There’s no denying that addiction makes people act in ways they otherwise wouldn’t. When the body and mind are wired to desire a substance or a specific activity, the craving becomes nearly impossible to resist and people can behave in unexpected ways.

The difference between addictive behaviors and behavioral addictions

When you’re doing internet searches on “addictive behaviors” you might come across something called behavioral addiction. Behavioral addiction is when an action, rather than a substance, rewires brain chemistry in the same manner that drug and alcohol addiction does.

The only behavioral addiction recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is Gambling Disorder, but advocates have pushed for internet gaming and pornography to be included, as well as several others. These behavioral addictions replicate the circular pattern of substance addiction by affecting a person’s pleasure, memory and reward areas of the brain.

Addictive behaviors can revolve around a number of things. The most common behavioral addictions can include:

  • Internet addictions (such as video games or online shopping)
  • Pornography addictions
  • Exercise addictions
  • Sex addictions
  • Work addictions
  • Food-related addictions
  • Hoarding (or addiction to collecting things)
  • Addictions related to appearances such as piercings, tattoos, dying hair or even plastic surgery

When addiction is out of control

It’s important to note that people may regularly partake in an activity without developing an addiction. Many people are able to shop, get tattoos, indulge in sweets and fulfill other practices without it interfering in their lives. These behaviors only become addictions when they are all-consuming and impair functioning in relationships, work, or normal daily life.

Here are some signs that partaking in an activity has escalated into an addictive behavior:

  • The activity dominates other activities, even those the person used to enjoy
  • The behavior causes regret, guilt, depression or anxiety
  • The person denies or hides the behavior
  • The behavior leads to increasingly severe consequences
  • Relationships are negatively affected and conflict becomes more frequent
  • The behavior causes financial strain
  • The person seeks more opportunities to engage in the behavior
  • The behavior becomes impulsive
  • The person relies on the behavior to feel normal
  • The person experiences withdrawal-like symptoms when unable to do the activity
  • Even when the person does not want to do the activity, he or she feels that it is necessary

Whether someone is struggling with a behavioral or substance addiction, his or her behavior is bound to change. At first, these changes might be small and hard to notice, like making strange excuses, but over time they will escalate, even to the point of dangerous or illegal behavior.

Treatment for addictive behavior

Although there is limited available literature regarding behavioral addictions, there is increasing advocacy to study these addictions and a push to include them in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

From studies conducted thus far, it seems that treatments effective for substance addictions are also effective for behavioral addictions. Thus, psychotherapy – including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) — and medication are the first line of defense. Social support and a healthy lifestyle can also bolster recovery.

When loved ones stop acting like themselves

One of the hardest things about addiction is that it often robs an individual of their personality. Addiction steals a person’s energy and passion and directs it toward obtaining a substance or continuing a behavior. Often, family and friends are left wondering what happened to the person they love.

If your relationship with someone has been impacted by addiction, know that you should feel empowered to seek help, too. Counseling can help you to process your emotions and find peace when you cannot change a loved one’s behavior.

Showing support

Do I lend my brother money? Do I offer to drive my partner when she drinks too much? Do I compliment my friend’s unhealthy fitness and dietary practices? When a loved one is struggling with an addiction, it can be tricky to figure out the best way to show that you care without enabling him or her to continue the addiction. 

Luckily, you don’t have to answer these hard questions alone. Finding help for yourself or your loved one who is struggling with addictive behavior is the best step you can take toward freedom. Treatment can grant peace of mind and protect well-being, and it all starts with a phone call.

Real Recovery offers inpatient and outpatient treatment and well as family services for those struggling with addictions and their loved ones. Call (855) 363-7325 to get the help you need today.