person’s life in a negative way. A gambling addiction can lead to a complete loss of financial, familial, social, educational, or occupational control and functioning.

Gambling is considered to be very much like other substances, in that it is associated with a release of dopamine in the brain as much as 10 times more than what is normal. Dopamine has been referred to as the “feel good” neurotransmitter, and this special signalling chemical is active throughout the reward centres of the brain. So the release of dopamine tells your brain, “This feels good! I want more!” What begins as a harmless good feeling can turn into a compulsive need in some people.

View our gambling addiction treatment page

Sex Addiction

Frequently engaging in more sex and with more partners than intended. Being preoccupied with or persistently craving sex; wanting to cut down and unsuccessfully attempting to limit sexual activity.

Thinking of sex to the detriment of other activities or continually engaging in excessive sexual practices despite a desire to stop. Spending considerable time in activities related to sex, such as cruising for partners or spending hours online visiting pornographic Web sites. Neglecting obligations such as work, school or family in pursuit of sex.

View our sex and love addiction treatment page

Signs and Symptoms of Behavioural Addictions

All behavioural addictions share common traits, such as:

  • Preoccupation with the behaviour
  • Diminished ability to control the behaviour
  • Building up a tolerance to the behaviour so the behaviour is needed more often or in greater intensity to get the desired gratification
  • Experiencing withdrawal if the behaviour is avoided or resisted
  • Experiencing adverse psychological consequences, such as depression or anxiety symptoms, when the behaviour is avoided or resisted.

Mental health professionals and addiction experts continue to debate the existence of and diagnostic criteria for other behavioural addictions such as sex, gaming, internet, and porn addiction, but evidence is mounting to support their validity as a diagnosable addiction.

Treatment and Rehab for Behavioural Addiction.

Behavioural addiction treatment and rehabilitation present a challenge in many cases because, unlike treatment for drugs or alcohol, abstinence can be impossible. For example, a person who is addicted to overeating cannot cut food out of their life.

In many behavioural addiction treatment programs, therapy is based on the cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) model. CBT focuses on eliminating unhealthy or negative behaviours by replacing them with positive, healthier options.

This form of treatment teaches new behavioural patterns as well, but the focus is usually on the motivations behind the behaviour rather than the physical actions themselves. One of the main goals of CBT is to change or modify the thought processes that led to behavioural addiction.

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