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Behavioral Addiction and Mental Health Therapy

When ordinary and fun activities become compulsive, obsessive acts for certain individuals, it’s a behavioral addiction. While the negative consequences aren’t as severe as alcohol and drug abuse, behavioral addictions can ruin a person’s health, finances and relations.

What are the different types of behavioral addictions and what forms of mental health therapy are used to treat them?

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Types of Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions are activities that become the source of obsessive fixation for the participant. Activities that cause excitement and joy, such as video games and masturbation, cause rushes of dopamine that reward the brain’s pleasure center.

While most people partake in these activities, people with behavioral addiction become compulsive in their habits, unable to resist despite the toll it takes on their health, finances and social lives. Common behavioral addictions include:

  • Gambling – A lot of people get hooked on the prospect of earning lots of cash in a single play. They’ll sit in casinos and earn, then continue gambling in the hopes of doubling their wins, only to lose it all and then some. Gambling is a dangerous addiction that can lead to poverty, credit debt, lawsuits and trouble with the mafia.
  • Eating – Some people use food as a drug. Everyone eats, but some people can’t stop eating, even on a full stomach. Their mouths are addicted to the texture and the activity of munching. In some cases, food is a comfort drug that puts people’s minds off responsibility, hardship and depression. This can cause obesity and heart problems.
  • Sex – Most people love sex and sexuality. Others get so hooked on sexual sensations and fetish fixations that their minds can hardly process anything else. There’s nothing wrong with a few daily hours of sexual focus. It becomes a problem (and a behavioral addiction) when sexual addiction impedes one’s ability to be productive, social and responsible.
  • Shopping – When there’s an item you want, getting it causes a dopamine rush. Most people take an interest in acquiring something (books, clothes, instruments, cars, music, gadgets, comics). However, the hunt is more thrilling than the catch. Some people just can’t stop and smell the roses. Like gambling addiction, this leads to debt and poverty.
  • Video Games – A favorite pastime of many young boys, video games cause feelings of adventure. At the safety of a gaming console, games allow boys to perform James Bond stunts and Superman feats. Gamers often lose track of passing time. Hours pass by with no exercise, hygiene or social activity.
  • Pornography – Singles and socially awkward people often get hooked on porn because it compensates for the lack of sexual activity in their lives. For some people, porn is a portal to forbidden kinks and fetishes. People who don’t communicate with their partners often have a secret porn addiction. Too much porn can leave people maladjusted and depressed.
  • Internet – Like television before it, the Internet is one of the most time-consuming things on Earth. Some people can’t pull themselves away from Twitter and all the political drama and flame wars. Others can’t walk away from Chaturbate or PornHub, In some instances (OnlyFans) Internet addiction is costly.

Behavioral addictions like gambling, gaming and sex addiction are often as hard to overcome as drug and alcohol abuse. Like drugs, gambling and shopping addiction can cause financial ruin. They might not have the same devastating impacts on the heart or respiratory system, but they have a similar effect on the brain’s reward centers.

How to Recognize Behavioral Addiction

People who develop behavioral addictions often do so without recognizing the problem. It raises the question: when does a regular pastime (sex, shopping, social media) become a behavioral addiction? Usually when the person’s behavior shows these signs:

  • Obsession – Behavioral addictions become the subject of obsession to participants who can’t get enough of the activity. It’s all they think about. A person addicted to sex has little or no refractory period. Sexual imagery flashes through his mind constantly, even in inappropriate settings (work, class, family reunions).
  • Secretiveness – When a person gets secretive, embarrassed or ashamed of a regular pastime (Twitter, comics, eating cookies), chances are he/she is aware on some level that the habit has gone too far. While others do these things in moderation, this person does nothing else and doesn’t want others to find out.
  • Compulsion – If the person is self-aware of his/her all-consuming habit, yet can’t resist the activity or keep it in moderation, it’s a behavioral addiction. The person continues to engage in this activity throughout the day, regardless of the toll it takes on his/her finances, health, hygiene, mental state and social relations.
  • Irritability – Like drug and alcohol addicts, people with behavioral addictions often become irritable when the activity is not possible, such as when a Twitter or gaming addict is on a long drive with no mobile. These people can be snappish, combative or aloof, yet secretive when asked what’s wrong.
  • Isolation – People with certain behavioral addictions like gaming and porn are likely to isolate themselves for hours on end; even for several days, if possible. The thrill of virtual adventure (video games) or sex provides enough dopamine to trick the mind into thinking it’s getting actual activity.
  • Depression – When people succumb to behavioral addictions, they know deep down that their habits aren’t healthy. Days and weeks pass by with nothing accomplished. Months turn into years with no goals reached. No one truly feels that their main purpose in life is to spend all their time in front of video games or eating to morbid corpulence.

Problems like food addiction, compulsive gambling and other behavioral addictions are often tied to mental health disorders. Behavioral addictions are like obsessive-compulsive disorder, where the person irrationally cleans due to fear of germs. Both show a lack of balance and disconnect from reality.

Treating Behavioral Addictions

For behavioral addiction, treatment follows a similar strategy used for other types of addictive disorders. As with alcohol and drug addiction therapy, treatment for gambling and compulsive sexual behavior are treated with the following therapeutic methods:

  • Dual diagnosis therapy – Based on the concept that addictive behaviors stem from mental disorders rooted in past issues, such as childhood trauma, grief or loss. To help the person conquer his/her addiction, the subject must recognize and come to terms with the underlying issues that fuel the addictive behavior.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy – Built on the premise that behaviors stem from deep-seated beliefs. For a subject to overcome behavioral and substance addictions, he/she must reverse the subconscious beliefs that dictate the actions. 
  • Experiential therapy – Some of the best remedies for substance use disorder and behavioral addiction are experience therapies that involve art, music, animals, physical activity and the great outdoors. 

An example of self-defeating unconscious beliefs: if an internal voice says “you’ll never be thin or attractive; food is your only comfort,” the subject won’t conquer food addiction until he/she reverses that subconscious belief.

Activities like yoga, sports, rock climbing, horseback riding, painting, animal care and classical music appreciation engage the heart, mind, and body and take people away from the toxic thoughts and actions spurred by mental illness.

Get Help for Drug Addiction and Behavioral Addictions

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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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At clinics across the US, counselors treat behavioral addictions and impulse control disorders in different programs, including inpatient and outpatient therapy. Most treatment facilities host family counseling sessions and group therapy meetings where patients can discuss their issues with relatives and like-minded people with the same struggles.

If someone you know needs help with behavioral addiction or substance abuse, treatment options are available at centers in every state. Behavioral addictions and substance use disorders don’t have to overtake a person’s life, though they can if people don’t intervene. 

For more information about treatment options, contact nearby treatment centers today. Your call could make all the difference.

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