When you think of addiction, what comes to mind? Do you picture a man staggering on the street with a bottle of liquor concealed under a paper bag? Do you imagine the heroin user struggling to get clean as she goes in and out of rehab?
If you visualize these cliches, you’re not alone. Many of us hold stereotypes about what addiction is and what it isn’t.
In reality, it’s possible to become addicted to many different actions and behavioral patterns. In a sense, anything that triggers repeated pleasure can become addictive. In this guide, learn more about the common types of behavioral addiction — including gambling, shopping, and food — and find out how to identify the signs of addiction and get help.
Behavioral addictions refer to non-substance behavioral patterns that mimic compulsion and dependence. While gambling disorder is the only behavioral addiction listed in the DSM-V, most mental health experts agree that it’s possible to develop addictions to other habits.
Below, learn more about some common types of behavioral addictions.
Someone with a gambling addiction compulsively gambles. Gambling can take many forms, including sports betting, card games, online gambling, investing and trading stocks, slot machines, bingo, and the lottery.
If you have a pornography addiction, you compulsively watch and/or interact with porn. This type of addiction may be considered a subset of sex addiction, which often creates significant distress within romantic relationships.
While the concept of love addiction is somewhat controversial, some experts theorize that it’s possible to act compulsively in romantic relationships. This can manifest as themes of codependency, seeking control, and relying on partners to satisfy internal emotional needs.
Someone with a video game addiction obsessively plays video games. They often spend most of the day gaming and experience angst and tension when they’re away from home or their electronic devices.
People with shopping addictions impulsively shop. They may buy certain items in excess, buy things they don’t need, steal, and shop as a way to cope with unpleasant feelings. Sometimes compulsive shopping can coincide with hoarding tendencies.
Someone with an Internet addiction compulsively uses the Internet. Internet addiction can take many forms, including social media, researching information, watching videos, and participating in forums. The Internet often becomes a substitute for real-world participation and interaction.
Those with food addictions overeat or emotionally eat. Food addiction may be an underlying risk factor for eating disorders, including bulimia and binge eating disorder. People with this condition often report feeling “out of control” with food.
Someone with a cosmetic surgery addiction routinely undergoes optional procedures to enhance their looks or conceal perceived flaws. Cosmetic surgery addiction often coincides with body dysmorphic disorder, and it may also be comorbid with eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.
Even though there are different types of addictions, red flags tend to be more universal. Keep in mind that problematic patterns often present as mild at first.
In the early stages of addiction, someone might be able to reduce or stop their behavior. However, stressful situations often exacerbate maladaptive coping. And without intervention or treatment, addictive tendencies can progressively worsen.
Here are some signs to consider:
Someone with a behavioral addiction often downplays or denies their actions. They can become secretive and spend a significant amount of time and energy plotting how they can get away with engaging in their habits. When confronted, they can become extremely defensive.
Behavioral addictions can interfere with someone’s performance in everyday functioning. As a result, they may experience problems in school or in the workplace. Unfortunately, the stress from “keeping up” often fuels a greater desire to escape through the problematic behaviors.
Behavioral addictions often create tension within relationships. Loved ones may feel frustrated or confused by the habit. The struggling individual often reacts with anger or withdrawal. Within family systems, people can become impatient and reactive.
People with behavioral addictions often describe entering a state of psychological withdrawal when they stop a particular habit. They may experience a profound sense of emptiness or numbness.
People with behavioral addictions can experience a combination of angst, desire, and obsessive thoughts before engaging in their problematic habit. This combination is known as a psychological craving, and the person can find it so distracting that they believe the only way they can feel relief is by giving in to it.
Most compulsive habits cost money, and the more severe they are, the more expensive they tend to be. Some people with behavioral addictions cope with this financial uncertainty by stealing or engaging in fraudulent or illicit behavior.
Behavioral addictions often coincide with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. The problematic behavior often starts as a way to self-soothe or escape the mental health symptoms. But, over time, as the addiction progresses, many people find themselves feeling much worse.
There is never a bad time to seek help if you think you are struggling with a behavioral addiction. Early intervention can be crucial, particularly if you recognize having numerous signs of addiction.
Here are some other tips to consider:
Behavioral addictions can be just as dangerous and devastating as substance addictions. In many cases, the two issues also go hand-in-hand. If you or someone you know is struggling, seek help. Recovery is possible — you just need the willingness to get started.