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Behavioral Addiction and Mental Health Counseling

A balanced set of work, social and personal activities are important for a person’s behavioral health. However, certain behaviors can be troubling. When people develop behavioral addictions, they lose sight of other important things in life.

Common behavioral addictions include activities that cause excitement and euphoria, much like drugs and alcohol.

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Behavioral Addictions vs. Drug Addictions

Behavioral addictions are compulsive behaviors that exceed healthy limits. They include activities that most people find enjoyable and necessary, such as eating and having sex. It becomes a problem when the person gets consumed with the activity at the expense of his/her responsibilities.

Like drug and alcohol abuse, behavioral addictions provide a dopamine rush that triggers the brain’s reward centers. Once addicted, the person will engage in the activity whenever possible, neglecting other basic areas of life.

Types of Behavioral Addictions

Many behaviors can turn addictive. If the act brings joy, happiness and engages the mind and body, it could become an addiction to people who lack self-restraint or have narrow interests. In many cases, the addiction fills a void in the individual. Behavioral addictions include:

  • Sex addiction – Everyone has a sex drive but most people are content with two or three times per day, or roughly two hours of daily sexual energy. Beyond that, it gets time-consuming. Sex addicts spend entire days focused on sex and/or masturbation. They neglect work, social obligations and hygiene.
  • Gambling addiction – The thought of winning money is a thrill. Gambling, however, is risky, no matter how skilled one is at the table. Some people win big but keep on gambling, hoping to take home a larger share, only to lose double what they have. It’s a bottomless hole: once they win, they want even more. 
  • Video games – Video games give people (boys and young men in particular) the thrill of adventure. From the safety of a bedroom play station, one can engage in interplanetary warfare and save princesses from the jaws of doom. For some people, this becomes a night and day fixation; one they can’t peel away from.
  • Food addiction – Everyone loves food but most people stop eating once they’re full. Others just can’t stop eating, either because they love the taste or the physical act of munching. They say “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” Some people comfort eat to compensate for boredom or depression.

Too much of anything is usually bad for the mind, body and soul. Behavioral addictions turn people into compulsive, obsessive, reclusive individuals with one-track minds. Behavioral addiction can lead to health problems, loneliness and financial ruin. 

Some of these addictions can be dangerous; gambling in particular. Gamblers risk debt, lawsuits and mafia hits.

Negative Consequences of Behavioral Addictions

At their worst, behavioral addictions are impulse control disorders where the person can’t pull away from the activity despite his/her better judgment. The person might be aware that the activity is too time-consuming and addictive, yet can’t resist the temptation. Signs of an addiction downward spiral include:

  • Social isolation – People with addictive personalities become so consumed with their substance or behavior of choice that it leaves no time for friends, family or loved ones. With habits like gaming, computers, social media, television and mobile phones, the person might never get up and get away except when they have to.
  • Physical health problems – A sedentary behavioral addiction can quickly leave a person out of shape and lethargic. People aren’t meant to sit all day or remain confined to a room, yet that’s how many addicts of games, porn and computers live their lives. If mixed with food addiction, the physical toll could be immense.
  • Mental health disorders – Behavioral addiction isolates people. When a person is glued to his computer or video games all day, he’s not interacting with others. The longer people withdraw from society, the shyer and more isolated they become. This can lead to mental health conditions like social anxiety, agoraphobia and misanthropy.
  • Unemployment, poverty – When people neglect their responsibilities, they neglect themselves. If a gaming addict lives at home, he might slack off on the jobs he lands and remains dependent on his parents. If a porn addict lives paycheck-to-paycheck yet grows noticeably detached and careless at work, he might lose his job, income and apartment.

As with substance use disorders, friends and loved ones should be able to spot the signs of an individual who falls into the trap of behavioral addiction.

Causes of Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions often stem from a deep-seated mental illness rooted in childhood trauma or grief. In other cases, people develop mental disorders by cultivating obsessive habits that isolate them from the outside world. Behavioral addiction is often tied to the following mental health issues:

  • Depression – People who struggle with mood disorders often use escapist activities to distract themselves from reality. If a person is depressed about being low income or out of shape, he/she might opt out of the world and into a realm of porn, video games, Twitter, TikTok and true crime videos.
  • Emptiness – People who’ve suffered loss might over-consume or overdo an activity to fill the empty void. A person who was in a relationship for years, then loses their partner, might resort to some reclusive activity. Over time, the individual might gain weight and develop mental problems due to the lack of physical activity or social interaction.
  • Social phobia – Socially awkward individuals might resort to solitary activities to avoid the discomfort of social settings. A person who’s neurodivergent might become glued to online message boards, where the interaction is delayed, calculated and not in the flesh. This way, he doesn’t have to confront his greatest fear.
  • Maladaptive behavior – People who are insecure or irritable often resort to antisocial habits to avoid the embarrassment and/or anger they feel in social situations. Women who fear judgment might spend their days living vicariously through influencers on Instagram. Guys with violent tempers might get hooked on bloody video games.

Addictive disorders can also stem from a lack of discipline. A person spoiled during childhood might have a shopping addiction because they’re used to getting anything they want, whenever they want it.

Behavioral Addiction Treatment Options

Addiction counselors work at treating behavioral addictions and co-occurring mental illnesses. Across the US, treatment centers offer behavioral addiction programs with private therapy and support groups. At most centers, treatment consists of the following:

  • Dual diagnosis therapy – A therapy that treats addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders at the same time. It’s premised on the notion that addictive behaviors are rooted in deep-seated issues like trauma, loss or grief. By treating the issue, it’s easier to treat the addiction. Mental health counselors use this to customize treatment.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy – A therapy that reverses negative throughout processes. It’s premised on the notion that behaviors are dictated by subconscious beliefs. To change the behavior, one must reverse the negative beliefs that inspire the actions. Involves proactive mind guidance to prevent mental roaming.
  • Experiential therapy – Experience therapies that engage the mind and body in healthy ways. Activities that result in fitness, enrichment and accomplishment like art therapy (painting, drawing, sculpture), music therapy (classical appreciation, playing instruments), outdoor activities and animal therapy (horseback riding, pet care).
  • Inpatient/outpatient treatment – Counseling at a treatment center with similar programs to drug and alcohol rehab. Residential inpatient treatment involves a 30-90-day stay at a treatment center. Outpatient treatment involves daytime meetings only. Includes support groups, education, wellness activities and private counseling.

Treatment plans differ from one treatment facility to another. In cases where someone has a particular addiction (gambling, sex), it’s always best to call around and see which specific treatment provider is best for the matter at hand.

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Don't go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you're facing. Get in touch with one today.

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As with drug addiction, compulsive habits are symptoms of poor behavior health. Behavioral addiction is an indicator of declining mental health. Before the problem devolves into mental illness, people should get the help they need.

Today’s substance abuse treatment centers examine the psychological factors in the patient’s addictive behavior and help him/her develop better habits and coping mechanisms.

If someone you know shows the warning signs of addictive behavior (compulsive gambling, internet addiction, excessive shopping, eating disorders, sexual addiction), call the behavioral addiction centers in your area and ask about their plans.

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