Addictive Behaviors: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Addictive behaviors are a set of actions centered around any activity, substance, or object that has become the dominant focus of a person’s life. Also, the individual prioritizes these behaviors over other activities even when they bring physical, mental, or social harm to the individual or others around them.

What Are Addictive Behaviors?

A person can develop addiction or obsession with just about anything, including sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping, pornography, the Internet, etc.

Some researchers propose that there are commonalities between a chemical addiction to substances like alcohol and heroin and a psychological compulsion to engage in activities such as work, running, or bodybuilding. Like drugs and alcohol, experts believe that these activities may increase endorphins in the brain, which makes the person experience pleasure.

Experts posit that if a person continues engaging in an activity to achieve this feeling of euphoria, he/she may fall into an addictive cycle. In so doing, the person becomes physically addicted to the release of his or her own brain chemicals, compelling them to continue the behavior despite the adverse health or social consequences it produces.

Most chemical addictions to substances such as alcohol, heroin, or benzodiazepines also have a psychological component – indeed, many believe that these aspects of addiction are really just two sides of the same coin. For example, an alcoholic who has not consumed alcohol for years may still crave a drink from time to time.

Therefore, some researchers believe that we need to consider both psychological and physiological dependencies as an addictive process and as addictive behaviors. They imply that all of these behaviors have a myriad of similarities that make them more alike than different from each other, and perhaps they should not be considered to be separate diseases or problems.

Common Features

There are many common features among the wide variety of addictive behaviors:

  • The individual becomes obsessed with an activity, substance, or object, and they will seek it out despite the harm it is causing to their life, such as poor performance at work or strain on meaningful relationships.
  • The individual will compulsively engage in the activity even if he or she doesn’t want to and finds it difficult to stop.
  • Upon discontinuation of the activity, withdrawal symptoms occur. These can include feelings of irritability, cravings, restlessness, anxiety or depression.
  • The person does not have control as to when, for how long, or how much or to what extent he or she will engage in the behavior.
  • The person often denies that there are problems that result from his or her engagement in the behavior, although others can quite plainly see the adverse effects.
  • The person tries to conceal the behavior (e.g., hiding alcohol bottles or drugs) after family or friends have expressed concern.
  • The individual is often depressed and has low self-esteem, and feel stressed out if they do not have control over their environment.

The Causes of Addictive Behaviors

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There is no medical agreement regarding the etiology, prevention, and treatment of addictive disorders. For example, many people consider addictive behaviors such as gambling and drug addiction “diseases,” while others deem them to be behaviors learned in response to the intricate interaction between inherited and environmental factors.

Still others contend there is a genetic cause. Some researchers have noted that, unlike most common diseases which have a definite cause and treatment model by which everyone accepts, there is no absolute cause or specific treatment approach upon which everyone agrees for most addictive behaviors.

This lack of consensus among experts results in issues with prevention and treatment approaches for many addictive behaviors. There is some debate about whether total abstinence or sustained but moderate use of a substance (e.g., alcohol) or activity (e.g., gambling) is the most useful. Others question whether or not a particular medication is a desirable treatment method.

Although speculations for the causes of addictive behaviors and their treatment are many, various therapies have been shown to help people who experience an addictive behavior.

Treatment for Substance Abuse

Addiction can be a dangerous and life-threatening condition that profoundly impacts the person using as well as those who love them.

Fortunately, people can and do recover from addiction. Evidence-based treatments, such as those provided by Harmony Recovery, include medication, counseling, and behavioral therapy. Throughout our rehab programs, people learn how to change the way they think about drugs and alcohol and deal with other problems that compel them to use.

If you believe that you or a family member may be suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol, contact us today! Using an integrated approach to addiction, we can provide you with the tools, knowledge, and support you need to achieve abstinence and begin to experience the fulfilling life you deserve!

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