Most people understand addiction when it comes to substance abuse addictions such as alcohol, nicotine, illicit drugs, or even prescription medications, but they have a hard time with the concept of addictive behaviors. Yet, it's also possible to develop a behavioral addiction. In fact, people can get hooked on everything from gambling to sex to the Internet which can all negatively effect ones mental health.
Some activities are so normal that it's hard to believe people can become addicted to them. Yet the cycle of addiction can still take over, making everyday life a constant struggle. People may seek out more and more opportunities to engage in the behavior. The desire to experience a "high" from the behavior becomes so strong that the individual continues to engage in the activity despite negative consequences.
In some cases, people can also experience withdrawal, including negative emotions and other symptoms, when they aren't able to engage in the activity.
Although even mental health experts disagree about whether behavioral addictions are a "real" mental health disorder, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) explicitly included behaviors in the addictions category. Gambling disorder is the only officially recognized behavioral addiction.
Outside the world of professional psychiatry and psychology, the media has taken on and embraced the concepts of behavioral addictions, such as sex addictions and shopping addiction, as well as activities that are not included in the discussion about addiction such as self-injury ie. cutting, and multiple plastic surgeries.
Behavioral addictions follow the same pattern as substance-based addictions, and they result in problems in many areas of the individual's life.
Behavioral addictions have similar effects on ones mental health and relationships as substance addictions, 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.
Although most of these addictions are not recognized by the DSM-5, the leading diagnostic guide for the mental health profession, many healthcare providers believe these are distressing conditions which can be treated. And some behavioral addictions are more common than others, including:
Even when not specifically labeled as an addiction, the behaviors can lead to real problems in an individual's life, functioning, and relationships. These behaviors can also create considerable distress and be difficult to change, even when the person wants to stop engaging in such actions. If the behavior is causing distress and disrupting your life, talk to your doctor or mental health care professional.
Understanding the addictive process and the danger signs can help you to tell the difference between addictive behavior, problematic behavior that's not an addiction, and normal behavior that's non-problematic or healthy.
Red flags include:
Often people with behavioral addictions eventually tire of the toll their behavior takes on their lives and the lives of those around them. They may also suffer losses that seem too great to bear, such as money problems, or relationship problems. What had at one time seemed exciting and fulfilling becomes an embarrassing burden.
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.
You can also benefit from seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist, who is skilled in helping people to overcome emotional difficulties and making changes in their lives.
Treatment may include:
Source: By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc., MSc., MA, PhD Verywellmind.com
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