Addiction can occur in many forms. Often, it is assumed that physical dependence characterized by withdrawal symptoms is required in order for someone to be diagnosed with an addiction disorder, but the fact is that behavioral addiction can occur with all the negative consequences in a person’s life minus the physical issues faced by people who compulsively engage in drug and alcohol abuse.
It is the compulsive nature of the behavior that is often indicative of a behavioral addiction, or process addiction, in an individual. The compulsion to continually engage in an activity or behavior despite the negative impact on the person’s ability to remain mentally and/or physically healthy and functional in the home and community defines behavioral addiction. The person may find the behavior rewarding psychologically or get a “high” while engaged in the activity but may later feel guilt, remorse, or even overwhelmed by the consequences of that continued choice. Unfortunately, as is common for all who struggle with addiction, people living with behavioral addictions are unable to stop engaging in the behavior for any length of time without treatment and intervention.
If you believe that you, or someone you love, are struggling with a behavioral addiction, the good news is that treatment is a powerful tool. Learning how to manage the behavior and begin to address the issues caused by the long-term behaviors begins with intensive and integrated treatment.
Most people engage in hundreds of different behaviors throughout the day, each one with its own set of consequences. In general, people make choices about which behavior to engage in next relatively thoughtfully and with the intent to improve their experience. For example, if you are hungry, you may choose to get a healthy snack that will not only satisfy your hunger but also give you energy to continue your day. However, someone who is living with a food addiction may choose to eat even when not hungry and may binge eat unhealthy foods in large amounts. Though this is an unhealthy choice, many people can and will overeat, or eat when they aren’t hungry, and do not struggle with a food addiction. When the behavior becomes impulsive in nature and begins to contribute to the development of a range of physical and mental health problems and the person is unable to stop, it is termed an addiction.Does this mean that you can be addicted to any behavior? It is a question that fuels an ongoing debate. Many do not feel that characterizing a behavior as an “addiction” is correct; they believe that a little self-control is all that is needed. Unfortunately, the fact is that if a little self-control were the only issue, then people struggling with behavioral addictions would certainly stop engaging in their behavior of choice long before it harmed their physical health, ended primary relationships, and caused a host of financial, legal, and mental health problems.
When gambling turns into an addiction, those who seek treatment often report huge losses, including legal problems, foreclosure, bankruptcy, divorce, lost careers, and more. Additionally, many who struggle with gambling addiction may consider or attempt suicide.
Though we all have to eat, and many people are prone to overeating on occasion or eating out of boredom or for pure enjoyment, people who struggle with food addiction cannot control their compulsive eating behaviors. They tend to crave foods that are high in fats, sugar, and/or salt and often describe feeling “high” while engaging in the activity. Additionally, people who are addicted to food may develop a tolerance for food, as is characteristic of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. That is, they require more and more of their favorite foods in order to experience the “high” they seek. People who struggle with food addiction may be obese, but people who have a normal BMI may also struggle with the disorder. Damaged relationships, issues of self-esteem, and other health problems may also result.
Identifying when a behavior has turned into a problem issue and that problem has developed into an addiction can be tricky.
Many of the same programs that are effective in the treatment of dependence upon drugs or alcohol are effective in the treatment of behavioral addictions. An effective behavioral addiction treatment program should offer all clients access to the resources they need. This may include any combination of the following:
If a substance abuse or addiction disorder is a part of the experience of a client seeking treatment for a behavioral addiction, it is essential that treatment for that substance abuse disorder is integrated into the overall treatment plan. For many clients, the urge to drink or do drugs is coupled with the urge to engage in the process addiction. For example, some say that as soon as they get a drink in hand, the next thought is gambling. Others may include the use of stimulant drugs as a part of their ritual when they engage in behaviors triggered by or related to sex addiction. No matter what the combination of disorders is, it is often recommended that the person enroll in a residential treatment center that is equipped with the staff, resources, and experience to empower healing on all fronts.
Is There a Difference Between ‘Process’ and ‘Behavioral’ in Regards to Addiction?
There is no difference between the terms “process addiction” and “behavioral addiction.” Both refer to compulsive indulgence in a specific behavior or type of behaviors that have the net result of harm to the person, plus the inability of the person to moderate or manage those behaviors without treatment.
What Types of Behavioral Addictions Are There? Individuals may report a number of behaviors that they compulsively engage in that contribute to their inability to move forward or focus on other parts of their lives. For some, it is a behavior that is at the base of the addiction. For others, it is a ritual that comes before or after indulging in a destructive behavior.For example, some clients in recovery from heroin addiction report feeling nostalgic about the process of “cooking up,” loading the needle, and tying off that comes before the actual high. Others describe their process prior to engaging in sex addiction (e.g., the “hunt”) as a ritual they enjoyed; others talk about the ritual of rolling a cigarette prior to actually smoking as being just as addictive as the behavior itself. Still others define the obsessive and compulsive behaviors engaged in due to OCD as being addictive.However, in general, though the cravings for different aspects of a behavioral addiction may play a large role in recovery, the top behavioral addictions are often reported to include:
When Is It Time to Intervene and How? Because almost everyone engages in the behaviors listed above – social media use, shopping, etc. – it is not always easy to recognize when someone’s engagement with these behaviors reaches an addiction level and thus requires treatment. Though the signs of an addictive issue may vary depending upon the behavior at the focus of the addiction, it is time to get help for a behavioral addiction when:
What Are the Underlying Causes for Behavioral Addictions? Like a substance abuse and addiction, there is usually no single cause responsible for the development of the addiction disorder. Often, it is a combination of issues, including:
Are Addictive Behaviors Hereditary? In some cases, genetics and growing up in a home where other family members regularly engage in a certain behavior may contribute to a person’s development of a behavioral addiction. However, it is not guaranteed that because a sibling, parent, or other family member struggles with addiction that someone else in the family will have the same problem. Additionally, it is possible to develop an addiction disorder and have no known hereditary contribution to the issue.
What Therapies Are Used in Treating Behavioral Problems?
There is a range of therapies that can be useful in the treatment of behavioral addictions. These include:
How Can a Family Help a Member with a Behavioral Issue? Family members can be instrumental in the person’s ability to accept that there is a need for change and understand that enrollment in an integrated treatment program can be a positive agent of that change. Additionally, the client’s loved ones can play an active role in that person’s recovery by attending family therapy sessions and going to support groups for family members to learn more about the disorder and what to expect during the first years of recovery at home. When family members are empowered to help their loved one in recovery, they can heal themselves and also help to heal the family as a whole, whether or not the client remains actively in treatment.
Are There Medications that Can Help Treat a Behavioral Addiction? In some cases, depending upon the specific nature of the behavioral addiction and the impact it has on the client as well as the nature of any mental health symptoms experienced and/or the diagnosis of a co-occurring mental health disorder including addiction, medication may be appropriate during some or all of the treatment process. However, this varies significantly from client to client, and medication is never the focus of treatment. Rather, it is used to assist in transitional periods of recovery that may be difficult, to address underlying chronic issues, and/or to help increase the client’s comfort level during the therapeutic process. Therapy, not medication, is almost always the primary focus in the treatment of behavioral addictions.< What Kinds of Relapse Preventions Skills Exist for Behavioral Addictions? Avoiding relapse is a daily task, sometimes an active task that takes place minute by minute. Some of the ways that people can improve their ability to avoid relapse in recovery from a behavioral addiction include:
What Support Groups Exist for Behavioral Addictions? For almost every type and style of behavioral addiction, there are both online and in-person support groups that range from informal meetings to formal therapy sessions that are designed to create a support base for people who would like to learn how to live without engaging in the behavioral addiction. For example, for people who live with food addiction, some support group options include Food Addicts Anonymous and Food Addicts in Recovery. Those who are addicted to gambling can find support in SMART Recovery’s Gambling Addiction group or Gamblers Anonymous. Similarly, those living with a shopping addiction can attend Shopaholics Anonymous meetings, and those living with a sex addiction can find support at Sex Addicts Anonymous groups.
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