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Consequences of Behavioral Addiction: Impulse Control Disorders

Behavioral addiction is a problem suffered by people with impulse control disorders. As with drug addictions, there are many negative consequences tied to behavioral addictions.

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What Is a Behavioral Addiction?

Behavioral addictions are defined by the American Psychiatric Association as extreme involvement in specific activities, akin to drug addiction. A behavioral addiction, also known as a process addiction, is an activity that stimulates the brain’s reward centers, causing great feelings of excitement, thrill, joy, pleasure and/or obsession.

Like any addiction disorder, behavioral addictions take hold as follows:

  • Tolerance – The person gets hooked on some behavior and engages in the activity far more than regular people. He/she spends entire days, if possible, consumed with the activity, neglecting friends, family and responsibilities.
  • Withdrawal – The person gets restless and irritable when removed from the activity. He/she obsesses over the activity when it’s not possible or unavailable. The person can’t focus properly on other necessary tasks (work, bills, hygiene).

The behaviors called process addictions involve popular, everyday activities (sex, food, internet), special recreations (games, gambling) and bad habits (compulsive skin picking). As with substance addictions, these addictive behaviors are often tied to mental health problems such as emptiness and social anxiety.

Common Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addiction takes root when a person can’t regulate his/her involvement in a certain activity. Certain behavioral addictions are perfectly healthy, normal activities that some people fail to balance with equally important activities. Other behavioral addictions involve unnecessary and dangerous activities. Examples of both include:

  • Sex addiction – Most people enjoy sex, whether they’re single, married, partnered or polyamorous. Sexual addiction takes hold when the person spends too many hours each day focused on all things sexual and neglects other vital things in life. Compulsive sexual behavior is often rooted in mental health issues (loss, insecurity).
  • Gambling addiction – For participants, gambling triggers a dopamine rush because the end game is money. When people win, they often keep gambling in hopes of winning more, only to lose everything and go into debt. Gambling behavior is often dangerous, especially in casinos frequented by the mafia.
  • Internet addiction – A common behavioral addiction since the late ’90s and early ’00s when internet access became commonplace. People can find anything on the internet (music, videos, information, pictures, people). For people obsessed with a given topic, this can make the internet addictive.
  • Social media addiction – An extension of internet addiction, social media addiction became common in the early 2010s when platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram took off. Some people spend all day engaged in Twitter flamewars or obsessing over “likes” on Instagram. Others go down endless rabbit holes in their Facebook feeds.
  • Food addiction – Everyone eats, but some people continue eating on a full stomach. For some people, it’s to please their taste buds. Other people eat for emotional reasons (grief, depression).   The body has its limits and fullness exists for a reason. Food addiction is especially unhealthy when it involves junk food and sugary, fatty meals.
  • Porn addiction – Debates will always rage as to whether porn is healthy. Most people do agree that porn consumption should not be a round-the-clock habit. Some people use porn to compensate for shyness, isolation and an inability to find a partner. They neglect hygiene and responsibilities when the answer to their problem is self-improvement.
  • Exercise addiction – Exercise is healthy but some people overdo it for the wrong reasons. The human body wasn’t necessarily made to be extremely ripped, veiny and rock hard. People that spend hours each day at the gym are often motivated by vanity, insecurity and an obsession with looking like a superhero, thinking anything less makes them inferior.
  • Shopping addiction – Shopping is thrilling to a lot of people because it represents abundance and ownership: having something you want when you want it. Some people shop beyond their means and grab things they don’t have time to use or appreciate, all for that dopamine rush.
  • Kleptomania – Everyone loves freebies, which partly explains internet addiction disorder. Some people break the law to acquire freebies out in the wild. Shoplifting is partly driven by the thrill of getting away with illegal activity. Sooner or later, the perpetrators do get caught. The consequences are often steep and lasting.

As with drug and alcohol abuse, behavioral addictions are often tied to mental disorders that range from mild to severe. When the behavioral addiction replaces the need or wants to socialize (internet, porn) or earn money (credit maxing, thievery), it represents the person’s inability to adapt to necessary things in life, such as work and social interaction.

Short and Long-term Consequences of Behavioral Addictions

A process addiction can lead to unhealthy and dangerous behavior. In some cases, behavioral addictions spiral into destructive and criminal activity. Regardless, behavioral addiction does not bode well for a person’s mental health. The consequences of behavioral addictions include:

  • Depression – Loneliness and lethargy are often entwined with depression. For the porn addict, a 12-hour binge might fly by quickly, but at the end of the day, he knows he hasn’t accomplished anything substantive. An over-eater is often tired and sedentary, yet struggles with body consciousness and a lack of initiative to improve.
  • Isolation – Behavioral addictions that keep people glued to computers and smartphones reduce instances of real-world social interaction. For shy people, it’s easy to fall into this trap. Addictions that involve computers (porn, social media) keep many people isolated and socially inept. Years of this behavior can impact a person’s mental health.
  • Unfulfillment – Most people want to accomplish something in life. As people age, they want to feel as though their life has served a high purpose. People who do nothing but over-eat and consume porn rarely leave behind noteworthy legacies. It’s a sad way to let time slip by.
  • Anti-social behavior – Isolation becomes dangerous if the person harbors misanthropic thoughts of violence at the outside world. The recent spike in mass shootings has been partly attributed to increased social isolation.
  • Debt – People who max out their credit cards with things they can’t afford are headed for financial ruin. Shopping addiction can lead to bankruptcy, poverty, repossession and foreclosure.
  • Incarceration – People addicted to illegal behavior (shoplifting, speeding) can end up behind bars, possibly for years.

In some cases, the consequences of behavior are a slippery slope. A person might grow lonely and isolated through porn addiction, then start catfishing, harassing or stalking online thots.

Treating Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addiction is a recognized problem. Across the US, counselors treat behavioral addictions with some of the same therapeutic programs used for other mental disorders. Some of the best methods include:

  • Support groups – When a patient enters a treatment facility, he/she meets individually with a counselor and also attends group meetings with other patients. Here, everyone shares their struggles, insights and progress in a mutually supportive setting.
  • Family therapy sessions – People who seek treatment for an addiction or mental illness often have trouble communicating with family members. In sessions, a counselor moderates while the patient and his/her family members mend their gaps and develop better understandings for one another.
  • Dual diagnosis therapy – Most cases of drug, alcohol and behavioral addiction are tied to deep-rooted mental health disorders. This method isolates the underlying issue (childhood trauma, loss) that causes the obsessive need of addicts to compensate or fill a certain emptiness. Treating behavioral addictions is easier once they know the underlying issue.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – Based on the notion that most behavior is dictated by subconscious beliefs. If the behavior is destructive, it stems from a deep-seated negative view that nothing else is possible. To change one’s mind and actions, CBT isolates the subconscious process to reverse the person’s negative, ingrained belief system.

People can improve if they commit to treatment and make it a goal to conquer behavioral addiction.

Get Help for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Addictions

Not all behavioral addictions are harmful. Some might refer to pet-hugging as a behavioral addiction. However, habits like porn, binge eating and gambling addictions are harmful because they stem from emotional and sometimes physical dependence on a single behavior that causes people to lose sight of other things in life.

If someone you know struggles with gambling, food, sex, social media or other behavioral addictions, get help for that person. Clinics throughout the US treat behavioral addictions. Some of the same centers that treat substance addictions have programs specially geared for behavioral addictions. Call your local directory and ask for more info.

Get Help Today

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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