When talking about addiction, drugs and alcohol are usually the first things that come to mind. But in reality, people can become addicted to certain behaviors as well. Here you’ll find some answers to common questions about behavioral addictions and what treatment for these addictions looks like.
The human brain is hardwired to seek dopamine, which is the chemical that our body releases when we engage in pleasurable or rewarding activities. Getting a surge of dopamine makes us feel good, at least for the moment, and our brain identifies and reinforces the behaviors that trigger dopamine receptors. It’s well known that the drugs that humans commonly abuse increase the amount of dopamine released by our neurons, but certain behaviors we partake in will trigger this as well.
Because our brains are always seeking dopamine, we return to the behaviors that gave us that initial rush and do them again and again. Over time, we need to engage in these behaviors more frequently to get that same rush. And this is at the core of how people develop behavioral addictions. While these addictions aren’t dependent on a substance like opioids, alcohol, or nicotine, the idea behind it is similar. People may experience intense cravings to engage in the behavior, and once they start, they may find it difficult or impossible to stop.
A behavioral addiction becomes a problem when it starts interfering with a person’s daily life. Instead of engaging in behaviors that need to get done, like attending work or school, paying bills, doing chores, or keeping up with self-care, a person may feel a compulsive need to turn to the behavior that they’re addicted to. This can lead to financial issues, problems with relationships, or trouble keeping up in work or at school.
There are a number of behaviors that can lead to addiction, especially in people who are genetically predisposed to addiction or other mental illnesses. Here is a list of some of the most common behavioral addictions:
While the symptoms of behavioral addictions can be alarming, like drug and alcohol addictions, they respond well to treatment. If you or a loved one is experiencing behavioral addiction, there is help! First, it’s important to identify the underlying cause of the addiction. Are there other concurrent conditions like depression, anxiety, or ADHD? Sometimes, like in the case of drugs, people use behaviors to self-medicate and find relief from issues in their personal lives. The first step towards overcoming addiction is figuring out what issues we may be running from in our lives.
Next, like with drugs and alcohol, a person needs to identify the triggers that cause them to engage in that behavior. Maybe someone turns to online shopping after a difficult day at work or buys a lottery ticket every time they pass a certain convenience store. Identifying triggers can help you avoid them if possible and seek out healthier means of coping with distress in your life.
Finally, a person will need to detox from the behavior. This means that they have to stop engaging in that particular behavior for a period of time. This is not to say that someone can never play a video game or go shopping or have sex again, but they need to learn to recognize when the behavior is getting out of hand and how to stop it before it becomes an issue again. This is a difficult step for many people, because it’s so easy to fall back into old patterns of behavior, even if you’ve been in recovery for many years. Continued support is an important part of the recovery process, and it’s essential for the person suffering from addiction to find support groups and healthy relationships, and keep up with the treatment for the long term.
It’s difficult to predict how long recovery will take, but for many people, it’s an ongoing process. If you or someone you know is struggling with a behavioral addiction, there is no shame in seeking help! Though you may be in a tough spot right now, recovery is possible. It’s important to find a comprehensive treatment center that specializes in behavioral addictions so that you can get started on the path towards wellness.