When people talk about addiction, the first thing that normally comes to mind is drug or alcohol abuse. However, addiction can encompass a wide range of behaviors – not just the use of psychoactive substances. Generally, these types of addictions are related to an uncontrollable obsession or compulsion to engage in the behavior.
Addictions like these that involve behaviors are called behavioral process addictions. According to The Professional Counselor, this type of addiction is becoming better understood and beginning to be more roundly included in the arena of addiction treatment. Professional treatment programs have now been developed and are helping people manage a wide range of behavioral process addictions. The following list provides an overview of these types of addictions.
The types of behavioral process addictions:
- Sex and Love
- Internet and Gaming
Exercise is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. However, getting too much exercise can sometimes be a problem. For people who have exercise addiction, this can mean that exercise interferes with relationships, disrupts daily responsibilities, and can actually be bad for health. If the body’s muscle systems don’t get rest, they begin to deteriorate; too much exercise can also deplete nutrients and interrupt sleep, which can also be detrimental to health.
Exercise addiction affects some of the same body systems as substance addiction. As described by Psychology Today, exercise can lead to something referred to as the runner’s high, a result of the body releasing endorphins – natural chemicals in the body that behave like opiates and create a sense of euphoria while raising the pain threshold and reducing anxiety. In fact, people who are addicted to exercise and have to stop exercising for one reason or another will actually experience symptoms of withdrawal similar to people who have been using opiates or similar drugs, according to a recent study reported by ScienceNordic.
Sex and Love Addiction
A similar response can be found in those who are addicted to sex. Like exercise, sex can result in the release of endorphins and other chemicals that improve mood, ease pain, and can cause euphoria. For this reason, people can become addicted to having sex or engaging in sexual activities to experience this feeling.
Recent research shared through ScienceDaily has shown that people who engage in compulsive sexual behavior, such as people who use pornography compulsively, have physical brain activity that resembles that of people who use drugs or alcohol. Having this brain response does not mean that the individual is addicted to porn or sex, but it does indicate the pathways through which sex addiction occurs are the same ones that are involved in addiction to substances.
Love addiction is somewhat different, and does not require a sexual or even romantic component. Instead of the addiction being a path to euphoria, it can be a way of dealing with negative feelings related to abandonment or fear of intimacy. According to Psych Central, because this type of addiction is based more on quelling bad feelings than on creating good ones, the person has to be able to process through feelings of abandonment and loneliness in order to manage the addiction.
A gambling addiction has a similar effect on the brain’s pleasure and reward systems as sex or exercise addictions do, with the added thrill that comes from risk-taking behaviors. According to Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of a gambling addiction can include:
- Taking increasingly large gambling risks
- Using gambling to dismiss other problems
- Taking time away from work or family to gamble
- Borrowing or stealing money to be able to continue gambling
A gambling addiction generally develops over time, and has less to do with money than with the thrill and emotional reward that comes from making big bets. This can become dangerous, as continued loss of money compels the person to keep gambling to attempt to recover lost money, creating a downward spiral.
Shopping addiction provides its high through the individual making purchases that create feelings of control and wellness. Based on information from Indiana University, shopping addiction goes far beyond the typical shopping binge and becomes a compulsive habit that is undertaken when the individual feels depressed, anxious, or other negative emotions. It’s the act of shopping itself, not the purchases, that is addictive. In many cases, the individual will have closets or drawers full of the items bought, but many of them will never have been used or worn.
Sometimes shopping addictions can be seasonal. For example, many people who do not have problems with compulsive shopping for much of the year may experience it during the Christmas holiday season, often buying more than just gifts for loved ones. Shopping addiction also affects more women than men, and can even result in the individual “blacking out” or forgetting about purchasing items.
Some people refer to an eating addiction as a food addiction; however, relatively recent research from Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews posits that this is actually a misnomer because the behaviors around compulsive eating have more to do with an uncontrollable urge to eat rather than having compulsions around food.
Whatever the most appropriate description might be, an eating addiction usually has to do with the person having a craving to eat something in particular, even after having consumed a meal. The person will then get the food desired and consume it to the point of fullness or more. Compulsive eating often results in too much food being eaten in a short amount of time, and can lead to other complications both physically and mentally, such as obesity and depression based in guilty feelings about eating too much.
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Internet and Gaming Addiction
Modern technology has led to new types of addiction that have not previously existed. The development of the Internet and video games has resulted in addictions to time spent online and playing video games, to the detriment of the person’s other responsibilities, favored activities, and time spent with friends and family, among other things.
According to a study from Psychology Research and Behavior Management, gaming can be used as a sort of self-medication, just like drugs and alcohol sometimes are, for negative feelings; this can result in obsessive or compulsive behaviors, such as:
- Coping with daily stressors through escapism
- Developing online relationships
- Creating a sense of mastery or control in life that is otherwise lacking
- Seeking recognition from others, or the elation and excitement that come from challenge
Similarly, spending time on the Internet can fill these perceived needs. However, when a person is unable to control the amount of time spent online – either surfing or on social media – to the point where it is damaging relationships or other aspects of the person’s life, it could be the result of addiction and require treatment.
Behavioral process addictions can be challenging issues to face. Understanding how they affect a person’s mental and physical life on a day-to-day basis can help people recognize when these addictions are present, making it easier to get help through therapy and other forms of treatment.