Behavioral Addictions

Posted on: November 13th, 2019

When we say addiction, most people associate it with substance dependency, and there is a great reason for that. According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “in 2014 an estimated 21.5 million Americans aged 12 years or older have a significant problem with alcohol or drugs.”

Addiction is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.”

Behavioral addictions are where you suffer mental health conditions in which you repeatedly engage in a specific behavior, usually considered harmful. Behavioral addictions are also known as process addictions and non-substance addictions. Research has shown that behavioral addiction and substance addiction can share symptoms such as tolerance, genetics, comorbidity, history, and treatment response.

Currently classified in the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), the only officially recognized behavioral addictions is gambling. Hoarding, excoriation (skin-picking), and trichotillomania (hair-pulling) are behavioral compulsions and kleptomania (a persistent neurotic impulse to steal, especially without economic motive) is considered an impulse-control disorder.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) classifies gambling disorder as an addictive disorder. Gambling has been shown to diagnostically light up the same areas in your brain as it would under drug addictions. Treatment methods for gambling share the same type of therapy as alcohol and drug abuse.

A Double-Edged Sword

If you are suffering from a behavioral addiction you may find yourself engaging in the actions even if you know your actions can harm you. Your social life can be affected by these behaviors and so can your work life and personal life too. It is called compulsive for a reason; you cannot resist without creating anxiety and you usually do not care to resist anyway.

At the same time, you may engage in one of these behaviors because it gives you a rush. After the initial rush, you will find yourself coming back for more and become hooked on the feeling that engaging in this behavior gives you.

This rush is caused by dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in your brain responsible for the reward circuit causing you to enjoy your actions and crave more.

If you are addicted to gambling you get hooked on the thrill of it, but in the long run, this can cause you substantial harm from losing your money, maxing out credit cards, and even causing you to do something you might regret later just to get more money to gamble with.

Every time you give into your behavior dopamine is released in your brain. The more you participate in the behavior, the more your brain gets used to the levels of dopamine it is receiving, so you must do something more, like gamble even more money, to feel the dopamine again. This is why behavioral addictions can become so harmful to you because you come to crave that exciting feeling and you find yourself needing that reward and you will do anything to feel that way again.

Without that reward from your brain, you can come to feel very low, even depressed. You will do anything to feel good again, so you seek out that pleasurable feeling of engaging in that behavior again.

Behavioral addictions can also be a gateway to other types of addictions. Since gambling and other impulse control disorders share a similarity with substance abuse, you are at a higher risk of becoming addicted to both substance abuse and behavioral disorders.

“Gamblers are approximately 3.8 times more likely to have an alcohol use disorder.” This does not mean gambling causes you to become an alcoholic, or vice versa, but it does mean, genetically, you are at a higher risk factor.

If you find yourself with diminished control over the behavior, experiencing withdrawal from it, becoming anxious about it, lying to people about your actions, skipping work, and ruining relationships over it, there are ways to beat your behavioral addiction.

Overcoming behavioral addictions is not easy but there is help, treatment and counseling are available to you. Therapy, counseling, and treatment programs are here to help you recover and live your best life.

At Urban Recovery, excellence is our philosophy. We want you to reconnect with what matters most to you. We will engage you in a process of rediscovery that includes counseling, mindfulness, art therapy, and experiential modalities. We do all this with support from a distinguished medical and psychiatric team that employs best practices in all its protocols.

Whether you stay with us for 10 days or 90 days, we offer care and coordination to take you from admission to stabilization to recovery and return to your life. Located in Red Hook, Brooklyn, we are an internationally recognized team of clinical, administration and management professionals ready to provide you the treatment you need.

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