Behavioral Addictions

When you think of addiction, illicit or illegal substances usually spring to mind. However, addiction is not only a chemical dependence; it is additionally formed through habits and behaviors.

Anything that provides an individual with a ‘high’ can become a dependency, leading to problematic practices that spiral out of control.

A behavioral addiction can be any action that leads an individual to chase the ‘high’ that these habits provide. It could be gambling, sex, shopping, bungee jumping, or even getting tattoos.
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Alcohol Rehab
As an addiction develops, the urge to obtain the ‘high’ becomes so powerful that the individual loses control and desires the activity despite potentially harmful consequences.

Read on to discover the most common behavioral addictions we treat through our specialized partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient services.

Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction comprises repeated problematic gambling behavior. The individual will struggle to control their gambling habits even if it is causing significant problems for their wellbeing and relationships.

Like many other behavioral addictions, gambling disorders frequently run in families with factors such as trauma increasing the likelihood of development. Men are more likely to develop problematic gambling behaviors in adolescence, with women more likely to start in later life. This disorder tends to affect a more significant percentage of men than women.
Behavioral Addictions

For gambling disorder to be clinically diagnosed, at least four of the following symptoms need to be met within the last twelve months:

  • Spending an increasing amount of time gambling to achieve the desired ‘high’.
  • Becomes irritable and restless if not gambling or trying to cut down.
  • An inability to control, cut back, or stop gambling.
  • Obsessive thoughts around gambling, such as reliving past successes, failures, or planning future gambling.
  • Turns to gambling to repress difficult emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Habitually ‘chases one’s losses’ and returns to gambling after a failure believing they can control the situation.
  • Lying and deceiving others about their gambling habits.
  • Risking relationships, employment, or opportunities due to gambling.
  • Needing help from others with financial difficulties caused by gambling.
  • It is common to see those with gambling disorders go through periods where symptoms subside. There are also times where the symptoms are less severe. However, without treatment, individuals invariably return to their gambling habits.

Sex Addiction

Sex addiction can be defined as a compulsion to engage in sexual acts to achieve a ‘high’, ‘fix’, or as a coping mechanism for difficult situations, thoughts, and feelings.
Sex addiction is commonly understood to be in conjunction with another/multiple partners. However, excessive pornography, masturbation, or a desire to be in sexual environments are also indicative of this disorder.

Sex addiction is not as yet a clinically diagnosable condition. Instead, it is included in the DSM-5 as “other specified sexual dysfunction” and within the ICD-10 as “other sexual dysfunction not due to a substance or known physiological condition.”

It’s believed that a person with sex addiction will seek out multiple sex partners, though this in itself is not necessarily a sign of a disorder. Some report that it may manifest itself as a compulsive need to masturbate, view pornography, or be in sexually stimulating situations. Individuals are unable to control their behaviors despite the detrimental effects they may have.

An individual may be suffering from sex addiction if they show some of the following signs:

  • Relations with multiple partners, even strangers.
  • Secrecy and deception around sexual behaviors.
  • An inability to control or stop the urges.
  • Experiencing guilt or shame after engaging in sexual activity.
  • Obsessive, chronic, sexual fantasies and thoughts.
  • Finding that the sexual desire or action interferes with everyday life, work, and relationships.
  • Finding themselves in risky situations.
  • Like substance abuse, sex addiction can negatively impact all areas of a person’s life, including personal relationships, employment, quality of life, and physical and mental health.
“Thank you for giving me the courage to believe in myself again.” - Stephanie, Former Client

Shopping Addiction

Compulsive shopping, shopping addiction, or oniomania is one of the most socially acceptable addictions. However, that does not mean it is any less harmful. We live in a materialistic society where we are influenced by all forms of marketing that encourage us to purchase items and promise contentment and happiness.
Alcohol Rehab
Alcohol Rehab
This behavioral addiction is characterized by compulsive buying as a means to avoid negative emotions and enhance mood. Shopping addiction can become an increasingly problematic habit that can affect all aspects of someone's life, leading to a loss of control and potential financial difficulties.

Food Addiction

Food addiction is highly comparable to substance addiction, involving addictive chemicals and ingredients that a person becomes increasingly dependent on. Certain foods, particularly those high in sugar, salt, and certain fats, trigger neurotransmitters in the brain with results similar to when a person takes cocaine or other illicit substances.

Processed foods and ultra-processed foods are the most problematic as they trigger the brains’ reward center releasing large amounts of the pleasure hormone dopamine into the body. The individual needs to consume greater quantities of the foods to achieve the same ‘high’.
  • The substance you are reliant on
  • The length of time you have been using substances for
  • The quantities of substances you consume
  • Genetic factors
Behavioral Addictions

Symptoms of food addiction include:

  • Craving specific foods even when not hungry or full.
  • Experiencing a lack of control around certain foods.
  • Eating more than intended.
  • Eating to the point of being overfull or feeling sick.
  • Experiencing guilt and shame around eating habits.
  • Repeated, unsuccessful attempts to change eating habits, lose weight, or stop eating certain foods.
  • Eating in secret or hiding eating habits from others.
  • Obsessively planning to eat certain foods and ritualizing the consumption from purchasing, unwrapping, to consuming.

Food addiction can cause severe physiological and psychological issues, including depression, anxiety, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.

Technology Addiction

Nearly 75% of households in the United States have internet access, and 58% of adults own a smartphone. With the ever-evolving range of technologies and online entertainment options at our disposal, it is no surprise that problematic behaviors around smartphone use, the internet, social media, and gaming are rising.

Studies have demonstrated that technology use, primarily gaming, pornography, and social media, triggers the brain’s dopamine receptors, sending powerful feel-good hormones throughout the body. However, excessive technology use leaves individuals with reduced levels of dopamine transporters. This means that it becomes harder to achieve the same feelings of pleasure, and so they need to consume their chosen technology for more substantial periods.

Technology addiction affects an individual’s relationships, work-life, and social groups. They can also have severely detrimental effects on physical and mental health.
These individuals tend to avoid physical activity or time outside. As a result, they may suffer from ill-health increasing the risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. It is also common for people to develop computer vision syndrome, which describes many eye-related problems, including headaches, eye strain, and blurred vision.
Withdrawal symptoms when abstaining from or cutting down on technology are common and can be highly distressing for the individual. As technology addiction is an impulse control disorder, treatment focuses on modifying behaviors that decrease the time spent online or on devices to transform the urge to be online into more positive alternative actions.
“Everyone at ER helped me so much! I’m coming up to six months clean now which I never thought I’d manage. I can’t say thank you enough times!” - Jerry, Former Client

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At Empowered Recovery, we help clients and their families develop resilience and the power to reclaim their lives from behavioral addictions. Our personalized care and individualized treatment programs support the client and their families on the journey to recovery and fulfilling their true potential.
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Drug & Alcohol Detox
To find out more about behavioral addictions and the treatment available, contact us today.
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