Addiction is a dependence on a substance or behavior that negatively affects a person’s physical and/or psychological well-being. Conventionally, the word “addiction” was used to describe a substance addiction — a dependence on drugs or alcohol. Now, experts recognize a variety of behavioral addictions as well, including addictions to:

  • Computers (Internet, games)
  • Eating
  • Exercising
  • Gambling
  • Sex
  • Shopping
  • Work.

All addictive diseases have one thing in common — loss of control. The addict loses control over the compulsive behavior and it begins to take over every aspect of his life.

When Does a Behavior Become an Addiction?

As with an addiction to substances, a behavioral addiction often begins as a person’s attempt to engage in an enjoyable activity. Over time, the behavioral pattern becomes more frequent and is used as a coping mechanism for stress, rather than just for enjoyment. Eventually, the person becomes addicted to the behavior, and craves it constantly.

Also like substance addiction, behavioral addictions can lead to serious consequences. Relationships suffer, health problems develop, and the behavior begins to invade all other aspects of life.

Treatment for Behavioral Addictions

Due to the many different types of behavioral addictions, specific treatments vary. However, in addition to specific therapies, experts usually recommend the mainstays of addiction treatment, including:

  • Abstinence
  • Counseling
  • Support groups.

Abstinence — refraining from the behavior — is an effective treatment method, but is only realistic for certain behavioral addictions, such as gambling or playing computer games. For other addictions, such as shopping or working, complete abstinence isn’t an option. In these instances, a person must learn to control the behavior by setting limits and scaling back on the compulsion.

Most addictions have an underlying emotional component that can effectively be worked through with counseling. Once the emotional aspect is addressed, the addict can learn how to change the behavior and deal with stress in a healthier way. Family members of the addict may also benefit from family therapy to help repair any damaged relationships.

Support groups offer help for people suffering from behavioral addictions. Addicts can learn new coping skills and may benefit from talking to others dealing with similar addictions.

If a doctor determines that depression or anxiety is a contributing factor to the addictive behavior, she may prescribe antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications. Once the symptoms of depression or anxiety ease up, the addict may find it easier to stop the compulsive behavior.


Home Box Office Staff. (n.d.). What is addiction? Retrieved June 7, 2010, from the Home Box Office website: http://www.hbo.com/addiction/understanding_addiction/18_what_is_addiction.html.

Addiction Recovery Consulting Services Staff. (n.d.). Addictive diseases. Retrieved June 7, 2010, from the Addiction Recovery Consulting Services website: http://www.bayarea-intervention.com/addictivedisease.html.

 Posted on : June 12, 2014