Behavioral addictions can be difficult to understand since some activities to which you can become addicted, such as eating, playing video games or shopping, are regular behaviors that most people do not experience addiction to. However, behavioral addictions can be just as serious as substance addictions and as such it’s important to understand and be able to recognize them.
Behavioral Addictions Have Similarities to Substance Addictions
Growing evidence suggests that there are many similarities between substance addictions and behavioral addictions, with the main similarity being the failure to resist an impulse or desire to perform an act that has harmful consequences to the person or others. Furthermore, both addictions have similar natural histories, relapsing patterns and usually begin in adolescence or early adulthood. Finally, financial, relational and family problems are also frequently reported by both substance and behavioral addicts.
Many Different Behaviors Can Become Addictive
Part of the struggle of understanding behavioral addictions is the fact that many behavioral addictions stem from healthy, essential activities. For example, behaviors such as eating and being sexual ensure the survival of an individual and the species; without these activities, the human race would not continue. However, some people find that the release of dopamine (the brain’s reward chemical) extremely appealing, especially if they’re dealing with underlying issues such as stress, depression or life struggles. Some of these people end up abusing the brain’s dopamine response from certain activities, resulting in addiction.
Behavioral Addictions Can Run in the Family
Studies have found that people who have a close family member with a behavioral addiction are more likely to develop a behavioral addiction of their own. Researchers are also finding that many symptoms of behavioral addictions are transmitted genetically, due to the discovery of the a gene transcription called FosB. A recent study showed that 20% of family members of gambling addicts had a gambling addiction of their own—a rate much higher than the general population.
Behavioral Addictions Trigger a Neurological Response
According to doctors, addictive behaviors “hijack” the brain’s reward system. In non-addicted people, dopamine is crucial to motivation and reward, increasing before and during a pleasurable activity such as eating. Problems arise when a person’s life is taken over by the memory of the pleasurable activity and the desire to recapture it. The part of the brain responsible for willpower and inhibitory control has to fight against the “hijacked” reward pathways that cause you to want to engage in the addictive behavior.
Behavioral Addictions Are Just as Serious as Substance Addictions
Some people do not see behavioral addictions as “real” addictions because they don’t believe that they can have the same devastating consequences as substance addictions. However, behavioral addiction can be just as out-of-control and reckless, wreaking havoc on families, careers and lives. Furthermore, people with behavioral addictions frequently commit illegal acts such as theft or embezzlement to support or cover up their habit.
Behavioral Addictions Can be Treated
There is hope for anyone who is struggling with a behavioral addiction, as there are many effective treatments such as rehab, therapy, counseling, dialectical-behavior therapy and medication. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, visit www.newportacademy.comor consult with your doctor about how the behavioral addiction can be treated.
Feature Image: Marco Arment