Behavioral Addiction: Are You Addicted Without Knowing It?

If you or a loved one is addicted to the Internet, food, or porn, learn how to get help for this behavioral addiction.

Last updated: Dec 21st, 2022
Behavioral Addiction

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.

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Common types of behavioral addictions

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.

Video games

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.

Cosmetic surgery

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.

Signs that a person is addicted

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:

Lying to loved ones

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.

Inability to manage work or school

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.

Relationship problems

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.

Withdrawal-like symptoms when stopping the behavior

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.

Cravings to engage in the behavior

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.

Unexplained financial problems

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.

Mental health problems

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.

When and how to seek help

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:

  1. Tell a loved one: Honesty is a crucial component of recovery. Even if it feels scary, lying only perpetuates more chaos and confusion for everyone. Committing to being honest with your loved ones is often the first step towards sustainable change.
  2. Look for a therapist specializing in addiction: Ideally, you want to seek therapy with a competent professional specializing in addiction. Look for someone who has knowledge and experience treating your particular behavioral issue. Most addiction providers utilize interventions from cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and motivational interviewing as part of their treatment.
  3. Consider outside support groups: There are free 12-Step groups for nearly every behavioral addiction. These groups are peer-led and focus on community support. If 12-Steps isn’t right for you, many therapists, health agencies, and nonprofit organizations also offer psychoeducation and recovery-based groups.
  4. Remember that relapse may be a normal part of recovery: Recovery is rarely a linear process, and it’s typical to experience setbacks along the way. Lapsing into an old behavior doesn’t mean you have failed. It simply means you are learning different strategies that may or may not work for you. Aim to stay the course and practice your coping skills diligently.

Final thoughts

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.