Do you have a behavioural addiction: Recognising the signs and symptoms

cfhh behavioural addiction

Behavioural addiction, sometimes referred to as a process addiction or impulse control disorder, starts in much the same way as a substance use disorder.

If you have a behavioural addiction, you are likely to be addiction-prone.

When engaging in addictive behaviours, such actions can trigger your brain’s natural chemicals and neurotransmitters, meaning that you will likely experience a significant ”high” when engaging in risky behaviours.

Behavioural addiction versus substance abuse

Behavioural addictions follow the same trajectory as drug and alcohol abuse.

However, process or behavioural addictions do not generally receive the same acknowledgment or clinical diagnosis that one would expect in substance abuse cases.

Negative effects

Unlike drug and alcohol addiction, behavioural addictions do not cause chemical cravings or physical dependence like cocaine or opioids.

Still, people with behavioural or process addictions experience adverse consequences due to their addictive behaviour.

Mental health issues

Addiction disorder

Much of the population participates in activities or engages in specific behaviours without getting addicted all the time.

However, those who might be vulnerable or have addictive tendencies may compulsively engage in behaviours like gaming or gambling and experience intense withdrawal symptoms when not engaging in such behaviours.

Intense cravings

If you have a behavioural addiction, you may experience intense cravings and urges to participate in specific actions at a profoundly unhealthy level.

Such compulsions can affect a person’s life, where their mental health and self-esteem get severely impacted.

Substance use disorders and behavioural addiction

Many mental health experts believe that behavioural addictions are complex conditions to treat since most behaviours related to these addictions generally get accepted in society.

Internet addiction

Internet addiction, for example, is profoundly challenging to treat and abstain from since most people spend a significant amount of their lives online.

In today’s social media culture, how does one ”give up the internet”?

Four distinct behavioural addictions

Addiction specialists have identified four types of addiction that get grouped as behavioural or process addictions – they include:

  • Internet addiction
  • Gaming addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • Gambling addiction
Addiction treatment in Ontario - Centres for Health and Healing

Signs and symptoms of addiction

Although behavioural addiction symptoms differ from alcohol and drug addiction, the mental and emotional symptoms are similar.

Signs and symptoms of a behavioural addiction include:

  • Lying
  • Denial
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Shame and guilt
  • Self-neglect or lack of self-care
  • Absence from school, work, or significant events
  • Falling out with friends and family members
  • Physical health problems

Physical health conditions

As well as the mental health consequences of behavioural addiction – people with gaming or internet addictions may experience physical health issues like headaches, back problems, or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Likewise, those with sex addiction are at a higher risk of developing a sexually transmitted disease.

Withdrawal symptoms

Additionally, the withdrawal symptoms of behavioural addictions are similar to those witnessed in drug abuse.

For instance, a person abstaining from process addictions may experience:

  • Anxiety
  • Intense cravings
  • Trouble sleeping


Behavioural addiction and substance addiction get diagnosed in much the same way.

A process addiction gets diagnosed when a person experiences a compulsion to engage in certain behaviours despite any negative consequences and struggles to abstain from such behaviours.

Inability to stop  

Essentially, a behavioural addiction gets diagnosed when a person cannot stop destructive behaviours and continues to engage in risky behaviours despite any adverse consequences.

Behavioural addiction and substance use disorders

A substantial body of evidence suggests that substance abuse and behavioural addictions are closely related.

Moreover, behavioural and substance addictions respond to the same treatment methods.

Your therapist may begin formulating a tailored treatment plan if you get diagnosed with a behavioural addiction.

The different types of behavioural addictions 

There are several types of behavioural addictions.

If you suspect that you or a loved one has any of the following symptoms, you must speak to a mental health professional to get the proper support and treatment you deserve.

Early intervention

Getting help for addiction early on can prevent your condition from worsening.

Early intervention can also prevent other mental disorders due to your process addiction, such as anxiety, substance abuse, or depression.

Below are the main types of behavioural addiction:

cfhh behavioural addiction shadow

1. Sex addiction

Many individuals feel compelled to seek out sex regularly.

And while sex can be an immensely gratifying, loving, and pleasurable way to express ourselves and the love we feel for our partner, an urge or desire to have sex constantly shouldn’t be considered healthy.

Sex addiction and engaging in healthy sex have clear distinctions – addictive behaviours are different from regular expressions of desire or love.

Seeking out sex constantly to obtain sexual or physical gratification repeatedly where such pleasure fades out relatively quickly can signify a sex addiction.

Thrill-seeking behaviours related to sex addiction

Most addictions like substance or behavioural have elements of thrill-seeking involved.

Whether you thrill-seek through substance use like alcohol, cocaine, or heroin, or perhaps you want to go beyond regular sex by engaging in highly promiscuous or taboo sex, the excitement or thrill can be addictive.

For many people, the excitement associated with promiscuous or risky sex is something to be sought after constantly. 

There’s always the hope of a much bigger thrill, a more intense sexual experience on the horizon.

However, the constant pursuit of pleasure often leads to addiction.

Behavioural addictions are coping mechanisms.

Many mental health experts believe that sex addiction is a compensatory mechanism for mental health issues such as a lack of confidence, self -esteem or people seeking escapism.

cfhh behavioural addiction gambling

2. Gambling addiction

The constant pursuit of risking large quantities of money or other assets produces intense emotional excitement for many people.

The effect such thrill-seeking behaviours can have on the brain’s reward centre makes a gambler want to gamble repeatedly, despite the odds of losing everything.

Rolling the dice

Although the excitement associated with gambling can be profound, any positive feelings linked to gambling are often short-lived, especially since the odds of losing are often higher than winning.

Mental spiral

The mental anguish of losing all your money or other crucial assets may send you into a spiral where you do all you can to get back what you’ve lost.

The above involves more gambling, betting, and risk-taking to recoup your losses.

Like illicit drugs, gambling can have a powerful impact on your brain, where winning and losing and the prospect of regaining your assets can quickly manifest into an addiction.

Gambling addiction is the only clinically recognised behavioural addiction.

Fortunately, gambling addiction is clinically recognised as an official process addiction and is the only behavioural addiction classified in the diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM – 5).

Gambling addiction is one of the most obliterating, destructive process addictions since it can potentially destroy a person financially, affecting their relationships and life circumstances.

A wealthy person with a gambling addiction can quickly become destitute, especially if they let their gambling problem spiral into a habit.

The key is to recognise that you have a gambling problem and seek help immediately.

CFHH Addictions Canada VideoGames

3. Gaming addiction

Gaming addiction mainly affects young adults and adolescents.

Studies show that up to 41% of people who play video games do it to escape from real life.

Many experts believe that the emergence of technology is responsible for most video game addictions and may play a crucial role in the rise and prevalence of gaming addiction (Mission Harbor, Behavioral health).


Other studies show that male gamers with authoritarian parents, who believe they are more innovative at role-playing games than relationships, are the most likely to suffer from gaming addiction (Mission Harbor, Behavioral Health).

Additionally, multiplayer games or role-playing games get reported to be the most addictive.

Moreover, people who experience higher anger, aggression, and poor social skills are at higher risk of gaming addiction.

4. Internet addiction

Research shows that internet addiction affects 8.2% of European and North American adults.

Additionally, studies show that people who do not drink or smoke are more likely to develop an internet addiction.

cfhh behavioural addiction internet

How people with internet addiction behave

Women are more likely to have an internet addiction than men.

Internet addiction affects young adults and senior citizens more than other generations.

People with an internet addiction obsessively check their messages, emails, and social media or engage in substantial online shopping sprees despite adverse consequences.

How to treat behavioural addiction

Some people are surprised when they first learn about behavioural addictions, as process addictions defer from the stereotypical drug and alcohol addictions that get outwardly acknowledged in many communities.

Process addictions occur when a person becomes addicted to a type of behaviour, rather than an addictive substance.

Type of addiction

In all addictions, an individual gets compelled to repeat behaviour that inadvertently harms their physical and mental health and can also affect how they function at home, at work, or in the community.

Addictions can be familiar, which is often the case in substance abuse, or unfamiliar where there is little acknowledgment, understanding, or awareness, which is often the case with behavioural addictions.

No matter what form addiction takes, the consequences for those affected can be long-term and profound.

Cognitive behavioural therapy


Unfortunately, there is limited awareness surrounding process addictions.

However, mental health professionals can help people overcome their difficulties by cultivating healthier coping mechanisms and developing ways to deal with compulsions.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), talk therapy, and group therapy are effective interventions for behavioural addictions.

Co-occurring disorders

Many people with behavioural addictions also have other mental disorders known as co-occurring disorders or substance abuse.

Health professionals will usually diagnose and treat people presenting with co-occurring disorders while treating them for a process addiction.

When a behavioural addiction remains untreated, it can cause profound suffering and complications for the individual and their friends and family.

Generally, people with addictions usually have a compulsive nature.

It is not uncommon for addicted individuals to want to repeat a behaviour over and over, whether using the internet excessively, drinking large quantities of alcohol regularly, or taking illicit drugs.

Understanding the addiction cycle and getting proper treatment and support is crucial for those with substance and process addictions.

Contact a specialist today at Centres for Health and Healing and begin your health transformation.

Lisa Davies - Program Director of Vaughan Recovery and Kirby Estate

About Lisa Davies

Lisa is the Program Director at Centres for Health and Healing. She lived for most of her life in the Durham region, before moving to Peel five years ago.

Lisa is a Master Hypnotist and is certified in Hypnotherapy (2008), Self-Hypnosis and in 5-phase Advanced Therapeutic Healing. As a Member of National Guild of Hypnotists, she is also specialized in hypnosis training in pediatrics, pain management, neuro-linguistic and stage programming.

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