Behavioral Addictions

August 4, 2022

Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD discusses the link between behavioral addictions and substance use disorders.


Dr. Bhatt: Hi, this is Dr. Bhatt with As the Medical Content Director, we do a lot of public education and provide information on different substance abuse issues and medical issues and psychiatric issues. One of the questions we get asked often is, “what are behavioral addictions, and what are the shared linkage between behavioral addictions and substance use disorders?”

First of all, behavioral addictions are exactly what they sound like. It’s when somebody’s behavior becomes repetitive, obsessive, and compulsive. Scientifically, we only identify officially one specific behavioral addiction which is gambling use disorder, but that doesn’t mean that other behaviors aren’t problematic.

Behavior such as abusing the internet, or shopping, inclusive of excessive pornography usage or sex, and people often are addicted to food. The problem is, when anybody is using to the extent where it interferes with their functioning, and it’s detrimental to their relationships, their financial situation, their psychological or physical health, we know that there’s a problem here. Why do we call these things addictions?

It’s because they often share a common pathway from the brain’s perspective, and the neurochemistry perspective in the brain, and we share it with substance use disorders. There’s often a similar motivation where somebody gets a high or pleasure or thrill when they end up acting out on that behavior. If we use gambling for example, somebody feels this intense rush and they don’t get gratified until they actually do that actual behavior, which is go out and gamble. We can apply this similarly to food, or sex, or using the internet, or watching social media, or checking if somebody messaged us.

The bottom line is these addictions can get treated and many treatment centers out there do offer specific treatment for behavioral addictions. Information can be found on and it can guide you and link you with treatment centers around the country that can provide you with that help.