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How Does Behavioral Addiction Affect a Family?

Behavioral addiction is a problem that affects people who are unable to moderate their activities. A certain activity consumes the individual’s time and resources at the expense of work, health, friends and family. Dangers arise when the behavior involves risks, glutinous consumption and/or vast sums of money.

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What Is Behavioral Addiction?

Behavioral addictions are activities that become addictive at the expense of a person’s work, relationships, health and mental wellbeing. Behavioral addictions are not chemically addictive but they do trigger the same dopamine rush as drugs and alcohol. Examples include:

  • Sex – Everyone loves sex and some form of sexual activity, whether solo or with a partner/s. People with sexual addiction think about sex nonstop, neglecting work and social obligations as they consume porn or pursue sexual opportunities.
  • Porn – Everyone has a libido, but it needs to be compartmentalized to select hours, otherwise you lose sight of life’s other activities. People with porn addiction spend all their free time consuming online smut. As one of its downsides, the internet has fed this addiction.
  • Food – People who can’t control what they eat risk all types of health problems, such as obesity, bulimia and heart problems. Binge eating, where people consume excess quantities of (unhealthy) food in one sitting (often when no one is looking), is especially dangerous. Some people use food as a drug.
  • Internet – The Internet has many lures. Some people get hooked on all the information. Wikipedia leads some people down endless rabbit holes from one topic to the next. Other people can’t pull themselves away from social media sites, porn sites and/or internet chat rooms. Internet addiction is especially contagious for shy and cash-strapped people.
  • Gambling – People who frequent casinos often get hooked on the chance of winning instant cash. This is very dangerous for people who don’t have much cash going into the game. Even when they win big, they often keep gambling, hoping to win more and more, only to lose it all and then some.
  • Shopping – Some people want it all and want it now. When a compulsive shopper engages in reckless spending, it’s often to fill an emptiness inside. The habit can drain finances and ruin credit scores. In many cases, people never use, wear or even stop and appreciate the things they buy on these shopping binges.
  • Social media – This takes internet addiction to a new level because it’s not just the socially awkward who fall prey. Beautiful and popular people get hooked on the “likes,” shares and attention of social media. With the advent of smartphones, people can indulge in social media addiction everywhere they go.
  • Video games – This has been an obsession for shy, geeky males since the days of video arcades. With the internet and gaming consoles, the habit has grown tenfold because kids can sit in their rooms night and day to get that dopamine rush from the action, adventure and excitement.
  • Plastic surgery – Some people are never satisfied in their own skin. There are those who wish to look younger and others who wish to look like someone else. Some people have hardwired ideas about what is and isn’t attractive and spend fortunes on endless surgeries trying to attain the ideal features. It’s a form of body dysmorphia. 
  • Thrill-seeking activities – Risky activities can be addictive to people who love life on the edge. Once they experience the rush of a speed race or a bungee jump, they want more of these fast, daredevil adventures. As they amp up the risk factor, their odds of coming out unscathed diminish. Some people risk injury, paralysis and death for this addiction.

Behavioral addiction renders people incapable of distinguishing a normal, healthy recreation from one that consumes too much time and resources at the expense of health, relationships and financial wellbeing.

Consequences of Behavioral Addiction

There are numerous drawbacks and dangers to behavioral addiction. People who get over-consumed with singular activities lose sight of other key areas in life. This is never a good thing, no matter how enjoyable the activity might be to the individual. Humans are meant to be multi-faceted; engaged in society and the economy. The risks of behavioral addiction include: 

  • Social withdrawal – When people get consumed with porn, video games, the internet and other reclusive habits, they become disengaged from friends and family. Thousands of young men have grown up with these habits and many become incels.
  • Irresponsibility – People who spend all day flipping through social media apps and Porn Hub often neglect key daily tasks, such as washing dishes and taking the dog for regular walks. Some people slack off at work on these sites and eventually get fired for not doing their job.
  • Personal neglect – Behavioral addiction causes people to neglect their health and hygiene. The porn or gaming addict typically subsists on junk food and soft drinks. The food addict typically stuffs their face with unhealthy snacks and grows obese. When people are glued to their computers, they tend not to shower or do laundry.
  • Declining performance – People who get hooked on specific recreational activities often lose interest in the things they must do to excel and thrive. Behavioral addictions rarely involve money-making activities. Consequently, the addiction causes the individual to neglect work and school obligations and suffer job termination and failing grades.
  • Financial problems – This is inevitable once the person gets fired due to subpar job performance. People who overspend or gamble also fall into this trap. With behavioral addiction, something that should only consume 2-3 hours per day consumes 10-12. This leaves little time for fiscal management and money-making.
  • Failed relationships – People who get addicted to specific activities often alienate their significant others. If a wife overspends and buys up every designer gown she sees, the husband will eventually draw a line in the sand. If a guy is too consumed with taking daredevil risks, his girlfriend might eventually wise up and distance herself.

In most cases, the activities that become behavioral addictions for certain people are not inherently bad. Even daredevil stunts have their time and place for those who are truly skilled and equipped. For others, the risks outweigh the possible thrill. Bottom line: if the person can’t put something down when it’s time to do something else, it’s an unhealthy sign.

Signs of Behavioral Addiction

When a person succumbs to behavioral addiction, the signs should be apparent to friends and loved ones. The subject will typically become less available, withdrawn and unresponsive while constantly engrossed in a specific activity. If he/she neglects health, hygiene and finances, it’s time to confront the person. Warning signs include:

  • Lack of impulse control – People with behavioral addictions cannot resist the urge to indulge in their favorite activity, even when they have obligations to honor. The person will make any excuse to play another game or buy another useless item.
  • Shame and embarrassment – Some people are in denial about their behavioral addictions. Friends and loved ones might be unaware of the problem because the person keeps it hidden. This does indicate a level of self-awareness since the person knows that the behavior is unhealthy and therefore finds it embarrassing.
  • Inability to stop – As people downward spiral into behavioral addiction, they can’t curtail the activity no matter how much harm it does to their health, relationships and finances. A person might acknowledge the problem but continually kick the can when it comes to change (“Oh, I’ll get help next week.. next month.”)
  • Increased risk-taking – The dopamine rush for people with behavioral addiction is insatiable. People hooked on risky stunts can never get enough of the thrill. The more they experience, the more daring they get with each new stunt. They often don’t know how lucky they are until it’s too late. 
  • Increased need to flaunt the behavior – While some people are embarrassed and shameful about their behavioral addictions, others have no such qualms. They might even boast about the behavior. This often happens when the behavior stems from newfound privileges, such as rags-to-riches subjects that become shopaholics.
  • Thinking about the activity nonstop – People with behavioral addiction think about the activity nonstop, even in the most inappropriate circumstance. The sex addict might lust for some nurse when he’s at the hospital to visit his ill mother. The gambling addict might space out in economics class thinking about his next trip to Vegas.
  • Mixing the behavior with substance abuse – The most toxic combination is behavioral addiction and substance abuse, which can feed into one another with horrific results. If someone is a shameless daredevil, alcohol will only make matters far more dangerous. 
  • Blaming past problems – Behavioral addiction is a mental health problem. Some people defend the problem and blame earlier events (heartbreak, disappointment, betrayal) and claim that this is their way of making up in life.

Certain types of behavioral addiction (gaming, porn, internet) lure tons of people who are socially awkward from the start. Since these people lack friends or romantic partners to intervene in the situation, the problem often goes unnoticed. Some of these people (mostly men) live at home into their twenties. 

Impact on Friends and Family

Behavioral addiction does more than cause suffering to those with the problem; it also devastates loved ones.

  • Loss of trust – People who can’t control their destructive behavioral addictions lose the trust of others, especially when the behavior imperils those around them (reckless stunts, spending).
  • Discomfort – People could get discomforting vibes from a person with behavioral addiction, regardless of whether they know. A porn addict who neglects his teeth, health and grooming could easily spook the people he knows when he does go out, especially if he develops an “incel” vibe.
  • Alienation – Behavioral addiction alienates others, even if they’re not aware of the actual problem. Two friends might have a long-term bond over common interests and experiences, only for one to cultivate a separate hobby that becomes addictive and foreign to the other person.
  • Heartbreak – When behavioral addiction takes hold, the person’s spouse or partner might eventually get fed up and leave. The person, now alone and jilted, might just delve further into the activity to ease the pain. 
  • Financial loss – Most people with behavioral addiction are not in good financial positions. Working class people get hooked on video games, which consume time and prevent goal-setting. Middle-class people become shopaholics and destroy their credit. High-earning single men get hooked on findom and throw their money away.
  • Endangerment – Behavioral-addicted people imperil themselves and those around them. If a gambling addict makes bets he can’t honor, the mafia might target his wife or mistress. If a daredevil wants to ride his motorbike between rooftops, he might lure his drunk girlfriend onto the pillion.

People with behavioral addiction need help. The problem often goes unchecked because, unlike drug and alcohol addiction, people don’t recognize this as an illness with clear-cut warning signs.

Treatment for Behavioral Addiction

Once the problem is recognized, it’s time to get help for behavioral addiction. Some centers for drug and alcohol addiction also treat behavioral addiction. The most popular treatment methods include:

  • Dual diagnosis therapy – This helps patients identify the underlying issues behind their problem. Most addiction is rooted in childhood trauma, grief or abandonment. The activity is often used to fill this pain, void or loss. By coming to terms with the underlying issue, it’s easier to treat the problem.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy – This helps patients identify negative thought patterns that play on repeat in a person’s subconscious. Stuff like “there’s no way out, so surrender.” Once the patient identifies the thought, CBT helps reverse the message to something positive and life-affirming.
  • Life skills training – This helps patients lead lives that are balanced and productive. It sets daily patterns that the person must follow to become a responsible person who balances health, finances and relationships.
  • Experiential therapy – Experience-based therapies that help people find healthy, positive hobbies that enrich the mind and spark passion and creativity. Examples include animal therapy, art therapy and music therapy. Equine therapy (horse care) is a popular example.
  • Group support – When people attend treatment for behavioral addiction, they meet in groups with other people who suffer similar problems. As people learn and grow, they can help each other heal by sharing their insights in their fight against behavioral addiction.
  • Family therapy – Family members often feel alienated by the person’s behavior. Most people don’t even know about behavioral addiction. In family therapy, both parties are brought together to mend communication gaps.

Some people go out seeking help for behavioral addiction, others refuse to face the issue. For the latter, it’s crucial to get that person the help he/she needs.

Get Help for Behavioral Addiction

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.

Make a Call

If someone you know has a self-destructive behavioral addiction, get that person the help he/she needs to reconnect with others and lead a healthier, productive life. Call the local treatment centers that offer behavioral therapy and ask about their programs and financing. Your call could help restore someone to the person they used to be.

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