The Key Differences Between Behavioral Addictions and Substance Abuse

When we hear the word ‘addiction’, we probably think of drugs and alcohol, but there are many different types of addiction that exist. According to behavioral scientists, an addiction is formed whenever a habit changes into an obligation. This habit can be either behavioral (gambling or shopping, for example) or it can be a substance-related. Although behavioral and substance addictions may seem similar, they each have different effects on one’s body, brain and lifestyle. Thankfully, both can be overcome through therapy, rehabilitation or lifestyle changes.

Differences in How the Brain is Affected

Substance addiction and behavioral addiction are similar in that they trigger feelings of tension or arousal before indulging in a behavior or substance. Feelings of pleasure and gratification are then present at the time of indulgence. This is because upon experiencing pleasure or a reward, the brain releases dopamine, the pleasure chemical. However, substance addiction affects the brain in ways that go beyond dopamine release. Since substance addiction involves ingesting chemicals (drugs and alcohol) that tap into the brain’s communication system and interfere with neurons, the brain of a substance addict often transmits abnormal messages throughout the body’s network. These can potentially cause long-term damage.

Differences in How the Body is Affected

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Intense and debilitating physical symptoms of addiction are exclusive to substance addiction due to the physical nature of withdrawal and the side effects of ingesting a toxic substance. These symptoms may include vomiting, hallucinations, increased heart rate or slurred speech. However, some behavioral addicts do find that they experience mild physical withdrawal symptoms such as exhaustion, tremors and restlessness upon cessation of the addictive behavior.

Behavioral addicts are more likely to experience physical side effects that are directly related to the behavior they’re addicted to. For example, someone who is addicted to video games may experience poor hygiene, obesity or malnutrition due to their sedentary lifestyle and tendency to only eat foods that can be prepared quickly. Someone who’s addicted to high risk activities such as bungee jumping may find themselves with frequent injuries due to the dangerous physical nature of the addiction.

How Lifestyle is Affected by Addiction

Both substance and behavioral addictions have significant effects on the addict’s lifestyle, relationships and sense of well-being. In fact, scientists have found that behavioral addicts face the same negative effects to their lifestyle as substance addicts. Due to the nature of tolerance, which occurs when an addict requires more of the substance or behavior to receive the same ‘high’, addicts often hurt themselves and others by spiraling deeper into their addiction. Furthermore, both types of addictions tend to hurt loved ones since addicts often sneak around and lie about their addictions and finances in order to not get caught.

Various Ways to Overcome Addiction

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Behavioral and substance addictions may vary in how they affect an addict’s life, but they’re both serious problems with deeply negative consequences. However, there is hope. Both addictions can be treated with the help of addictions professionals, and full recovery from either addiction is possible.

If you believe you or a loved one may be facing addiction, you should reach out to addiction professionals such as those at Newport Academy or doctors in your community. Professional guidance is very important when it comes to addiction as it provides the best chance for recovery.

There are several different professional treatments that addictions professionals may recommend, including inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment, cognitive-behavioral therapy, detox, family therapy or medication. An addictions professional will work with you or your loved one to find the best fit in treatment.

Feature Image: Michal Parzuchowski