Much like substance addictions, behavioral addictions are rooted in emotional or spiritual conflict. Identifying the root cause and finding a healthier, more productive way of coping is how to change addictive behavior.

What is Behavioral Addiction

Behavioral addiction, though based on scientific knowledge, is still a controversial concept. Many of the disorders under the umbrella of behavioral addiction have existed for decades, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the term was officially recommended to be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Like substance addiction, behavioral addiction is the repeated inability to resist a temptation or urge to do something despite known negative consequences. But as the name suggests, this addiction is to a specific behavior such as gambling, gaming, sex, or eating.

Behavioral addictions induce typical feelings of tension or arousal before engaging in the behavior and subsequently a “rush,” or feelings of pleasure or relief, once the individual has immersed themself in the behavior.

What Are Addictive Behaviors

There are six primary components of behavioral addiction; preoccupation with and inability to control the behavior, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and recurrence. As such, the diagnostic criteria for behavioral addiction is very similar to substance addiction.

So you may be wondering, what are some examples of addictive behaviors?

Currently, the only two recognized addictive behaviors in the DSM-V are:

  • Pathological (Compulsive) Gambling, and
  • Internet Gaming Addiction

This doesn’t discount the validity of other addictive behaviors. Rather, there is not enough scientific, peer-reviewed evidence needed to develop standard criteria for diagnosis.

Compulsive gambling is the most thoroughly studied and as such, was the first behavior added to the DSM-V. Other addictive behaviors include:

  • Compulsive skin picking*
  • Excessive tanning*
  • Internet addiction*
  • Sexual addiction*
  • Compulsive buying*
  • Exercise addiction
  • Food addiction/binge eating
  • TV addiction
  • Social media addiction
  • Plastic surgery addiction
  • Risky behavior addiction
  • Exercise addiction
  • Pornography addiction
  • Work addiction
  • Kleptomania

Behaviors denoted with an (*) were up for consideration to be included in the last update of the DSM but were ultimately left out due to a lack of sufficient required evidence.

What Causes Addictive Behaviors

Many behavioral disorders actually begin in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood.

Oftentimes, a person will experience a traumatic event that creates or enhances a feeling of longing. The individual finds an activity that provides a distraction and temporarily satiates that longing. However, the activity/behavior soon becomes a coping mechanism. If negative consequences occur as a direct result of engaging in that behavior, one of two scenarios will occur: the individual recognizes the negative impact and stops, or the brain justifies the behavior and continues to seek it out despite the consequences. The latter is indicative of addiction.

How to Change Addictive Behavior

Interestingly, behavioral addiction responds well to the same treatment methods as substance addiction:

  • Outpatient
  • Residential / Inpatient
  • Medication
  • Support Groups

Depending on the type and severity of your addiction, you may consider outpatient or inpatient therapy. In outpatient rehab, you’ll attend individual, group, and/or family therapy sessions at least several times per week but remain living at home and able to attend to your obligations.

Conversely, residential rehab will require that you live onsite at the facility for the duration of your treatment. The benefit to this model is physically distancing yourself from your source of addiction, more focused treatment, and being continuously surrounded by a support team.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used form of therapy for behavioral addictions. CBT focuses on what causes addictive behaviors and finding more productive ways to cope with those thoughts and emotions.

Though no medications are currently approved for treating behavioral addiction, Naltrexone and Topiramate – two medications typically used to treat substance use disorder – have shown the same promising results for several behavioral disorders. Other research has indicated the benefits of SSRI antidepressants for addictive behaviors.

Wondering how to change addictive behavior on your own?

Therapy, medication, and support groups can truly be the best route for some, but for others, they may be able to break their addictions on their own.

Some individuals are able to stop their addictions by:

  • Finding a new hobby, challenge or relationship that helps distract and replace the addiction. It is important to note that there is a risk of the new hobby becoming the source of a new addiction. Being mindful of this is important. If possible, discuss your plans with a friend or family member who can check in with you and be honest if they notice new addictive behaviors beginning.
  • Starting exercising. Exercise is a natural antidepressant that relieves stress and increases mental clarity. It also releases endorphins which trigger the brain’s reward system.

If you need help with your addiction, call St. Johns Recovery Place today at 833-397-3422 to speak to a team member about how we can help!

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