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.
Sometimes it’s the thrill of a new or potentially dangerous – or actually dangerous – activity that creates a high in the person. While roller coaster rides and adventure sports like parachuting out of an airplane or snowboarding off cliffs may be the lengths that most people will go with the intent of catching an adrenaline rush, some people take it further. Risky driving like driving under the influence, having unprotected sex with strangers, and choosing other activities that clearly put them at risk can indicate an addiction to risk when the person is unable to stop engaging in these activities despite the increase in negative consequences.
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:
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.
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.