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Treating Behavioral Addictions

Addiction Treatment, Compulsive Gambling

Not all addictions are driven by drugs or alcohol. There is a class of addictions that spring from normal behaviors or actions that humans participate in every day. For a small portion of the human population, these normal behaviors become compulsions that quickly escalate to addiction status. Called behavioral addictions, the addictive acts are often mistaken for character flaws. They are also left untreated until the addict’s life is destroyed. Fortunately, there is help for people suffering from behavioral addictions. There’s also support for those who have trouble understanding these types of addictions.

What are Behavioral Addictions?

Because they involve certain types of acts, behavioral addictions are often called process addictions. The addictions can be processes like eating, sexual intercourse, gambling and even work. Shopping, Internet surfing, gaming and watching pornography are other behavioral addictions. These addictions operate like substance addictions (drugs and alcohol).

Behavioral addictions begin as acts that are normally used to provide pleasure or are a part of human function. The person seeks the behavior because of the pleasure derived from it. However, those pleasureful feelings are only duplicated with excessive repetition of the behavior: excessive shopping, overeating, compulsive gambling, etc. It becomes harder and harder to actually achieve the pleasure over time. Meanwhile, the addict suffers physically and socially from the addiction. The body is damaged from behaviors like overeating. The family finances suffer in shopping, gambling and Internet addictions. Soon, the addict’s life is completely upended by the quest for the pleasure they once found in a normal behavior.

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Behavioral vs. Drug Addictions

Both substance and behavioral addictions consume the addict to the point that help is needed to kick the addictions for good. However, behavioral addicts may have a harder time getting the help. Many of their addictions are not widely recognized as addictions to heroin or alcohol for example. For this reason, behavioral addictions often go unchecked much more often than substance addictions.

The psychological dependence is a shared effect of behavioral and substance addictions. Both types of addicts chase the high or pleasureful feeling derived from their respective “drugs” until that high is harder and harder to achieve. A mental compulsion drives the dependence, no matter what the drug of choice may be. Unlike substance addictions, however, the mental dependence is the primary obstacle for the behavioral addict. It is one that can be overcome with professional assistance.

Behavioral Addiction Treatment

Unlike substance addicts, behavioral addicts can’t simply avoid their addictions. They must learn to live in a world where they are forced to face and participate in their addictions each day. Thus, the behavioral addiction treatment programs focus on controlling the compulsion. Treating a behavioral addiction begins with finding the underlying cause of the addict’s need to find pleasure in the behavior. This may be childhood abuse, post-traumatic stress, depression and many other psychological conditions that contribute to both behavioral and substance addictions.

Mental health professionals who are well versed (and certified) in treating addictions can then work on helping the addict create healthy connections to the behaviors like eating, shopping and sex that are a part of human function. Those with addictions to other behaviors such as pornography, gaming and gambling can find lifestyle alternatives to returning to the addiction. Behavioral addicts must seek professional help in kicking the habits, however. Breaking such habits requires much more than simply stopping the behavior.

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Finding Help for Your Addiction

A behavioral addiction is like any other substance addiction, so treat it like one and contact us to get the help you deserve today. Contact a member of clergy, your family doctor or a substance abuse counselor who also specializes in behavioral addictions.


Allen J. Frances, DSM5 Suggest Opening the Door to Behavioral Addictions, Psychology Today.

What Are Addictive Behaviors, Indiana University.

Sex Addiction Treatment Is Sex an Addiction, CRC Health Group.