Content Reviewed by Jennifer Wheeler, Clinical & Community Outreach for New Life

When people think of addiction treatment, they most likely consider treatment for substance use disorders or chemical addictions. However, addiction treatment is specific for individuals that struggle with substance use. Any activity or behavior that an individual becomes dependent on to experience short-term pleasure and reward can be identified as a behavioral addiction. Behavioral addictions can be just as intense as substance use addictions and, more often than not, require professional treatment to secure recovery.

Core Features of Behavioral Addictions

There are several overlapping features of substance use disorders and behavioral addictions. These features can help identify problematic behaviors and recognize an individual’s need for treatment:

Diminished Self-Control

When an individual engages in a repeated behavior that produces a short-term reward, it is usually only a matter of time before they lose control over their behavior. Diminished control is a central feature of addiction. This dynamic may surface as a failure to resist an impulse or giving in to the temptation of behaving in a way that is harmful to oneself or others.

Recurrent Behavior Pattern

Another core feature of behavioral addictions is that they are characterized by repeated unhealthy or harmful behavior patterns. Over time, the repeated behavior leads to impaired ability to function in daily life. A behavioral addiction becomes a significant focus in an individual’s life and often takes priority over other important responsibilities such as finances, childcare and career.

Feelings of Gratification After Engaging in Behavior

Addiction develops because a specific behavior produces feelings of pleasure, gratification or relief. For behavioral addictions, these feelings remain a core feature. If an individual is repeating a behavior to reach contentment, they may be struggling with a behavioral addiction.

Examples of Behavioral Addictions

Most likely, individuals engage in behavioral addictions to combat feelings of distress. Like the biological mechanisms of substance use, certain behaviors and activities can release neurotransmitters (specifically, dopamine and serotonin) associated with feelings of comfort and happiness.

An individual may perceive their repeated behavior as a way to escape reality for a temporary amount of time. However, behavioral addictions will only exacerbate symptoms of distress in the long term. In other cases, an individual may develop a behavioral habit in an attempt to replace their substance use addiction.

Some common examples of behavioral addictions include:

  • Gambling
  • Internet (social media)
  • Shopping
  • Sex
  • Video games
  • Binge eating
  • Thrill-seeking activities
  • Overworking
  • Relationships

Are Behavioral Addictions as Serious as Chemical Addictions?

In short, behavioral addictions are just as severe as chemical addictions. It is essential to recognize that addiction is a complex brain disorder. Behavioral addictions resemble substance use addictions in nearly all ways. The most concerning part of behavioral addictions is that they can impact the same brain regions that are affected by chronic substance use. These brain areas are responsible for identifying pleasurable behaviors, motivating behavior, controlling impulsive behavior and responding to pleasure experiences.

Once these brain areas have been tampered with, there is increased concern about how an individual can function in their everyday life. Similar to the consequences of substance use addictions, behavioral addictions can lead to:

  • Financial concerns
  • Troubled relationships and increased interpersonal conflict
  • Challenges with impulse control
  • Increased feelings of shame and guilt
  • Engagement in more risk-taking activities
  • Inability to appropriately navigate adversity

Treatment for Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions can have long-lasting consequences. Fortunately, effective treatment is available to help individuals overcome their unhealthy behavioral habits.

Most, if not all, addiction treatment centers offer programs for behavioral addictions. While treatment for substance use addictions and behavioral addictions may differ, they are ultimately both working to heal an individual’s brain from the changes caused by their problematic behavior. Typically, treatment for behavioral addictions will involve intense, comprehensive therapies that help individuals address and overcome their problem behavior.

As every addiction is unique, treatment programs must offer individualized treatment plans for patients. Individualized treatment is a vital asset to effective and long-lasting recovery. An individual may struggle with a co-occurring mental health disorder and behavioral addiction in many cases. Treatment for co-occurring disorders is challenging, but therapy must treat both conditions simultaneously for success.

During treatment, an individual will be required to engage in psychotherapy. During sessions, they will learn to focus on the underlying issues that may have led them to depend on their behavioral addiction. Many risk factors increase an individual’s likeliness of developing an addiction. Understanding these factors can prepare individuals better for when they begin their treatment journey. Sessions will also help patients find healthier ways of navigating stress, managing emotions and controlling personal impulses.

New Life Addiction Counseling & Mental Health Services is a comprehensive treatment center that understands the challenges of surrendering to a behavioral addiction. We offer several treatment programs and approaches to help you find peace and serenity away from problematic behavior patterns. With our individualized treatment plans, we will help you find long-term healing. To learn more, give us a call today at (877) 929-2571.