Behavioral addictions: definition, types and treatment

Not all addictions have to do with alcohol or drug use. In fact, there are other types of behaviors that are much more common and even everyday that we have almost come to normalize without knowing that behind them there is a clear psychological problem. Examples of these are behavioral addictions.

Intense use of the mobile phone to the point of not being able to get rid of it is addictive behavior. As well as who channels their emotions through food and binges. There are many forms and variants of this clinical category. Moreover, within the field of psychology and psychiatry, it is an advance that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) finally included this nomenclature.

It was not until 2013 that a separation was established between substance addictions and behavioral addictions. And something that may seem irrelevant to us is actually decisive for the therapeutic approach. Let's dive a little deeper into this topic.

What are behavioral addictions?

Until a few decades ago it was assumed that all addiction required the consumption of some type of substance. Thus, harmful behavior that a person could not stop repeating was considered an impulse control problem.

However, today we already know that facts such as addiction to mobile phones or pornography are not based only on "I can't control myself". The brain mechanism of addiction does not require the use of external substances, such as cannabis, amphetamines, cocaine, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.

There are apparently harmless and inconsequential behavior habits that can become addictive. The reason is in the brain changes that these behaviors generate. Dopamine and the rewarding but brief boosters it gives us become that element the brain needs to feel good.

Gambling is one of the most common types of behavioral addiction.

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Addictions without drugs: how can it be?

Behavioral addictions They are a set of behaviors that are beyond the control of the person and that are harmful. They also share the same characteristics as substance addictions, but in this case the consumption of any external product or element does not occur.

On the other hand, if we ask ourselves why these behaviors appear, the answer lies in the emotion they can generate: positive, comforting, pleasant and always obsessive. The affected person is not always aware of this addiction because, in general, they are harmless behaviors (such as playing video games).

Those addictive behaviors They are activated by a positive reinforcement mechanism, such as experienced pleasure or euphoria. But as the behavior becomes obsessive, discomfort and withdrawal symptoms appear when the action is not being performed.

What are the main types of behavioral addictions?

There are many types of behavioral addictions. Moreover, since the arrival of new technologies, new typologies have emerged. All of this forces professionals in the health field to develop detection and treatment mechanisms. Many of these conditions occur in an increasingly young population.

Let's see now which are the most common:

  • Gambling disorder or compulsive gambling: the practice of gambling is very present in our society and more since the rise of the betting houses and the lack of regulation of the same in the protection of minors.
  • Internet gaming disorder: Scientific studies, such as those carried out at the University of Nottingham Trent, show us that this type of addiction is very common in adolescents.
  • Internet addiction: there are thousands of people unable to lift their eyes from everything that happens in networks.
  • Porn addiction: The consumption of audiovisual material with sexual content is one of the most common behavioral addictions.
  • Mobile addiction: This is another recurring phenomenon that many of us are not aware of. The simple act of separating or losing this device triggers great anxiety.
  • Sex addiction: the need to satisfy sexual desire can become obsessive and damaging.
  • Eating disorders: like binge eating or an obsession with healthy food.
  • Compulsive shopping.
  • Affective dependence disorders or love addiction: in these cases, behavioral addictions can also arise at the relational level. It defines the situations in which it is impossible for us to leave a partner, even if that bond is destructive.

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What are the symptoms of a behavioral addiction?

All addictive behavior can manifest itself in many ways. Now, experts in the field of behavioral addictions, such as the professor of psychology Enrique Echebarrúa, explains in his book "Addictions without drugs" that these disorders manifest as follows:

  • Strong desire and eagerness to carry out the pleasant activity.
  • Progressive loss of control about the activity, without being able to stop executing it.
  • Neglect of daily activities: such as work, academic or relational.
  • When the environment is aware of what is happening and warns the person, this denies it and gets defensive.
  • Progressive wear and tear of relationships.
  • When the person cannot perform that behavior, you experience withdrawal syndrome: anxiety, irritability, malaise, anger, anger.

Technology has facilitated the appearance of addictive behaviors in the youngest of society.

How are these types of addictions treated?

The way to deal with behavioral addictions always goes through a fact: these disorders usually present comorbidity with depression, anxiety or personality disorders. It is essential to carry out a good diagnosis and attend to the particular reality of each patient.

Generally, a multidimensional approach is applied that combines the pharmacological with the psychological approach. Within the latter, cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational therapy, as well as group and family / conjugal therapies are effective.

On the other hand, the areas that we must work in psychological therapy are self-esteem, rationalization of thoughts, impulse control, emotion management and coping strategies, as well as those aimed at preventing relapses. New goals and future projects must be established.

Behavioral addictions are very common in young people and adolescents. We therefore need the collaboration and awareness of families and educators to prevent and detect this type of reality.