When most people hear the word addiction they probably think of drug or alcohol use. In fact, many types of addiction are behaviorally driven. Behavioral addictions form in the same ways as do substance addictions and they carry with them many of the same dangers. Behavioral addicts engage in an activity until and beyond the point that it brings negative consequences, yet feel unable to refrain from doing so. The behavior eventually becomes a compulsion which damages daily functioning, health and relationships.
Many women love to shop, but for some it becomes an uncontrollable need. Experts say that six percent of women shoppers are shopaholics, or compulsive shoppers. Shopaholics feel a real endorphin-based high when they purchase and deep shame and guilt when the bills come due. Like many addicts, shopaholics attempt to hide the evidence of their behavior. They will go to great lengths to continue the behavior even when negative consequences are present. Shoppers who have maxed out their credit cards may turn to shoplifting because they crave the feeling they get from accumulating. Much of the behavior is fueled by low self-esteem and a desire to fill a perceived void in their life.
Driven onward by the thrill of a potential win, the person will risk money in game after game and feel unable to just walk away. Addicted gamblers will jeopardize family finances or even steal money in order to keep in the game. Gamblers often attempt to hide their behavior as well as their indebtedness until there is no escape. Family relationships are often the first casualties. Professional losses are also a frequent companion to the behavior.
Used properly sex is a mental and physical activity through which two people can form an intimate bond. Although different people have differing levels of sex drive, the person with a strong sex drive is not necessarily an addict. Addiction is present when a person uses sex as a way to mentally escape reality or uses it as a means of pursuing selfish pleasure only.
Addicts use a substance or behavior to achieve a feeling of pleasure. Addiction is hallmarked by the person’s preoccupation with repeating the pleasurable experience and by a need for an ever-increasing amount in order to find the same degree of pleasure. People addicted to pornography spend inordinate amounts of time either viewing pornographic images or thinking about doing so. Pornography addicts frequently seek out new levels of pornography in order to experience the same level of thrill.
The very same tolerance which occurs with substances occurs with behavioral addiction. The person needs more and stronger doses before the brain will release the pleasure-causing chemicals. Other behavioral addictions include things like food addiction, love addiction, addiction to work, exercise or even video games. However, as with substance addictions, treatment is available and recovery is possible.