Addiction is a complex issue; research has it that addiction is now classified as a disease that affects the brain. Most people think of substance use when they hear about addiction, but that’s not the only type of addiction. Today, most experts recognize two types of addiction:
Chemical addiction: This refers to addiction that involves the use of substances.
Behavioural addiction: This refers to addiction that involves compulsive behaviours. These are persistent, repeated behaviours that you carry out even if they don’t offer any real benefit to you.
People understand addiction when it comes to a dependence on substances, such as alcohol, illicit drugs (like Cannabis, heroin, nicotine, cocaine etc) or even prescription medications. They find it very difficult to accept the concept of addictive behaviours. It’s also possible to develop a behavioural addiction when you get hooked on everything from gambling to sex to phone to the Internet etc.
Some activities are so normal that it’s difficult to believe people can become addicted to them. Yes but the cycle of addiction can still take over, making everyday life a constant struggle. Despite the struggle, people still seek more time to engage in the behaviour ignoring its negative consequences.
Chemical Addiction: What you should know
Chemical addiction can be complicated to discuss because there’s often confusion around what constitutes substance misuse, dependency, and addiction. Many experts also prefer it because it avoid terms like “abuse,” which can further stigmatize addiction and prevent people from seeking help.
Common symptoms of substance use disorder include:
- Intense cravings for more affect your ability to think about relevant things
- Feeling of discomfort or unease if unable to access the substance
- Risky substance use, like driving or working while using it can lead to death
- Due to substance use, you tends to find trouble managing work, school, or household responsibilities perfectly
- Spending less time on activities you used to enjoy
- Inability to stop using the substance
Behavioural Addictions: A serious issue
Behavioral addictions (also called process addictions) follow the same pattern as substance-based addictions, which result in problems in many areas of one’s life. It has similar effects to chemical/substance addictions, which are often neglected. As a result of difficulties arising from behavioural addiction undermining trust, we put pressure on partners and family members to cover up and make up.
Although experts disagree about whether behavioural addictions are “real” addictions, but have included behaviours in the addictions category while Gambling disorder is the only officially recognized behavioural addiction. Outside the world of professional psychology, the media has taken on and embraced the concepts of behavioural addictions, such as sex addiction and shopping addiction, as well as activities that are not included in the discussion about addiction including self-injury (cutting), and multiple plastic surgeries.
Types of Addictive Behaviour
Although most of these addictions are not recognized by the leading diagnostic guide for the mental health profession; many healthcare providers believe these are distressing conditions can be treated. And some behavioural addictions are more common than others, including: Gambling addiction, Sex addiction, Phone addiction, Internet addiction, Shopping addiction, Video game addiction, Food addiction, Exercise addiction, Work addiction, Tattoo addiction, Porn addiction etc.
Even when not specifically labeled as an addiction, the behaviours can lead to real problems in an individual’s life, functioning, and relationships. These behaviours can also create considerable distress and be difficult to change, even when the person wants to stop engaging in such actions. If the behaviour is causing distress and disrupting your life, please don’t keep quiet, talk to your doctor or mental health care professional.
Signs of Behavioral Addictions
Understanding the addictive process and the danger signs can help you to tell the difference between addictive behaviour, problematic behaviour that’s not an addiction and normal behaviour that’s non-problematic or healthy.
- Spending majority of your time engaging in the behaviour, thinking about it, preparing to engage in it, or recovering from the effects.
- Becoming dependent on the behaviour as a way to cope with emotions and to “feel normal”.
- Continuing despite physical and/or mental harm.
- Having trouble cutting back despite wanting to quit.
- Neglecting work, school, or family to engage in the behaviour more often.
- Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal (for example, depression, irritability) when trying to stop.
- Minimizing or hiding the extent of the problem
How addiction generally works
Addiction interferes with normal brain function, particularly in the reward system. When you do something you find enjoyable, whether that’s hanging out with your best friend, drinking a bottle of wine, or using illicit drug, this reward system releases the neurotransmitter dopamine (dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays several important roles in the brain and body) along with other chemicals.
Contrary to popular belief, dopamine doesn’t appear to actually cause feelings of pleasure or euphoria. Instead, it seems to reinforce your brain’s association between certain things and feelings of pleasure, driving you to seek those things out again in the future.
- Cravings and tolerance
The thought about the desire to experience this pleasure again could trigger cravings for the substance or behaviour, especially when you encounter the same cues (like a party where people are drinking, for example). These cravings often serve as the first sign of addiction.
As you continue using a substance or engaging in a behaviour, your brain continues to produce larger amounts of dopamine. Eventually, it recognizes that there’s plenty of dopamine in your brain already and starts producing less in response to normal triggers.
The problem now is that your brain’s reward system still needs the same amount of dopamine to function as it should. Before you know it, you begin to use more of the substance to make up for what your brain isn’t releasing. This effect is called tolerance.
- Lack of interest in other activities
As addiction develops, you start to lose interest in hobbies and other things you once enjoyed or loved doing. This happens because your brain no longer produces much dopamine in response to natural triggers, like having sex or making art. Even when you decides to stop using a substance or engaging in a behaviour, you might feel like you still need them in order to feel good about anything.
- Loss of control
Addiction usually involves an inability to control the use of substance or specific behaviours. This may result in job loss, health issues, relationship concerns, and many more things. As a result, you might decide to quit the substance or behaviour, only to find that you keep falling short, or getting drawn despite all your best efforts to let go.
Living With a Behavioural Addiction
It can be difficult to admit to oneself, let alone anyone else, that you have a problem, and it can be even harder when the problem is poorly understood, and may not be taken seriously by friends and family. Understanding the stages of change will help you to be gentle on yourself if you aren’t ready to seek help.
If you feel you don’t want to seek help in overcoming your behavioural addiction at this time, focus on ensuring that your behaviour doesn’t harm those around you, or yourself. Even if you don’t want to tell other people about your problem, try not to lie to those closest to you.
Self-help can be an important first step. Consider finding out more about the behaviour and some of the ways you can manage it. Often times, people with behavioural addictions eventually tire of the toll their behaviour takes on their lives and the lives of those around them. They may also suffer losses that seem too great to bear, such as money problems, or relationship problems. What had at one time seemed exciting and fulfilling becomes an embarrassing burden.
In all you do, please see a psychiatrist or psychologist, who is skilled in helping people to overcome emotional difficulties and making changes in their lives. If you or a loved one is struggling with a behavioural addiction, seek help immediately. Many people live with behavioural addictions; some don’t even know they are addicted which can wreak havoc on one’s life.
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