Behavioral addiction definition


2- Behavioral Addiction Definition


Behavioral addictions, like substance addictions, are real and wreak havoc in the lives of sufferers. These types of addictions develop from compulsive and unhealthy preoccupations with such things as gambling, love, sex or food. As with addiction to substances, behavioral addiction is a family disease, affecting those close to the addict. This section provides a general overview of behavioral addictions, which are being recognized by the scientific community as prevalent and as destructive as substance addictions.


  • Behavioral addiction definition
  • Types of behavioral addictions
  • Scientific evidence of behavioral addictions


Behavioral addiction definition

  • A behavioral addiction is a compulsive activity that a person is unable to control or stop despite consequences to themselves and others. These activities include gambling, sex, food, work, and Internet activities. The term behavioral addiction can be broadly applied to any chronic, compulsive behavior that causes distress but that does not involve the taking of a chemical substance.
  • Understanding the concept of a behavioral addiction can be difficult. With substance addictions, in which a person demonstrates physical and psychological symptoms, a diagnosis of addiction is relatively straightforward. It’s easy, for instance, for people to recognize when someone is addicted to cocaine. That person has lost the ability to control their drug intake despite harmful consequences to themselves and others. They are addicted, and it is obvious for all to see. Unlike with behavioral addiction, there has been a vast body of research on substance addiction demonstrating that addiction to drugs is an actual brain disease. Over time, the chemical addiction renders the user’s brain’s communication system abnormal. In short, there are widely accepted criteria and symptoms that define substance addiction.
  • Behavioral addictions, on the other hand, are often overlooked or discounted because they do not involve a chemical. Making them hard to distinguish is that the very behaviors that can become addictive are very much a part of life. Eating, working, and enjoying a sex life are part of who we are. It’s for this reason that behavioral addictions are also referred to as “process addictions.” Unlike substance addictions, they are part of the ongoing process of life. It is only when these behaviors become destructive and obsessive that they are defined as addictions. The scientific bodies in the West have only recently started to recognize and define behavioral addictions.
  • There are many similarities in the patterns of behavior and motivations for both classes of addicts. In fact, many of those who suffer from substance addictions also have problems with behavioral addictions. All addicts are reaching outside themselves for something to make them feel better inside. (In meetings of 12 Step Fellowships for addicts and alcoholics, one will often hear that recovery “is an inside job.”) Addicts, whether addicted to drugs or sex, are trying to escape uncomfortable feelings, are trying to make themselves feel good, to cope with stress, to escape feeling of inadequacy — and so on. For example, many drug addicts started using drugs to feel confidant, to be able to cope with life’s inevitable challenges and anxieties. Drugs were doing for the addict what they could not do on their own accord. In the same way, a person may resort to compulsive gambling, or spend his whole day in front of computer in order to escape uncomfortable feelings.
  • Addicts, in general, will stubbornly deny they have a problem. Addiction to drugs or alcohol is commonly called “a disease of denial.” Drug addicts in Fellowship meetings will say, “I have a disease that tells me I don’t have a disease.” But denial can be an especially big roadblock to recovery for behavior addicts. Because behavioral addictions involve activities that are a part of normal life, it is easier for sufferers to deny they have crossed a line into the realm of the obsessive and compulsive. They are not using a chemical, so they can rationalize their problem. Because they are not chasing a drug and not waking up in the morning feeling sick from using that drug, it’s too easy for the behavior addict to minimize their difficulties. All in all, a person addicted to a behavior is likely to take some time to admit to having a problem.
  • The consequences of behavioral addictions are as real and severe as those for substance addictions. These compulsive behaviors can wreak the same kinds of devastation as addictions to drugs. Among the list of consequences are lost jobs, families shattered, finances upended, stays in mental institutions, and even suicide.
  • The psychological symptoms of behavioral addictions are very similar to substance addictions. Both categories of sufferers experience the same types of mental obsession and insanity. Similarly with substance addiction, a behavior addict cannot stop by virtue of will power alone. In fact, will power – or lack of it – does little role in the addiction. A behavior addict cannot by pure resolve correct or unlearn a compulsive behavior and become a “better” and healthier person. Like substance addicts, they suffer from a condition that has superseded their will power, a condition they have lost the power to stop or control on their own accord. And like a drug addict they need treatment and the proper approach to recover from their condition.
  • behavioral addictions, like substance addictions, are rooted in deep psychological issues. They may be the symptoms of a person trying to escape unwanted feelings, or are the means of trying to cope with life. For example, a food addict may unconsciously have resorted to overeating because during childhood that child was abandoned, was “starved” of love from their parents. As an adult, this person overeats, now associating food with love to compensate for the love denied in childhood. Or a sex addict may have been sexually abused as a child and now as a grown-up unconsciously believes the only way to get attention and love is through promiscuity.


Types of behavioral addictions       

Below is a list of some of the behaviors that can turn into a type of addiction:


1. Codependency

2. Food and eating

3. Gambling

4. Sex

5. Love

6. Work

7. Shopping

8. Debit

9. Internet

10. Computer games

  Behavioral addiction definition  and Types



Scientific evidence of behavioral addictions

  • Behavior science experts believe that any source that is capable of stimulating an individual can become addictive. When behaviors such as gambling, computer gaming, or chatting and Internet browsing change from habits into compulsive behavior, they have crossed the line to the development of addiction. In a change from past thinking on the subject, which held that addiction is confined to a particular kind of dependence on drugs and chemical substances such alcohol, nicotine and heroin, the U.S. National institute of Health and Medicine recently listed, “non-substance related behavioral addiction” in the two internationally used diagnostic manuals of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Scientific Evidence Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and ICD-10 (International Classification of Disease).
  • The idea that true addictions can exist even in the absence of psychotropic drugs (behavioral addictions) was popularized by Stanton Peele, a psychologist and the author of books and articles on the subject of alcoholism, addiction, and addiction treatment. According to Peele, addicted individuals are dependent on a particular set of experiences, of which the reactions to a specific chemical substance is only one example. Building on Peele’s notion, some scientific researchers have developed the idea that addiction does not necessarily have to involve the abuse of a chemical. For example, the term “addiction” has been used to refer to a range of excessive behaviors, such as gambling, video game playing, eating disorders, sports and physical exercise, media use, sex addiction, pathological working, and compulsive criminal behavior. Although such behavioral addictions do not involve a chemical intoxicant or substance, a group of researchers have posed that some core indicators of behavioral addiction are similar to those of chemical or substance addiction.
  • Currently, researchers emphasize that in order to make a diagnosis of behavioral addiction, functional impairments must be present in social relationships, or in other social situations. A number of experts believe that behavioral addictions can be passive (e.g. television) or active (e.g. computer games), and usually contain inducing and reinforcing features, which may contribute to the promotion of addictive tendencies. From the psychological and psychiatric viewpoint, behavioral addictions include a collection of disorders, such as anxiety, depression, obsessive thoughts, withdrawal and isolationism, affective disorders, disturbances in social relationships, school problems such as educational failure and lack of interest in doing homework, occupational or interpersonal difficulties, isolation and negligence of friends and family or personal responsibilities, and mental or physical restlessness. In instances when the individual reduces or stops a specific behavior, excessive fatigue, lifestyle changes, significantly reduced physical activity, deprivation and changes in sleep patterns, impatience, sexual deviations, violence, eating disorder and withdrawal symptoms ensue.
  • The path to a benign activity turning into a compulsive one begins with the individual experiencing pleasure in association with a behavior and seeking that behavior out, initially as a way of enhancing their experience of life, and later, as a way of coping with stress. The process of seeking out and engaging in the behavior becomes more frequent and ritualized, until it becomes a significant part of the person’s daily life. When the person is addicted, they experience urges or cravings to engage in the behavior, which intensify until the person engages in the behavior again, usually feeling relief and elation. Negative consequences of the behavior may occur, but the individual persists with the behavior in spite of this.
  • These addictions are real, in that they follow the same pattern as substance-based addictions, and they result in problems in many areas of the individual’s life. They have similar effects on relationships, which are often neglected in favor of the addictive behavior, undermining trust and putting pressure on partners and other family members to cover up and make up for difficulties arising from the addiction. There is increasing evidence that addiction to these behaviors involves similar brain mechanisms to substance-based addictions, although more research is needed to confirm and clarify how this happens.
  • Fortunately for those suffering from behavioral addictions, treatments that have been developed to treat substance dependencies have been successfully used to treat behavioral addictions. Addiction professionals are developing competencies to treat a range of addictions, and clinics exist that specialize in treating behavioral addictions. In addition there are a variety of 12 Step programs and Fellowships that cater to specific types of behavioral addictions, providing a program of recovery that has proved successful and effective in promoting long-term recovery from all their psychological, physical and spiritual aspects.


  • For information on the scientific evidence that proves substance addiction is a disease, please refer to the booklet “Disease of addiction”, Science of addiction.

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