Five Signs That You May Have a Behavioural Addiction

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Although substance use disorder is a prevalent issue worldwide, affecting around 39.5 million people globally, behavioural addiction isn’t as talked about nearly as much as it should be.

Behavioural addiction, also called process addiction, refers to addictions that involve engaging in a particular behaviour, pursuit, or activity, such as:

Engaging in compulsive behaviours like illicit sex with a stranger or shopping can have a similar impact on the brain’s reward centre as substances like alcohol and drugs.

The psychological and physiological impact of compulsive shopping or gambling can temporarily make a person feel excited, alive, and socially connected, which can make them want to continue engaging in the behaviour or activity.

Because of the euphoric feelings and sensations produced by the brain’s reward centre when engaging in a particular activity, cutting down or quitting the behaviour can pose a significant challenge and may even lead to addiction.

However, not everyone who engages in these behaviours will develop an addiction or dependency. 

Like substance addictions, pursuing specific behaviours like gambling or sex becomes a problem when you find it hard to stop or quit the behaviour, and/or it begins to impair your health, daily functioning, relationships, and work.

This article outlines the five signs of behavioural addiction.

In the meantime, if you are concerned about your (or a loved one’s) habits or behaviours, it may be time to speak to a mental health specialist for further advice and support.

How we can help: Behavioural addiction treatment in Ontario, Canada

Centres for Health and Healing specialises in diagnosing and treating various types of behavioural addiction, including gambling, work, food, and sex.

Our friendly, compassionate team utilises a holistic approach to treating behavioural addiction, focusing on the whole picture, including your history, environment, and other conditions you may have, instead of mere symptom management, which often doesn’t work, at least not in the long term.

We blend various evidence-based treatments to help you explore and unpack the root causes of your addiction, including any unresolved trauma and other emotional difficulties you might be experiencing that cause or worsen your condition.

Below is a list of the treatments we provide to clients at our stunning recovery centre in Ontario, Canada:

In our experience, providing you with a personalised, integrated treatment approach to behavioural addiction gives you the best chance at lasting recovery since these programs focus on your specific needs, goals, and preferences.

Customised programs are more engaging, interactive, and personalised, meaning they have a much higher success rate than standalone treatments as clients feel understood, seen, and heard, allowing them to explore their challenges with curiosity, confidence, and an open mind.

To learn more about our addiction and mental health treatment programs, contact our friendly, supportive team today for further advice and support.

We are always here to answer your questions and offer a warm, compassionate ear.

Five signs that you may have a behavioural addiction

While there are no formal symptoms for diagnosing behavioural addiction, studies have shown that people typically experience the following signs and behaviours:

1. Loss of control 

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Like substance addiction, behavioural addiction involves a loss of control.

For instance, many individuals struggle to limit or stop their behaviour despite various attempts to reduce, cut back, or quit it for good.

The term “loss of control” is applied to all addictive behaviour, describing it as:

  • An inability to control or regulate the behaviour
  • An inability to resist or stop yourself from engaging in the behaviour
  • An inability to choose between a range of behavioural options

Suppose you cannot regulate or control a particular behaviour or habit. 

In that case, it may be a sign that you have a behavioural addiction and may require professional treatment to help you stop engaging in the behaviour.

2. Preoccupation

Preoccupation is when an individual constantly thinks about the behaviour or plans the next opportunity for them to engage in it.

For instance, if you are addicted to video gaming, you may constantly think about the sensation of holding the control pad in your hand in class or at work. 

You may also think of ways to play video games, e.g., bring gifts to your siblings so they will let you use their console or tell your partner you are going to an after-work event when, in reality, you plan to play video games without them knowing.

This example can also be extended to gambling. 

Those addicted to gambling may become preoccupied with their next gambling fix by asking friends and family to lend them money or finding other ways to gamble.

Preoccupation means individuals constantly think about the behaviour and their motivation for it while anticipating the next time they can get their fix or find relief.

Moreover, preoccupation is a typical symptom of both substance and behavioural addiction and may cause similar thoughts and feelings regardless of the addiction type.

3. Withdrawal

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Withdrawal occurs when an individual experiences negative feelings, emotions, and physical symptoms when not engaging in the behaviour.

Again, withdrawal is a symptom of behavioural and substance addiction and one that can be profoundly unpleasant in all forms of addictive behaviour.

For instance, those withdrawing from drugs or alcohol may experience severe nausea, anxiety, hallucinations, shakes, or tremors as their body goes through the detox process.

On the other hand, individuals abstaining or cutting down on a behaviour such as gambling may experience:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Craving the behaviour, i.e., gambling or sex
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia

Withdrawal can be a profoundly unpleasant experience. 

Therefore, individuals refraining from a particular behaviour or addictive habit must seek the help of a professional who is experienced in treating all types of addiction.

Trying to stop the behaviour without the help of an experienced professional can be dangerous and may cause various complications to your health and well-being.

To learn more about how we can help you through this challenging season, contact our friendly team today, who will happily assist.

4. Tolerance

Tolerance is another hallmark symptom of behavioural addiction.

It involves a person needing to engage in a particular behaviour more intensely or frequently to achieve the same effect as when they first started.

For instance, those with food addiction may need to consume larger quantities of food or beverages to get the desired effect; they may also need to eat more often than usual.

By the same token, someone with a shopping addiction may increase their spending habits by shopping more frequently and spending more money on clothes and other items to experience the same rush of euphoria after buying something.

When people reach the tolerance stage, their desire to engage in the behaviour becomes insatiable. The bar is constantly being raised, and nothing seems to satiate their needs, cravings, or urges.

It becomes a case of more, more, more.

5. Escapism

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Another sign of behavioural addiction is when you engage in the behaviour to escape your worries and problems or to relieve unpleasant feelings such as guilt, depression, anxiety, or helplessness.

Many people engage in addictive behaviours to forget, suppress, or numb their feelings, which may provide relief in the short term. 

Still, in the long term, these unhelpful coping mechanisms can turn into a full-blown addiction or dependency.

Individuals grappling with gambling disorder, food, sex, and porn addiction often have co-occurring mental health issues as well as behavioural addiction, including anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, and trauma.

Therefore, those struggling with behavioural addiction must engage in treatment programs that explore and address root causes as well as symptom management.

These programs enable individuals to get to the heart of their addictive struggles, learn alternative ways of coping, and build resilience to help them manage their stress more effectively instead of resorting to unhelpful habits and behaviours.

What are the different types of behavioural addictions?

As mentioned, there are various types of behavioural addictions. 

However, gambling addiction is the only behavioural addiction currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Why is this?

There has been much debate over the years about whether behavioural addictions are real addictions, something that remains inconclusive today.

However, during the fifth revision of the DSM-5, a guide used by mental health professionals to help them accurately diagnose patients, a new group of addictions was added, including gambling disorder.

Fortunately, most mental health professionals understand the severity of behavioural addictions and the impact they can have on individuals and families, with many rehab centres and treatment clinics offering therapy to clients for various types of behavioural addictions.

Below is a list of the different types of behavioural addiction:

Internet addiction

A vast percentage of the population using the internet often develops an addictive, compulsive pattern of digital use severe enough to affect their health and well-being.

Exercise addiction

Exercise addiction involves compulsively exercising for many hours at a time, exercising despite the adverse effects on your health, and being restrictive or inflexible with your workout regime.

Work addiction

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Work addiction called workaholism, involves a compulsive and uncontrollable need to work constantly. 

Individuals may develop work addiction to escape worries or stress or achieve success, status, or popularity.

Those with work addiction require professional treatment and support to help relieve their symptoms and prevent unwanted consequences such as relationship and health issues.

Sex addiction

Sex is a healthy, natural part of life. 

However, when you use sex as a distraction or to forget your worries and problems, or when you no longer enjoy it but feel the need to do it, this may be a sign that you have a sex addiction.

Gambling addiction

This type of addiction involves excessive and frequent gambling. 

Individuals with gambling disorder often experience a high from gambling or placing bets. 

Unsurprisingly, gambling addiction can cause various complications in an individual’s life, including legal issues, financial problems, and relationship strain. 

In more recent years, research has shown that social media and smartphone addictions have become increasingly prevalent, particularly among specific age groups, including adolescents and young adults.

What to do next

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Suppose you suspect that you or someone you know has a behavioural addiction. 

In that case, you must seek the help and support of a mental health professional as soon as possible to avoid the long-term complications of behavioural addiction.

We understand how daunting it can be to take the first step to treatment. 

However, once you begin experiencing the benefits of therapy, you will become more confident and happy in your decision to seek professional help.

There are various treatment options to help you understand and overcome behavioural addiction, including cognitive behavioural therapy, trauma treatment, group therapy, medication, individual therapy, and self-help groups.

Contact our specialist team in Ontario today, and let us guide you on the transformative path to lasting sobriety and wellness.

We are here and ready to help.

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