Drug and Alcohol - Sobriety

What Do Behavioral Addictions Look Like?

What Do Behavioral Addictions Look Like?

Addictive behaviors are repeated actions used as coping mechanisms that ultimately damage a person's mental and physical health.

Most people associate addiction with substance use, although addiction can come in many different forms. Many people who struggle with alcohol or drug addiction also struggle with addictive behaviors like gambling that may or may not be associated with their substance use behaviors.

It is important to understand what addictive behaviors are, what they look like, and the negative impact they can have on one's physical and mental health. Without proper intervention and associated treatment, people who display addictive behaviors will continue to suffer as they are unable to control or stop these behaviors on their own, and their actions could develop into a behavioral addiction. 

Defining Addiction and Addictive Behaviors

To understand what behavioral addictions are, one must first understand the definition of addiction. In general, addiction is defined as a brain disorder characterized by the dysfunction of brain systems like motivation, reward, pleasure, and memory. Drug addiction is defined as a chronic and relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and substance abuse, despite the adverse consequences that it may cause. 

Behavioral addictions, also called process addictions, occur when an individual has the desire to repeatedly engage in behaviors that are perceived as pleasurable or relaxing. Addictive behaviors are also recognized as compulsions or a strong urge to continually repeat unhealthy behaviors despite the negative mental or physical health impact the behaviors may cause in their life.

A person engaging in addictive behaviors may find their behavior psychologically rewarding when doing it but may later feel ashamed of or embarrassed about the consequences of their actions. 

People may develop behavioral addictions to cope with stressful life experiences, aid in relaxation, or feel content. Many addictive behaviors manifest from underlying mental health conditions. People who become addicted to specific actions and activities do so because they rely on the serotonin and dopamine surges that result from that behavior. 

Some common examples of behavioral addictions include:

  • Sex or porn addiction

  • Gambling addiction

  • Technology or internet addiction

  • Shopping addiction

  • Food addiction

  • Video game addiction

  • Lying

  • Stealing

  • Manipulating

Identifying Addictive Behaviors

While any kind of repeated behavior can develop into an addiction, several signs can help identify unhealthy addictive behaviors. These signs include:

  • The inability to control or stop behavior despite knowing the negative impact that it may have on one's mind and body

  • Feeling compelled to engage in risk-taking or thrill-seeking activities

  • Feeling shame, guilt, or embarrassment after an activity

  • Experiencing mental or physical withdrawals or cravings when not engaging in the behavior

  • Experiencing severe negative consequences caused by chronic engagement in addictive behavior, such as losing one's job, house, or relationships with family members

  • Justifying the behavior as a way to cope with trauma or mental health issues instead of seeking professional guidance and support

  • Efforts to hide the behavior and how often it is performed from loved ones

  • Recurrent behaviors that may interfere with primary responsibilities or role obligations

  • Spending a great deal of time thinking about, engaging with, or recovering from the consequences of behavior

Behavioral addictions are recognized for the psychological effects they can have. Rarely do addictive behaviors, other than substance-using behaviors, produce only physical addiction.

When Do Addictive Behaviors Become Behavioral Addictions?

Addictive behaviors may sometimes seem healthier than they truly are. For example, relationship addictions, exercise addictions, and overworking are several behavioral addictions that may look beneficial from the outside, although they can cause long-term consequences on physical and mental health. 

For example, consider an exercise addiction. Although exercise is encouraged as a positive way to cope with emotional and mental distress, it can still qualify as a behavioral addiction if an individual begins to struggle with obsessions, compulsions, and relational issues as a result of their exercise addiction. Behavioral addictions impact areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward. So, when a person who uses exercise as a coping mechanism starts to experience uncontrollable physical or mental withdrawals when they are not exercising, they may be developing a behavioral addiction.

It is normal for people to engage in hundreds of different behaviors throughout the day. However, when behavior becomes compulsive and contributes to physical and mental health problems, it has become a behavioral addiction. It is essential that those struggling with addictive behaviors, and behavioral addictions, get the help that they need to heal. 

Treatment for behavioral addictions will work to replace the harmful behavior with a healthier one while identifying the root causes of why the behavior began in the first place. Treatment will also identify the presence of any comorbid mental health or substance use disorders, which can alter an individual's unique needs and treatment goals. Leaving behavioral addictions untreated can cause intense suffering for individuals and their families. If you or your loved one is struggling with addictive behaviors, reach out for help as soon as possible. 

Addictive Behaviors Have Negative Health Consequences

Addictive behaviors tend to interfere with normal daily functioning as well as interpersonal relationships. The Edge Treatment Center is an addiction rehab facility that believes recovery is more than securing sobriety. During treatment, we will help you address how addiction has manifested physically, emotionally, and mentally in your life.

We will help you to repair your relationships, work through the fears of addiction, and help you to create a healthier life for yourself without addictive behaviors controlling you. To learn more about our treatment facility, contact us today.

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Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol


May 14, 2022