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How Do You Develop a Behavioral Addiction?

Behaviors are addictive to many people. Unlike drug and alcohol addiction — which are both subjects of attention, resources and endless concern — little attention has been given to behavioral addiction, which occurs when a person develops a single-minded attachment to one activity at the expense of other things in life. 

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What Is Behavioral Addiction?

Behavioral addiction refers to idle and/or costly activities that many people take to unhealthy extremes. Behavioral addictions can cause people to lose their friends, wreck their health, drain their bank accounts and risk death. Common behavioral addictions include:

  • Internet – The internet sucks users in because it brings everything (news, entertainment, photos, communication) to people’s fingertips. Some people get hooked on the endless flood of information, imagery and random interactions offered by websites and social media apps.
  • Social media – People get hooked on social media for different reasons. Instagram is addictive for the models who seek likes and compliments, and also for the viewers who get endless floods of titillation. Twitter is addictive for people who thrive on political drama and “winning” flame wars. Facebook is an endless flood of infotainment.
  • Shopping – Some people get hooked on buying things for the thrill of hoarding. They want what they see, but don’t necessarily use what they buy. Compulsive shoppers don’t often stop to appreciate the things they’ve acquired; it’s always onto the next round of purchases. Once they get something, all they think about is the other things they want.
  • Gambling – People who hang out at casinos often get hooked on gambling for possible wins. Visitors spend all their cash on slot machines and sometimes win big, then spend all that cash for more wins, only to lose it all. Regulars spend their weeks at the poker tables hoping to win fortunes, only to wind up dangerously in debt to shady people.
  • Porn – This gets easily addictive to anyone with a high sex drive. People who are shy or socially awkward use porn as a substitute for sex. Some people get hooked on the high sexual ideals of porn and lose their ability to respond sexually to common, realistic partners.
  • Gaming – People get hooked on gaming because it puts the player in the front seat of wild, harrowing adventures, all from the safety and comfort of the gamer’s bedroom. The gaming world offers endless virtual realities where the gamer can play a superhero, a vigilante, a medieval warrior or a criminal.
  • Binge eating – Compulsive eating is an addictive habit for people with an insatiable hunger and hyperactive mouths. Some people love the smell and crave the taste yet gobble things down without savoring the bites. The more people overeat, the larger their appetites get, even as their girths expand.
  • Plastic surgery – People with vanity issues sometimes go to extremes to alter their appearance. This often plays into body dysmorphia, where the individual never thinks that he/she is attractive enough as is. One plastic surgery procedure never solves the issue for these people. 
  • Dangerous stunts – Some people love the adrenaline rush of daredevil acts like bungee jumps, bridge dives and speed races. The experience might be momentary but they always think about the act. Once the stunt is done, some risk-takers wish to make things even more daring on their next stunt.

Some behavioral addictions are location-based, such as gambling, which is more common in casino towns like Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City. Other behavioral addictions are privilege-based, such as shopping addiction, which is only an option for affluent people or those with lines of credit to burn.

What Causes Behavioral Addiction?

Instagram addiction is common among young women who love showing off and heterosexual men of all ages who love to ogle. Twitter addiction is popular among political partisans who can’t get enough confirmation bias from their hand-picked echo chambers.

  • Boredom – People seek escape from the mundanities of daily life. Activities like web surfing, social media and games offer lots of fun and entertainment. However, some people fail to balance these activities with more important things like health, walks, art and wildlife. 
  • Emptiness – Some people use addictive hobbies like gaming, shopping and food to fill some internal void. People who feel unloved might spend their days on social media seeking “likes” and compliments. People who feel ashamed of a poor upbringing might spend their adulthood hoarding flashy items to show off their newfound wealth.
  • Cravings – Most people like and want certain things and activities are often tempting. Some people, however, are more impulsive and insatiable with the things they like and want. The person with a behavioral addiction lacks the discipline to know when enough is enough.
  • Peer pressure – Certain behavioral addictions are widespread among select demographics and age groups. Zoomers are largely hooked on TikTok because all their friends and classmates are on the app. Millionaire wives and sugar babies often become showy shopaholics as part of an ostentatious competition with one another.
  • Shyness – Some people immerse themselves in gaming and social media because they fear social interaction in the real world. On the internet, they can adopt usernames and interact in anonymity. They can express anything and pretend to be anyone without the awkwardness and insecurity that makes them socially avoidant.
  • Financial limitations – Behavioral addictions that don’t involve spending, such as internet porn and social media consumption, tempt lots of people with limited resources. On sites like PornHub, users can view and download free porn 24/7. On Facebook and Twitter, users get endless feeds of articles, photos and videos (free infotainment).
  • Lack of restraint – Some people lack the self-discipline to manage their time wisely and balance their activities. While most people know that a mix of indoor and outdoor, mental and physical, alone and social, work and play activities are healthy for a well-rounded existence, some people give into singular habits that feel good.
  • Laziness – Some people get hooked on certain activities because they lack the energy to do anything else. The most common behavioral addictions (internet, porn, gaming, social media consumption) are sedentary activities that don’t involve physical exertion. When people sit about all day, it perpetuates laziness.

Behavioral addiction results from taking one enjoyable activity and running it into the ground at the expense of everything else. It invokes the idiom “too much of a good thing.”

What Do People Get from Behavioral Addiction?

Behavioral addictions feed into people’s desire for compliments, entertainment and comfort. Some activities reinforce mindsets that a user might feel insecure about, so he/she spends all day in an echo chamber to feel superior to those who might disagree. The lures of behavioral addiction include:

  • Reward – Certain activities offer easy, quick rewards that can be highly addictive. Some people who’ve tasted the finer fruits of a gambling win can never look back. People who blow up on social media get hooked on the “likes,” shares and Patreon support.
  • Freebies – The internet is full of free things that people once had to pay to see, hear or learn. A person could spend all day streaming free music that would have taken years to afford and collect. They could also spend hours reading pdfs of books that were once hard to obtain or only available at a library.
  • Excitement – People get hooked on the constant flood of breaking news, sexy photos and funny videos in their TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feed. For the gambler, it’s the adrenaline rush of winning big.  
  • Infotainment – In a time where “hard news” is mixed with innuendo and scandal and celebrity gossip is treated as serious news, today’s internet users have grown accustomed to combined feeds of titillation, humor, adventure and faux political outrage.
  • Instant gratification – The internet spoils people. There’s nothing more gratifying than to have something (music, movies, images, videos, info) instantly for free.  
  • Distraction – Behavioral addictions distract people from the boredom and trouble in their daily lives. If a person is living paycheck to paycheck in a rundown flat, at least he/she has the internet to pass the free time. The overeater uses the taste and texture of food to make depression more bearable. 
  • Comfort – Some people settle into patterns and cling to habits that reinforce the familiar. A shy person with limited interests might picture the perfect Saturday evening as a night at home alone with pizza, PornHub, video games and Twitter.
  • Reinforcement – People constantly seek validation for their self-worth, attractiveness and beliefs. A person with staunch political slants might spend hours on Twitter ‘liking” posts that confirm a like-minded view and spurn an opposing one.

Behavioral addiction fills short-term needs but rarely boosts long-term health and satisfaction in life. Most parents don’t want their children to have behavioral addiction and few children would idealize such activities for their future.

Signs of Behavioral Addiction

In the last decade, social media has lured hundreds of thousands of people into various types of online behavioral addiction. It can turn loved ones into unfamiliar people.

  • Social withdrawal – People with sedentary behavioral addictions (internet, gaming, porn) tend to be reclusive. Some get into these habits to avoid social interaction; others become more antisocial as the habit takes hold. 
  • Misanthropy – Social isolation makes people cynical about the outside world. The basement gamer with no real-life friends might thrive on games where he gets to kill people by the dozen. It’s a manifestation of his contempt for humanity.
  • Single-mindedness – Behavior addiction is a form of tunnel vision. The user of a given activity likes only certain things and can’t be moved to try other activities that don’t involve the internet, shopping or social media.
  • Never-ending dissatisfaction – People with behavioral addiction typically chase after a thrill or an item yet never appreciate what they’ve already experienced. The hunt is always more thrilling than the catch.
  • Declining appearance – Reclusive and sedentary behavioral addiction causes people to neglect their appearance. Why should someone comb their hair, shave or shower when each day will be another spent indoors at a PC with no social interaction? 
  • Insecurity – Behavioral addiction is often driven by (and feeds into) insecurity. A vain female who lacked friends in school might spend all her time posting filtered pics of herself on Instagram, yet those thousands of “likes” can’t compensate for the love she didn’t get as a child or teen.
  • Debt – Behavioral addiction often drives people into financial default or worse. People who spend their money on things they can’t afford risk repossession and foreclosure. Those who spend all day on social media could lose their jobs due to lackluster performance.
  • Guilt – When people overdo certain behaviors, there is usually a sense of guilt attached. Most people know that it’s not healthy to be so hyper-focused on one activity and neglect all other areas of life. 

Behavioral addiction often manifests gradually over several months, such as during a cold winter when people stay indoors. During the pandemic, more people than ever found themselves glued to social media and video games because they had nothing else to do.

Consequences of Behavioral Addiction

People equate behavioral addiction with wasted time but the consequences are often far worse. Behavioral addiction can take its toll on a person’s relationships, legal standing, mental health and physical well-being.

  • Mental illness – As behavioral addiction intensifies, it takes its toll on the person’s mental health. People get lonely, depressed and sometimes hateful when they’re isolated.
  • Declining health – Behavioral addiction is bad for people’s physical and physiological health. A sedentary life is bad for the organs and extremities. Constant flipping and screen-reading are bad for the hands and eyes.
  • Obesity – Sedentary individuals often gain weight as the years pass, especially if they eat lots of surgery, fatty foods. People who binge eat are most at risk. Ordinary eaters can also gain weight if they spend all their time still.
  • Poverty – Behavioral addictions often cause financial ruin. Gambling can put people in huge amounts of debt. 
  • Isolation – Behavioral addiction isolates people from friends, loved ones and colleagues. People who were once outgoing become obsessed with activities that keep them away from the public. Shy people grow further disengaged from their few contacts in life.
  • Legal trouble – Certain types of behavioral addiction can have legal repercussions. A person who overspends could max out his/her credit cards and eventually have to file for bankruptcy. A daredevil stunt might break city code and lead to fines and jail time. 
  • Injury – People addicted to risk-taking stunts sometimes wind up fractured, paralyzed or dead. Unsanctioned acts (parachuting off buildings, climbing over bridge arches) can momentarily shut down cities and use up emergency resources.  

The silver lining to behavioral addiction is that it’s not a chemical dependency like drug or alcohol addiction. Drugs like heroin and cocaine are physically addictive because they alter the brain’s reward center and its communication of pleasure signals through the body. Behavioral addictions are simply habits that people can change with dedication.

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

Get Help for Behavioral Addiction

If someone you know is addicted to a certain activity that is not productive or healthy and wastes time and resources, talk to that person about his/her problem. If the individual refuses to discuss the matter and continues going down the slope of his/her behavioral addiction, contact the treatment centers in your area for help. 

Across the US, many centers that offer drug counseling and therapy also help people with a behavioral addiction. Your call could help that person become a more well-rounded individual.

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