Behavioral Addictions, What Are They and How Does One Develop?

by Cooper Smith |

Behavioral Addictions: A Growing Problem

Behavioral addictions or non-substance addictions, like gambling addiction, are a set of behaviors that a person becomes dependent on and craves. While no one doubts the existence of physical addictions to different substances, behavioral addictions are still hotly debated and outright disregarded by many doctors, institutions, and everyday people.

What Is an Addiction?

When someone abuses a substance, be it prescription or illicit, their body can grow dependent on the substance to function. After a period of time, this dependence could evolve into cravings for the drug and, eventually, they could become erratic without it.

Certain substances, like opioids and benzodiazepines, are more addictive than others. This is because of the physical reactions they have in the body. There is indisputable, biological evidence of what these kinds of drugs do to peoples’ bodies in the long-term. However, non-substance related addictions are another story.

Behavioral Versus Physical Addiction?

While there is debate on how society should treat people suffering from addiction, there is no doubt that physical addiction is a thing experienced by thousands of Americans. Behavioral addictions, however, are another thing entirely.

Also known as non-substance addictions or addictive behaviors, there are certain actions out there that people have found to be addictive. These can include:

  • Food
  • Gaming
  • Plastic Surgery
  • Sex
  • Social Media

  • Gambling
  • Internet
  • Risks
  • Shopping
  • Pornograpy


Social Media, Internet, And Technology Are Sometimes Considered Behavioral AddictionsThe idea behind these is that someone feels the symptoms of addiction, but not to a substance. Rather, an action or set of actions that creates some calming feelings, or even euphoria, in the user.

Gambling addiction is the only non-substance addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM). However, even the validity of that ruling is debated by some medical professionals, and other addictions that are commonly claimed, like sex and shopping addiction, have not been recognized at all. The reason that so many question these addictions is because they don’t see them as biological addictions. They see them as a mental diagnosis. Gambling addiction is the perfect example of how behavioral addictions impact people.

Looking at Gambling as a Behavioral Addiction

After the 5th edition of the DSM included gambling addiction, it became widely accepted as the first behavioral addiction. It is the only non-substance related addiction to be accepted under the category in the DSM-5, which is widely regarded as the official ruling on what is and what is not a diagnosis. Why is it accepted?

Studies have shown that gambling activates similar parts of the brain as other drugs, like alcohol. These parts of the brain are responsible for our “reward” functions. This is what gives our bodies’ dopamine after we do some healthy behavior, like exercise or eating a good meal. Certain drugs are capable of activating these parts of the brain to release up to ten times the normal amount of dopamine. Over time, our brains produce less and less, and we would need more of that substance in order to get the same effect.

This is building a tolerance and the first step to a budding addiction. Just like people can build a tolerance to drugs they can build a tolerance to gambling. Building a tolerance means they have to bet more and more to get the same rush. This is how so many people who have a compulsion to gamble lose so much money.

Can Treatment Centers Help with a Behavioral Addiction?

While most recovery centers only help with substance use disorders, there are many out there who treat behavioral addictions and co-occurring mental health disorders as well. These are centers that try to help people by treating the underlying causes of addiction, and this could help with a non-substance related addiction. If you are lost, and don’t know where to start, try reaching out to a dedicated treatment specialist. They can help you find a program, and direct you to groups in your area that meet for non-substance addictions.

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