Many people know about substance addictions, but few recognize behavioral addictions as a serious dependency. However, those suffering from these addictions find the effects just as harmful as drugs. By definition, a behavioral addiction is a compulsion that a person feels to perform a certain activity for gratification. Because a person will become obsessed, the activity becomes detrimental to his or her life. Like any other addiction, this compulsion wreaks havoc on one’s social life, finances, and family. These consequences are what characterize these behaviors as an addiction rather than just negative behavior. Unfortunately, these actions are a way to handle some real life stresses and become difficult to end. There is a wide range of addictions that fall into this category including sex addiction, gambling addiction, food addiction, video game addiction, and shopping addiction.
There has been much discussion and controversy over behavioral addictions and their existence. Some researchers do not consider them actual addictions while others do. Over time, there has been more research conducted to support the existence. However, the physical aspects of behavioral addiction are similar to the aspects of substance abuse. Both abuses affect the brain and its functioning. On the other side, there is a reinforcement factor in the action or activity. With each drink of alcohol, the addicts are burying themselves in the substance. This buzz allows the alcoholic to avoid rather than deal with any stress. Unlike with alcohol, behaviors do not have a physical ingredient. Nevertheless, there is reinforcement in the behavior. This factor connects substance abuse to behavioral addiction. An alcoholic will continually drink because it will keep bringing relief. With behavior addiction, there are other factors. People remember the “hits” and not the “misses.” An addiction to gambling is a perfect example of this. A gambler will continually play the same game, winning only a few times out of the many times he or she plays the game. However, this person will remember the times he or she won instead of the overwhelming times they have lost. With each win, there is a reinforcement to play again. The thrill of chance keeps the gambler at the Black Jack table as they gamble away their kids’ college funds.
Unfortunately, anyone is susceptible to these destructive patterns of behavior. Like any addiction, there is a mixture of genetics and environment involved. Researchers are trying to pinpoint the physiological aspects of compulsions. However, there is research that shows certain people have a predisposition to an addictive personality. An addictive personality means that a person is more at risk to becoming dependent to any of these gratifying behaviors. It does not help people that finding outlets for anxiety has become increasingly easier. There are many accessible ways to feed an addiction. In only minutes, a sex addict could find hundreds of websites linking him or her with strangers to meet. In addition, video game addictions are more prominent than ever. These games are something that children are playing for hours each day. With violence at the forefront of the gaming world, they become outlets for aggression. This continuous release will become addictive over time as it relieves tension.
Acknowledging behavior addictions more, the counseling and substance abuse world has improved treatment plans. It is important to have solid ground in order to overcome it. Unfortunately, addiction is something that is a lifelong challenge and there is no quick fix with these behaviors. There are many support groups out there for such people like sex addicts, “workaholics”, and gamblers. Reaching out to counselors, groups, or friends is one way to begin the healing process.