Most Americans have at least one type of addictive behavior at some point in their lives. Many of these addictions start as daily habits that people enjoy, such as shopping or using Facebook, and help alleviate daily stress. If these behaviors become too habitual they can take a toll on your physical and mental health.
Addictive behaviors can be just as devastating as drug or alcohol abuse, and can lead to significant impairments both at home and in the workplace. Addictions can also make people start to question themselves and wonder, “Am I a bad person?”
Addictive behaviors are sometimes referred to as non-substance addictions or impulsive control disorders. Some of these behaviors include gambling, sex addiction or self-mutilation (cutting).
Individuals with addictive behaviors feel compelled to repeat the same activity repeatedly over time, despite the destructive consequences on their self-esteem and their life.
Relationship without a person
Most people use addictive behaviors to help them cope with a major stressor, such as a problem at work, school or a troubled relationship. To many, it is like having a relationship without a person. It is a relationship with something that is “loyal” and induces a temporary rush of excitement that, at the same time, detaches a person from daily problems. Individuals with cutting behavior, for instance, may feel a sense of brief euphoria when they cut, even though they may feel shame and sadness afterwards. Ironically, these same feelings are the ones that often ignite future episodes.
The most common addictive behaviors include:
- Sexual Addiction. For people with sexual addictions, sexual activity becomes the top priority in life, to the point where it impairs their overall functioning at home and at work. Sexual addiction can include but is not limited to: masturbation, online pornography, casual sexual encounters, or having multiple partners. To many individuals with this disorder, sexual promiscuity is often confused with love and affection.
- Compulsive Gambling. Gambling addicts overestimate their chances of winning (e.g., online poker). Their idea that one day they will win the “big one” motivates them to continue to gamble despite facing financial ruin. Quite often, they borrow money from friends and relatives and max out credit cards to maintain their destructive lifestyle.
- Shopaholism. Individuals with this addiction shop frequently and make purchases impulsively as a means of reducing stress and anxiety, with little regard for the expense. They often feel powerless to stop their shopping sprees even as they get deeper into debt. This results in a vicious cycle where the more debt they incur, the more they shop to relieve their distress. Irrational thoughts, such as “there is no way out anyway” can further continue this addictive behavior.
- Workaholism. If work is your primary focus in life, then you might be a workaholic. Workaholics often obsess about work, resulting in long hours. They also rarely take days off or spend time with their families. Most of them do care about mantaining healthy personal relationships, but they are so invested at work that they become unaware that they are neglecting them their loved ones.
- Compulsive Eating. Compulsive eaters engage in uncontrolled eating, often past the point of being full. Binging is usually followed by feelings of shame and guilt. Unlike people with eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, compulsive eaters rarely try to compensate for their binges. This addictive behavior can lead to numerous medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, major depression, and hypertension. Furthermore, compulsive eating often leads to obesity, which in turn can result in decreased self esteem.
- Co-dependency. People who are co-dependent put other’s needs before their own, and as a result, often stay in dysfunctional relationships for years. Some of them move from one unhealthy relationship to the next. Co-dependency is considered an addictive behavior because it is essentially an excessive need to control another person’s problems. Individuals with this condition eventually perpetuate the partner’s poor behaviors rather than solve them. For example, a co-dependent girlfriend might not voice her opinions to her boyfriend to avoid conflict with him.
- Online Addiction. The definition for this disorder has changed over time, since now people spend far more time online now than was the case in the 90s. Using the internet to do your homework, or to catch up with your friends on Facebook is considered normal by today’s standards. However, if you spend so much time online that you start to neglect personal relationships and work, then you might have an online addiction. People with this disorder are usually addicted to: online gambling, virtual games, pornography or cybersex chats.
Most addictive behaviors usually follow the same pattern. Some signs to look for include:
- The behavior (e.g., virtual games, sex) becomes increasingly more time consuming and you can’t stop thinking about it.
- You withdraw from family and friends.
- You may experience suicidal ideations or severe depression.
- You feel bored, and detached from your surroundings.
- You become more depressed when you try to stop the behavior.
- You go out of your way to pursue this behavior, even if it means neglecting other responsibilities.
What to do
If you are struggling with an addiction, you might have heard that the toughest step towards full recovery is the initial decision to make a change.
- Acknowledgement. Acknowledge that you have an addiction. Most people who have addictive disorders rationalize their actions. Someone with a gambling addiction might try to convince themselves or others that he is on the verge of unlimited wealth.
- Support. Seek support from family and friends when the craving returns, or join a support group. Talking about their experience can be therapeutic and help restore trust among your family and friends.
- Challenge your thinking. Quite often, people remember only the positive moments they had from their addictions when they experience a craving. Write down a list of the harmful consequences of your addiction/s, and keep it close at hand. Remind yourself that you will only feel worse if your return to these behaviors.
- Urge surfing. Many individuals try to cope with the cravings by simply “toughening up”. When an urge is too strong, stay with it as if it is a large wave that you are surfing on. Hence, the term “urge surfing”. The wave is big, and tall, but you will manage to stay on top until it breaks.
- Adopt a pet. If you have a pet already, consider adopting another one. They will keep you busy. That is the key: staying busy and distracted. Besides, pets can give you that unconditional support and caring that you need at this time.
- Seek professional help. Often times, an addictive behavior is the result of something much bigger, such as overcoming childhood trauma or coping with a recent loss of a loved one. If this is the case, a mental health therapist or counselor could help you. You might also benefit from antidepressant medications as well. Your health care provider will be able to discuss this with you in more detail.
In the end, you are the captain of your own ship. A storm is brewing, and the waves are overpowering, but you have the ability to perservere, just as you have in the past. See this journey through overcoming addictive behavior not as a failure, but as a learning experience from which you will grow into a better person.
Find Help Now
- Center for Internet Addiction Recovery www.netaddiction.com
Online Game Addictions
- On-Line Gamers Anonymous http://www.olganon.org/
Eating Addictions & Eating Disorders
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders www.anad.org
- National Eating Disorders Association www.edap.org
- Overeaters Anonymous www.overeatersanonymous.org
- Sex Addicts Anonymous www.saa-recovery.org
- Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous www.slaafws.org
- Sexaholic Anonymous http://www.sa.org
- Shopaholics Anonymous http://www.shopaholicsanonymous.org/
- Workaholics Anonymous www.workaholics-anonymous.org
- Recovering Workaholic http://www.recoveringworkaholics.com/
Tips for Cutting Down on Drinking –The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Black, D.W. A review of compulsive buying disorder. World Psychiatry, (2007); 6, 1, 14–18. Retrieved 5/16/2012 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1805733/?tool=pubmed