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What is a Behavioural Addiction and Could You Have One?

Think the fact that you don’t use drugs means you can’t possibly be an addict? Think again. behavioural addictions (sometimes called process addictions) are addictions to specific, highly rewarding behaviours, such as sex, gambling, shopping, and exercise. They are rising steadily, due in part to the fact that few people are aware of their existence, and even fewer understand how destructive these painful addictions can be. Indeed, research suggests that as many as 9% of the population could be addicted to spending alone, with similar rates for gambling and sex addiction.

At Three Seas, we can help you get your life back under control, but it’s up to you to take the first step. Here is what you need to know about behavioural addictions.

What is a Behavioural Addiction?

Behavioural addictions occur whenever you become addicted to a highly rewarding behaviour. Some of the most common behavioural addictions include:

  • Shopping addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • Gambling addiction
  • Exercise addiction
  • Eating disorders

Many people with behavioural addictions spend months or even years in denial. After all, they tell themselves, if I’m not taking drugs, it must not be a problem, right? But behavioural addictions affect the brain in ways quite similar to drugs. They activate dopamine, a powerful reward-based neurotransmitter, that has the power to induce a seductive high. And just like bad habits such as nail-biting, many people with behavioural addictions quickly lose control.

Signs and Symptoms of Behavioural Addictions

Many addictive behaviours are also normal parts of everyday life, making it tough to discern when your behaviour has crossed the threshold from normal to addictive. Recognizing that any pleasurable activity can become addictive is half of the battle, but denial is still a powerful force. Some signs you might have a behavioural addiction include:

  • Indulging in a behaviour to such an extent that it interferes with the rest of your life; for example, shopping so much you end up in debt.
  • Using a specific behaviour to get relief from psychological distress.
  • Friends and family suggesting that you may have a behavioural addiction.
  • Being unable to curb a specific behaviour, even if you try.
  • Indulging in a behaviour significantly more than seems normal; for example, feeling like you “need” sex, or have sex infinitely more frequently than others. Be careful about using others as your rubric, though, since there is a range of normal behaviour.

How Behavioural Addictions Affect Your Life

You can’t overdose on a behaviour in the same way you can overdose on a drug, but behavioural addictions are every bit as dangerous. Some of the catastrophic consequences you can face as a result of your behavioural addiction include:

  • Serious financial distress.
  • Going into debt.
  • Interacting with dangerous people, such as gambling “bookies”.
  • Loss of important relationships.
  • Loss of your job.
  • Depression, anxiety, and loss of self-esteem.
  • Difficulty concentrating on anything but the addictive behaviour.

Treatment for Behavioural Addictions

Being unable to stop a behaviour that interferes with your ability to lead a happy, healthy life is the hallmark of a behavioural addiction. The good news is that you do not have to allow addictive behaviours to control your life. Therapy is remarkably effective at combating behavioural addictions. In therapy you will learn:

  • How to indulge in safe, healthy ways, such as by shopping only for what you need.
  • Alternative methods to fill emotional needs, such as talking to loved ones or taking up a new hobby.
  • How to resist temptation.
  • The individual factors, such as a history of abuse or exclusion, that predispose you to addiction.

We understand that seeking help for a behavioural addiction is not always easy. When you’re ready, we’re here with our team of counsellors, therapists and psychologists.

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