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.
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.
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?
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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.
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Sex is considered by most people as a natural part of living. However, the term sexual addiction is frequently used to describe the problem some people have when they act out sexually in ways they feel they cannot control, and which are detrimental to their health and relationships. However, there is no official clinical diagnosis of sex addiction, making consistent identification and treatment difficult of some. While there is no official diagnosis for sex addiction, clinicians and researchers have attempted to define the disorder using criteria based on chemical dependency literature. They include: 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.
All behavioural addictions share common traits, such as:
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.
Behavioural addiction treatment and rehabilitation presents 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. For this reason, some types of behavioural addiction treatment programs focus primarily on rehabilitation and recovery rather than detoxification or abstinence.
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 the behavioural addiction.