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What is a behavioural addiction?

The term addiction tends to be applied to chemical drugs, but can equally be applied to compulsive behaviours other than drug use, such as compulsive overeating or compulsive gambling. In all cases, the term addiction describes a chronic pattern of behaviour that continues despite the direct or indirect adverse consequences that result from engaging in the behaviour. It is quite common for an addict to express the desire to stop the behaviour, but find himself or herself unable to cease. Some people seem to have the ability to use a substance or engage in a behaviour periodically over a period of years without becoming ‘hooked’. Others, however, are not capable of stopping and become addicted almost instantly.

Addictions affect all genders, ages, social and academic groups. There is no typical addict. The causes have been studied for many years and it is clear that in many ways, addiction is caused by the emotion the substance or behaviour created in the user. The body and mind become dependent on that feeling and seek to maintain it. There are addiction risk factors that make some people more probable than others to become addicts. Studies indicate that sometimes addictions can be hereditary. The offspring of an alcoholic may not grow up to be an alcoholic, however, they may become addicted to gambling or some other type of compulsive behaviour as an adult.

Symptoms that may denote behavioural addiction

While every individual is distinct, there are some symptoms that are prevalent among most addicts and addictions:

  • unable to meet responsibilities at home, school or at work
  • continues to use substances or engage in behaviour even when it is dangerous
  • the need increases to engage in behaviour or use more of a substance to achieve the identical effect or feeling
  • has tried but failed to stop using the substance or eliminate the behaviour
  • Continues to engage in the behaviour or use the substances even when they are apprised of the dangers

Answering yes to three or more of the above symptoms during a 12-month period may reveal that you or a loved one has an addiction. You should strongly consider a formal assessment.

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How do I get help for myself or my loved one?

The first step in getting help is finding out whether you have a problem. A trained clinical psychologist can effectively perform a professional assessment, which will identify whether you have any problem areas, and will recommend the treatment most appropriate for you if necessary.

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