Understanding Addiction: Beyond Drugs and Alcohol

Updated on December 24, 2019

When you think about addiction, it’s very common to think about it as it relates to substances like illicit drugs, alcohol, prescription meds, and cigarettes. However, not many are aware of addictive behaviors. Believe it or not, some of your favorite pastimes from gambling and shopping to social media and eating could turn into an addiction if you’re not careful. 

It may be hard to grasp the concept that something so normal can become an addiction. However, it happens more often than you think. When you’re doing something that gives you an emotional “high”, you continue to the behavior looking to get that same feeling. Eventually, you get to a point where you want to continue this activity despite the stress or harm it may be causing you or your loved ones. 

Types of Behavioral Addictions

What are some of the most common behavioral addictions? Check out this list below: 

  • Gambling
  • Sex
  • Internet
  • Shopping
  • Video/Computer games
  • Food 
  • Exercise
  • Work

Normal Behavior or Addiction? 

If most of the above activities are pretty normal in life how does one know when their behaviors have become addictive? Here are some signs below: 

Frequency – There are some things you love to do a lot. However, if you find that you’re engaging in the behavior every chance you get or thinking about the activity when you’re not actively participating could be a red flag that you’re developing an addiction. For example, if you spend every hour after work until you go to sleep playing video games and when you’re at work you find yourself thinking about the moment you can get home and play again, this is an addiction. 

Emotional Release – Do you find that you need to engage in a particular activity every time you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed? For example, every time you get sad or stressed out you begin eating comfort foods to feel better. This is a form of self-medicating which is often associated with addiction. 

Continuing Despite Health – When you’ve developed an addiction, you’ll continue to engage in that behavior despite the damage it is doing to your physical or mental well-being. Someone who is addicted to sex, for example, may suffer from frequent sexually transmitted diseases but won’t stop having sex. 

Inability to Stop – You realize that your behavior has become a bit obsessive and you want to stop. Yet, you have a hard time doing this. This is because you start to feel withdrawal symptoms that prompt you to want to participate in the behavior again. For instance, you shop a lot but realize that it’s ruining your finances and your relationship. You want to cut back but when you don’t buy something you start feeling irritable or even depressed. So, you continue to shop to avoid those symptoms. 

Neglecting Life – You really know you have a behavioral addiction when it causes you to neglect other aspects of your life. You’re not focused on work, your house is a mess, you pay no attention to your significant other, and you’ve even stopped engaging in the day to day activities.

What to Do About It? 

So, admittedly, you have a behavioral addiction. You want to stop because it has started to wreak havoc on your life and your well-being. However, you have no idea where to begin. Below are a few solutions to consider: 

Cold Turkey – Like any other addiction, there is always the option to go cold turkey. You can stop doing the activity altogether and find a way to cope with the withdrawal symptoms. If the symptoms are too extreme or you can’t stop the behavior completely, you may need additional assistance. 

Medication – Many behavioral therapies are connected to mental illness. If this is determined, your doctor may prescribe you medications to treat the mental illness which should make it easier to stop the addictive behavior. 

Counseling – Talk-therapy will be an integral part of helping individuals to stop addictive behaviors. A counselor will work with you to get to the root cause of your behavior and educate you on how to identify triggers and cope with your emotions in a healthy way. 

Though substances like drugs, alcohol, and prescription meds still remain at the top of the list for addiction, there are behaviors that can become addictive as well. If you believe that what was once something fun to do has turned into a serious problem, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor, a therapist, or a rehab facility for treatment options. 

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