Behavioral Addiction Treatment Options

Behavioral Addictions

Written By: Molly Groo

Molly is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Case Manager and Vocational Services. She has a Bachelor’s in International Relations, is a Certified Addiction Counselor, and it’s currently working towards her Master’s in Social Work. Molly’s experience allows her to provide expert knowledge about solution-based methods to help people in recovery maintain long-term sobriety.
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Molly. "Behavioral Addiction Treatment Options." Lighthouse Recovery Institute., Published on Jan 24, 2020, https://lighthouserecoveryinstitute.com/behavioral-addiction-and-substance-use/.

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Published on Jan 24, 2020 | Addiction Treatments

Like dependence on drugs and alcohol, behavioral addiction can be damaging to every aspect of someone’s life. Many addicts and alcoholics struggle with behavioral addiction both in and out of recovery. Fortunately, many different behavioral addiction treatment options can help people find long-term recovery.

What is Behavioral Addiction?

Behavioral addictions, also known as process addictions, follow the same pattern as substance-based addictions. Because of the way our brains process pleasure, reward, and behaviors, individuals can become dependent on multiple different behavioral patterns.

Whenever these individuals engage in activities or behaviors that trigger the release of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain, slowly but steadily, these chemical reactions rewire the brain, causing addiction. Eventually, people find themselves craving and participating in these activities despite the negative consequences. 

However, unlike drug and alcohol addiction, behavioral addictions are a highly debated subject. Even though the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) explicitly included behaviors in the addictions category. So far, only gambling disorder is the only officially recognized behavioral addiction. 

Types of Behavioral Addictions

There are many types of behavioral addictions and can affect relationships, work-life, and other aspects of life. The most common behavioral addictions include:

  • Gambling addiction
  • Food addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • Shopping addiction
  • Gaming addiction
  • Pornography addiction
  • Internet addiction
  • Shopping addiction
  • Exercise addiction
  • Work addiction
  • Tattoo addiction 

Many of these behaviors are a normal part of life; however, for people who struggle with addiction, they can take over. When someone begins to experience financial issues, conflict in relationships, loss of sleep, inability to function, and loss of control over any of these behaviors, they may have crossed the line into behavioral addiction.

Why Are Certain Behaviors Considered Addictions?

People engage with hundreds of different behaviors throughout their day without a problem. In general, people make choices about which behavior to engage in the next relatively thoughtfully and with the intent to improve their experience.

For example, when you feel hungry, you may choose to eat a healthy snack that will not only satisfy your hunger but also give you the energy to continue your day. However, someone with food addiction may choose to eat even when not hungry and may binge eat unhealthy foods in large amounts.

When these behaviors become impulsive and contribute to the development of a range of physical and mental health problems, plus the person is unable to stop, it’s considered an addiction. 

Some people argue these issues are a matter of self-control, not addiction. Yet, in reality, even addicts have a level of self-control, and would undoubtedly stop engaging in their behavior of choice long before it harmed their physical health, ended primary relationships, and caused a host of financial, legal, and mental health disorders.

How to Recognize Behavioral Addiction Patterns

Because these are daily lifestyle activities, it can be challenging to identify behavioral addictions. Understanding the different signs can help people identify the difference between addictive behavior, problematic behavior, and expected behavior. The most noticeable symptoms include:

  • Spending the majority of your time engaging in the said behavior, thinking about or arranging your time to engage in the behavior, or recovering from the effects
  • Becoming dependent on the behavior as a way to cope with emotions
  • Continuing despite physical and mental harm
  • Having trouble cutting back despite wanting to stop
  • Neglecting work, school, or family members to engage in the behavior
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when trying to stop
  • Minimizing the extent of the problem

It can be challenging to admit to yourself or someone else that you have a problem. Starting with self-help, you can change your mindset to help you be ready to seek help. 

The Connection Between Substances and Behavioral Problems

Addicts and alcoholics may be at a higher risk for compulsive, addictive behaviors. The high-risk is because regular use of substances can impact the way the brain processes information. When someone uses drugs addictively, they reinforce “addiction pathways” in the brain.

Generally, this makes them more susceptible to addiction- whether it’s to another drug or something like gambling. 

For many, compulsive behaviors like high-risk sex and gambling go hand-in-hand with drug or alcohol use. For example, someone who drinks each night at the casino may associate alcohol with the rush of betting. In these cases, someone can become addicted to both the substances and the behaviors associated with it.

Unfortunately, in recovery, many people seek a substitution for the rush they used to experience from drugs and alcohol. Thus, it’s crucial to address both issues and avoid substituting one damaging pattern for another.

Behavioral Addiction Treatment Options

Often, people struggling with behavioral addiction don’t recognize there’s a problem until it starts affecting those around them. Many face money problems, relationship issues, and sometimes even lose their jobs due to their addictive behaviors. 

Fortunately, those suffering from behavioral addictions can seek treatment. Similar to substance dependencies, several behavioral addiction treatment options can help. Addiction treatment centers offer various therapies to treat a range of conditions, and some specialize in treating behavioral addictions. 

Many individuals benefit from speaking with a psychiatrist or psychologist who can help them overcome emotional difficulties and make positive changes in their lives. Usually, treatment incorporates:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapy focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive distortions and behaviors, improving emotional regulation, and the development of coping strategies that target current problems. 
  • Individual therapy: One-on-one therapy sessions offer a unique and transparent space for those in recovery to express their challenges, emotions, and hopes. 
  • Couples therapy: When behavioral addictions break apart relationships, both romantic and family ones, couples counseling can help restore trust and rebuild relationships, which can be essential for support in long-term recovery.
  • Group therapy: Speaking about challenges, emotions, and troubles in a group environment, can offer a sense of fellowship and support, as well as providing a space to build sober relationships.
  • Self-help groups: Usually, addiction is a lifelong journey; self-help groups can offer aftercare support once someone ends treatment. Usually, these 12-step programs provide a sense of structure that can help with long-term sobriety.

Getting Help

To get to the root of addiction, rehab centers should offer services that address the whole person. Generally, this involves getting to the heart of negative behaviors, thoughts, and patterns through quality therapy. Thus, to help our patients who struggle with addiction and negative behaviors, we offer comprehensive drug treatment programs. 

As a result, we focus on long-term individual therapy and aftercare. Additionally, we focus on life skills development, dual diagnosis treatment, and assisting patients with developing a lifestyle that promotes freedom from drug addiction.

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our comprehensive addiction programs include treatment for behavioral addictions. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, learn more about our rehab programs today. 

Written By: Molly Groo

Molly is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Case Manager and Vocational Services. She has a Bachelor’s in International Relations, is a Certified Addiction Counselor, and it’s currently working towards her Master’s in Social Work. Molly’s experience allows her to provide expert knowledge about solution-based methods to help people in recovery maintain long-term sobriety.

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