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Addiction to a Behavior as a Sign of Substance Abuse

Addiction to a Behavior as a Sign of Substance Abuse

Common behavioral addictions include gambling, eating, pornography viewing and playing video games

There has been a strong increase in public acceptance around the idea of addictions in the past decade. Indeed, the term addicted has been applied to everything from a television show to ice cream. In one sense, it is a positive development because this allows the level of shame when someone struggles with an addiction to be lower. On the other hand, it muddies the waters around what behaviors are actually addictive. It is important then to understand at the outset the definition of a behavioral addiction.

What Is a Behavioral Addiction?

The key component of compulsive or addictive behavior is that the activity goes beyond simply seeking pleasure. Addiction of any kind is not a reflection of an individual’s strength of character. Instead, addiction at its basest form is the need to take a specific action in response to certain stressors or indicators in a person’s life.

Common behavioral addictions in Des Moines include gambling, eating, pornography viewing and playing video games. These actions are particularly prone to compulsivity because each has an immediate reward. Once the initial reward is received, an individual can continue in the same activity in a compulsive way in order to experience the high of the reward. The classic example is the gambler who wins big on his first hand in the casino and then stays all night waiting for the next big win, but it never comes. By the time he leaves, he has lost his winning and his mortgage money. Then he is back the next day because he feels a sense of desperation to win back the money he lost, and thus a cycle is born.

Thus, even though there is no physiological component to the addiction as with substance abuse, an individual nonetheless can respond in similar ways to someone with a substance abuse problem. These similarities are worth discussing in more detail.

How Are Addictions to Behaviors Similar to Substance Abuse Diagnostically?

A set of six diagnostic criteria have been identified for behavioral addictions. As these are reviewed, it is evident that each of these following points is equally a component of substance abuse:

  • Salience – The addictive behavior is the central focal point of an individual’s life, dominating her thoughts and behaviors.
  • Mood modifications – Participating in the addictive behavior produces an emotional high.
  • Tolerance – Over time, an increase in the activity is necessary to arrive at the same type of emotional high or satisfaction.
  • Withdrawal – Emotional and physical effects such as irritability or shakiness occur when the activity has not taken place recently.
  • Conflict – Friends and family in Des Moines begin to question the healthiness of an individual’s fixation on the addictive behavior.
  • Relapse – It is common for an individual to fall back into old patterns based on an increase in or an unexpected level of stress even after a period of abstinence.

Each of these elements could just as easily be applied to substance abuse. Indeed, it is not uncommon for a person struggling with a behavioral addiction to replace his behavior with an illicit substance in order to cope with the withdrawals. Similarly, many battling a compulsive behavior also have a substance abuse problem.

The Similarities Extend to Treatment Options

One other similarity can be found in some of the treatment options . Because many individuals with behavioral addiction are also depressed, SSRIs have been shown to be effective in treating the symptoms. Granted, the treatment is functionally indirect as the individual is being treated for depression with an added benefit being that the appeal of the addictive behavior is lessened. However, some substance abusers are similarly treated indirectly with SSRIs.

Another common treatment for both substance abuse and behaviorally addicted individuals is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). With CBT, individuals work with a mental health professional to identify poor or unconstructive thought patterns and then develop healthier patterns of thought. These changes in thinking will often lead directly to better decision making in relation to addictive behavior or substance abuse.

There Is Help Available for All Addicts

Addictive behaviors and substance abuse do have several common traits. More importantly, it is not uncommon for an individual to have a personality or type of psychological unhealthiness that lends itself to addiction in one form or another. If you or a loved one in Des Moines seems to be showing signs of a behavioral addiction or substance abuse, it is important to know that help is available.

No addiction should be taken lightly as it will limit choices in a person’s life and create unnecessary pain. It can easily lead into suicidal tendencies, legal problems and other limitations. Above all else, remember you are not alone in this fight. We can help you. We can answer your questions. The admission counselors at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can help you learn more about how best to help. They can help you find your way.