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Understanding Behavioral Addictions

Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions of Behavioral Addiction

Behavioral addictions are compulsive behaviors that have real-life consequences. Compulsive gambling, gaming, pornography consumption, social media scrolling, and other behaviors hijack our brains, leading to a destructive cycle of pleasure and pain.

Behavioral Addictions — Definition
Behavioral addictions refer to activities that, when taken to extreme levels, interfere with daily functioning. These behaviors can include internet addiction, sex addiction, exercise addiction, food addiction, and uncontrolled social media consumption.

Key points

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Behavioral addictions, also known as process addictions or non-substance-related addictions, involve compulsive engagement in activities that provide immediate gratification but ultimately lead to negative consequences.

Substance use disorders involve the misuse of drugs or alcohol. Behavioral addictions revolve around repetitive behaviors that can become intertwined with your personhood and disruptive to your daily life.

Your past does not need to control your future. Therapy in a safe and supportive environment to help you gain insight into your behavioral patterns, develop coping strategies, and ultimately lead a happier and more fulfilling life.


The symptoms of behavioral addiction mirror those of substance use disorders and may include:

  • Preoccupation with the behavior
  • Loss of control
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Escalation of the behavior over time
  • Continued engagement despite negative consequences

While symptoms vary depending on the specific addiction and life circumstances, they tend to be incredibly disruptive. You can learn to identify and manage symptoms and start your journey to recovery.

Common Behavioral Addictions

Several behaviors can develop into addictive patterns, including:

Gambling: Gambling addictions are characterized by the inability to resist the urge to gamble, leading to severe financial losses and interpersonal problems.

Internet and Gaming: Excessive use of the Internet, video games, or social media platforms can result in social isolation and neglect of real-life responsibilities.

Shopping: Compulsive purchasing, regardless of financial constraints, can lead to suffocating debt and emotional distress.

Food: General overeating or binge-eating episodes can get out of hand and become food addictions, often accompanied by feelings of guilt and shame.

Sex: Compulsive sexual behaviors, such as excessive pornography consumption or engaging in risky sexual encounters, can be extremely difficult to break despite the risk of severe negative consequences.

Alt text: A close-up view looking up the trunk of a tall tree with lush green leaves forming a canopy overhead, symbolizing growth and the journey to recovery from behavioral addiction. DJ Burr, a therapist specializing in treating behavioral addiction, can help guide you on your path to overcoming these challenges.

Risk Factors for Compulsive Behaviors

Explaining why one person may develop an addiction while another, in similar circumstances, does not is difficult. Some common causes and risk factors include:

Genetics: Individuals with a family history of addiction may be predisposed to developing behavioral addictions.

Brain Chemistry: Neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain, particularly involving dopamine, can contribute to addictive behaviors.

Mental Health Disorders: Conditions such as depression, anxiety, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may increase the risk of developing behavioral addictions.

Environmental Factors: Stressful life events, trauma, and exposure to addictive behaviors in childhood or adolescence can contribute to the development of behavioral addictions.

Personality Traits: Certain personality traits, such as impulsivity, sensation-seeking, or low self-esteem, may predispose individuals to engage in addictive behaviors.

Recognizing risk factors can help you gain self-understanding, but they do not mean you cannot recover. Having risk factors does not mean that you cannot emerge from a behavioral addiction. Some people without known risk factors for addiction can find themselves struggling, while others, despite having multiple risk factors, may remain unaffected.


Diagnosing behavioral addictions can be challenging. In treatment, we will rely on criteria outlined in diagnostic manuals such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

You can expect a thorough assessment that evaluates your symptoms, medical history, and functional impairment. Once you have been diagnosed, treatment can begin.

Expert Treatment at Able Life Recovery

Treatment for behavioral addiction may incorporate a combination of practical, evidence-based tools. Treatment may draw from:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps individuals identify and modify dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors associated with addiction.

Motivational Interviewing: This approach aims to enhance an individual’s motivation to change by exploring their ambivalence towards addictive behavior.

Support Groups: Participating in support groups provides peer support and encouragement for individuals in recovery.

Lifestyle Changes: Healthy lifestyle changes, such as stress management techniques, regular exercise, and improved time management skills, can help individuals recover and prevent relapse.

Move to a life without behavioral addictions

Behavioral addictions pose significant challenges to your well-being and can have far-reaching consequences in your life. Recognizing the signs and seeking help early are crucial steps toward recovery. With the right treatment and support, you can overcome your addictive behaviors and lead a fulfilling and balanced life. If you are ready to take the first step in your recovery, reach out to D.J. Burr today.