Identifying Different Types of Behavioral Addictions

behavioral addictions

Identifying Different Types of Behavioral Addictions

Most people associate the phrase “addiction” with dependence on a substance, such as drugs or alcohol. However, many people are addicted to behaviors, not necessarily substances, and have similar experiences as they would if they were dependent on a substance. Some people argue that “getting high” is an automatic process that occurs during a variety of experiences. In essence, using substances triggers feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain that are also triggered by other reward-based behaviors–both healthy and unhealthy. Urges and cravings to turn to different behavioral addictions come from wanting to feel that way again, rather than because of the behavior itself. 

What are Behavioral Addictions?

There is no single definition for behavioral addictions, as it depends on the type of problem behavior someone is struggling with. However, framing behavioral addictions as a larger umbrella category implies that one’s “drug of choice” or “behavior of choice” can be used interchangeably. Behavioral addictions, or process addictions, follow the same pattern as substance-based addictions, and result in problems in many areas of an individual’s life.

If you take the definition of addiction and replace drugs or alcohol with another behavior, it is easier to understand the elements of behavior addictions:

  • You can’t stop doing it
  • You can’t stop thinking about it
  • You have trouble managing your emotions
  • It interferes with your daily life or your relationships
  • You have less and less awareness of the negative consequences

What Counts as a Behavioral Addiction?

Anything that activates reward pathways in the brain has the potential to become addictive. Some risky behaviors are more likely to do this than others, but almost anything that feels good can become addictive. It depends less on the behavior Itself and more on how that behavior makes you feel. 

Examples of behavioral addictions may include:

  • Risky or defiant behaviors, like stealing, lying, or speeding
  • Self-harm
  • Disordered eating
  • Exercise
  • Video Games
  • Shopping
  • Internet Use
  • Social Media

Not all behavioral addictions meet the classic definition of physical addiction, but they do share many of the psychological and social hallmarks — and they will respond well to traditional types of addiction treatment.

Overlap with Other Mental Health Issues

Research shows that people who struggle with behavioral addictions are more likely to be addicted to drugs or alcohol or struggle with other types of mental health issues. This is often referred to as a dual diagnosis or a co-occuring disorder. As symptoms often overlap and influence each other, it is common for individuals to substitute one addiction for another, particularly in early recovery. Or, they may stop one addictive behavior, like self-harming, and feel more depressed, which triggers urges to return to self-harm.

Assessment centers can help determine how engaging in addictive behaviors have affected your teen’s relationships and locus of control. They offer comprehensive assessments to understand the bigger picture of issues your teen has been struggling with and underlying issues they continue to struggle with when they stop engaging in addictive behaviors.

View Point Center Can Help

ViewPoint Center is a short-term residential Crisis and Assessment Center that helps teenagers ages 12 to 17. Our students struggle with emotional and behavioral issues, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar that puts them at a higher risk for substance use and other process addictions. At ViewPoint Center, we provide superior assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and stabilization–all in a personalized environment for your child in crisis. We have years of experience working with students with dual diagnoses, acknowledging the overlap, and differentiating between underlying issues and behavioral problems. 

To learn more, call 855-290-9682.


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