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Behavioral addiction: signs, types, and treatment

Reading time: 22 mins
Man playing video game

Behavioral addiction refers to a form of addiction that is characterized by a compulsive engagement in a repeated, persistent behavior or activity and could lead to serious functional impairment. It occurs when an individual gets hooked on an unhealthy non-drug-related behavior or habit.

The signs of behavioral addiction include spending a lot of time engaging in problematic behavior, using the behavior to escape negative emotions, and continuing with the risky behavior despite adverse effects on mental and physical health. 

The types of behavioral addiction are exercise addiction, food addiction, gambling addiction, porn addiction, internet addiction, sex addiction, shopping addiction, and work addiction. 

The treatment options for individuals with behavioral addiction include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medications, group therapy, counseling, self-help groups, and medications. 

What is a Behavioral addiction?

Behavioral addiction is identified as any persistent and repeated behavior that has damaging mental, physical, social, and financial effects on an individual’s life. And while these forms of addiction are less-known, they have generated debates among medical experts and organizations, specifically on their authenticity. 

But while experts may not agree on whether this type of addiction is true, there is no doubt that behavioral addictions are a growing problem that impairs an individual’s daily functioning. Some examples of addictive behaviors include gambling, sex, internet, shopping, and video games. 

What makes a Behavior addictive?

What makes a behavior addictive is the instant reward coupled with the increased brain dopamine levels that comes with it. Dopamine is a brain chemical that is involved in allowing us to feel pleasure, motivation, and satisfaction. 

The surge of dopamine happens in our brain whenever we feel good that we achieved something. And while it is important for us to have the right amount of dopamine, as with everything else in life, too much of it can be a bad thing. When dopamine production is increased by engaging in rewarding behaviors, these activities feel more rewarding than usual. This is the same mechanism that is seen in all forms of addiction. 

For instance, an addictive behavior like an online shopping spree may give feelings of euphoria, also known as a “high” to a person, which is chemically similar to the euphoric feelings a drug user experiences. 

What are the signs of Behavioral addiction?

Signs of Behavioral addiction list.

As with any other form of addiction, there are symptoms that indicate dependence on problematic behavior. The signs of behavioral addiction are listed below.

1. Committing the behavior the majority of the time

Someone who has developed an addiction to a certain behavior will likely have their life revolve around their problematic habit. This means that they will spend a great deal of time thinking about and committing the behavior to the point of neglecting everyday responsibilities at work or in the house. Over time, they will lose time for their family, friends, and other previously enjoyed activities.

2. Dependence on the behavior as a coping mechanism for emotions

Just like with drugs, people can also resort to addictive behaviors in order to escape emotional pain. However, while it may seem to instantly help manage their emotions, its effects often quickly wear off and the emotional complications for which one engaged in the behavior will probably come back worse than it was before.

3. Continuing despite being injured physically or mentally

Suffering from a behavioral addiction means you continue to engage in the problematic behavior even though you are aware that it is starting to cause problems in your physical or mental health. This is because the physical and mental harm is overpowered by the intense urges you have to commit the behavior. Short-term effects include mood swings, injuries due to falls or other risky behaviors, and aggression while long-term effects are drastic changes in behavior, depression, physical health issues, and even death due to risky activities. You may recognize that a loved one is struggling with behavioral addiction despite physical and mental harm when you notice a lack of energy, weight loss or gain, lack of proper hygiene, and sudden secrecy about their personal affairs.

4. Failing in your attempts to stop engaging in the addictive behavior

An individual may fail at multiple attempts to stop committing a problematic behavior because their brain still needs to adjust and rebuild the connections that were harmed while they were at the peak of their addiction. During these attempts, urges to engage in the addictive behavior again are very intense. As a result, many people fail to continue what they started. Failures in attempts to cut back on compulsive behavior may lead to short-term effects such as low energy, decreased appetite, moodiness, and anxious feelings. Long-term effects include negative emotional responses like anger and hopelessness, and being caught in the cycle of behavioral addiction once again. Signs of failed attempts to stop problematic behaviors include erratic sleeping and eating habits, and many other negative emotional and mental responses.

5. Increasing the frequency of the behavior by ignoring obligations to family, work, or school

Those who struggle with behavioral addictions may feel the need to increase the frequency of their behavior, from daily to even several times a day. And because they spend most of their time fueling their addiction, they end up neglecting obligations and responsibilities to loved ones, at work, and at school. This leads to short-term effects such as missing special occasions or family gatherings and impaired communication, which may ultimately result in dysfunctional family relationships. A loved one can determine if behavioral addiction is starting to impact relationships when the afflicted family member starts having repeated absences, poor work performance, and secretive behavior. One of the major goals of behavioral addiction treatment is to educate families about the condition and rebuild broken family relationships in recovery. 

6. Having withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop

Just like addiction to substances, trying to gradually cut back on compulsive behaviors can cause withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, restlessness, anxiety, and intense urges to engage in the addictive behavior once again. These withdrawal symptoms are also seen in substance use disorders and can be just as uncomfortable. Other physical indications of withdrawal such as difficulty breathing, insomnia, headaches, and diarrhea are also reported in some cases. A disruption in committing repeated behaviors may be identified through withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild discomforts to life-threatening reactions. 

7. Concealing or downplaying the severity of the issue 

When confronted, someone who struggles from behavioral addiction may deny or downplay the severity of their condition in order to avoid explaining themselves to others. As a result, they may resort to engaging in problematic behavior in secret. However, this cannot remain hidden for too long, as the drastic changes in behavior and decreased quality of life can impact the person in easily recognizable ways. They may exhaust financial resources and engage in criminal conduct as they spiral out of control and do anything just to fuel their addiction. 

How to prevent Behavioral addiction?

Hands in chains holding playing cards.

Behavioral addiction definition indicates that it is a set of behaviors that people feel compelled to repeatedly engage in despite negative physical and emotional consequences. While recovering from the condition is not as easy as just stopping the behavior, there are self-help strategies you can do to cope with compulsive behaviors. The ways how to prevent behavioral addiction are listed below. 

  • Know your triggers: It is important to first identify what triggers you to engage in compulsive behavior. Some of the most common triggers include negative emotions, boredom, physical pain, and peer pressure. Knowing your triggers may help you prepare to resist them when they overwhelm you. Disrupting your triggers is a crucial first step in putting a stop to addictive behavior.
  • Find healthy alternatives to unhealthy behaviors: Another effective way of dealing with addictive behaviors is swapping unhealthy behaviors for healthy alternatives. You can try taking up some activities such as exercise, meditation, seeing a friend, painting or any other hobbies that you enjoyed before addiction took over your life. These alternative coping strategies will help you respond to triggers in a better way and boost your mood.
  • Set clear goals and stick to them: Engaging in addictive behaviors without careful thinking and consideration of consequences rarely has a good outcome. Instead of getting used to making decisions at the spur of the moment, allow yourself to make a plan towards your recovery, set clear goals, write it down, and commit to it. This can help you stay motivated while tracking your progress and making the whole process less stressful at the same time.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people: Having a support network during recovery is very important. Just as peer pressure can push you to do addictive behaviors, it also has a significant influence in encouraging you to resist intense cravings. Family, friends, and support groups allow you to feel that someone who understands you is always ready to listen.
  • Seek professional support: While self-help strategies are essential in resisting temptation and cutting back on problematic behaviors, behavioral addictions are better treated with professional assistance. A mental health professional may help you understand and address the underlying reasons that may have led to the development of compulsive behavior in the first place.

What are the risk factors for Behavioral addiction?

The risk factors for behavioral addiction include genetics, co-occurring mental health disorders, past trauma or neglect, and certain personality traits. Individuals with a family history of addiction or psychological disorders are generally considered to be at a greater risk for behavioral addiction. 

An existing diagnosis of a mental health disorder might also increase the likelihood of someone developing a process addiction, as mental health and addictive disorders often occur together. Experiencing trauma or neglect, especially at a young age, may also lead to the development of addictive behaviors later in life. 

Lastly, certain personality traits, such as impulsivity and a fondness for risk-taking could also heighten an individual’s risk of developing problematic behavior. 

What are the types of Behavioral addiction?

Five people standing by a wall holding and looking at computers.

Understanding the different forms that behavioral addiction takes is important in knowing how to stop addictive behavior early. The various types of behavioral addictions are listed below.

1. Exercise addiction

People running on treadmills.

Exercise addiction is a compulsive need to engage in any form of physical exercise despite serious health effects. People who suffer from this condition feel an irresistible urge to workout even when they are injured or exhausted. The symptoms of exercise addiction include working out not to reduce stress but to escape negative emotions and situations, extending exercises longer than intended, and spending more time working out than with loved ones. 

The causes of an unhealthy obsession with exercise are most often an imbalance of brain chemicals and a pre-existing eating disorder, while some of its risk factors include being overweight, suffering from substance use disorders or behavioral addiction, and psychiatric comorbidities as stated in a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Needless to say, the condition can affect individuals in physical and psychological ways. The short-term effects of exercise addiction include soreness of muscles, fatigue, dehydration, and trouble sleeping, while its long-term effects are permanent injuries, low immune system, depression, and dysfunctional relationships. 

The most commonly recommended treatment for exercise dependence is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) since CBT is also the intervention used for other known behavioral addictions. And while professional help remains the best way to stop addictive behaviors, some self-help strategies may also be useful to overcome these compulsions. For instance, one proven way to overcome exercise addiction is by practicing self-discipline. 

2. Food addiction

Woman holding a plate with cake and eating a slice.

Food addiction refers to an eating behavior that involves the overconsumption of foods that are high in fat, salt, and sugar. This condition is also known as compulsive overeating, and people who suffer from it have an unhealthy obsession with food and are often preoccupied with thoughts about food, such as what to eat and how to obtain more food. The symptoms of food addiction include getting cravings even when no longer hungry, eating more than originally planned, repeated failures to stop overeating, and eating alone to hide from others. 

As with other behavioral addictions, food addiction frequently stems from a complex interplay of different factors, including family members with a history of unhealthy eating behaviors, hormonal imbalances, an inability to cope with negative emotions, social isolation, and stressful life situations. Meanwhile, the most common risk factors of food addiction are low self-esteem, child abuse, co-occurring mental health concerns, and substance use disorders. 

And although food is not perceived as something that is dangerous like addictive substances, it can also harm one’s physical and emotional health. Its short-term effects include heartburn, nausea, vomiting, and indigestion, while the long-term effects of food addiction are diabetes, digestive problems, high blood pressure, and obesity, to name a few. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common type of psychotherapy used to treat individuals dealing with food addiction. Therapy may also be done individually, in groups, or with family. Treatment may also involve the use of medications, dietary planning, and nutritional counseling. 

Lastly, the psychological impacts of food addiction can be severe, as those with the disorder have higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and substance use disorders than individuals without eating disorders. 

3. Gambling addiction

Casino chips and two ace cards.

Gambling addiction is a behavioral condition in which an individual has intense urges to keep gambling even when it starts interfering with their daily life. Formally known as gambling disorder, it is the only behavioral addiction that is clinically diagnosable and recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) by the American Psychiatric Association. The symptoms of compulsive gambling include an uncontrollable preoccupation with gambling, spending more and more amounts of money and time to get the same thrill out of gambling, unsuccessful efforts to cut back or stop it, and lying to family members to conceal and deny their problematic behavior. 

Having personality characteristics such as competitiveness and impulsivity, as well as the desire to experience the highs associated with the gambling experience, may cause people to develop the condition. Other factors that contribute to an increased risk of gambling addiction include mental health disorders, substance abuse, genetics, and being male. Needless to say, losing oneself to gambling has a plethora of negative consequences. 

The short-term effects of problem gambling include reduced savings, feelings of shame about gambling, and spending less time with loved ones, while advanced signs of harm from the disorder are financial difficulties, relationship conflict, reduced study or work performance, and even suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Recovering from gambling addiction may be possible through treatment methods such as psychotherapy, medications, and support groups. 

4. Internet addiction

Woman looking at her phone.

Internet addiction is a form of behavioral addiction characterized by excessive and compulsive internet use that interferes with a person’s daily functioning. The symptoms of internet addiction include repeated failure in attempts to reduce internet use, lack of engagement in other activities previously enjoyed, inability to cut back on using internet-accessible devices despite negative consequences, and failure to complete responsibilities at home, work, or at school. 

The causes of problematic internet use are genetics, co-occurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, and environmental factors. Certain people are also more likely to suffer from the condition, including males, individuals who have underlying psychological disorders, and those who experience family conflicts. Needless to say, being addicted to the internet has a plethora of side effects, which can be temporary or permanent. The short-term effects of internet addiction include weight gain, unfinished important tasks, and a pile of neglected responsibilities in many aspects of life, while its long-term effects are vision problems, neck pain, backache, social withdrawal, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Fortunately, recovery is possible for those who engage in addictive behaviors around the internet. The most common treatment options include different types of therapy, such as behavior modification, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). 

These treatment modalities are applicable to any form of internet addiction one may be suffering from. Internet addiction types include cybersex addiction, compulsive information seeking, net compulsions, computer or gaming addiction, and cyber (online) relationship addiction. 

Overcoming internet use problems is also possible with the use of self-help strategies, such as limiting or monitoring time on the internet using an app or software, blocking out distracting websites, participating in social activities, and spending physical time with loved ones. Contrary to popular belief, withdrawal effects are not only limited to substance use disorders but can also be experienced by those who are attempting to cut back on their internet use. Some internet addiction withdrawal symptoms include feelings of boredom, anxiety, depressed mood, and elevated heart rate. 

The limited physical activity and heightened psychological arousal that come with excessive internet use can also have psychological impacts on the afflicted person, including mental health difficulties such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, anxiety, and dysfunctional family relationships. 

5. Porn addiction

Man watching porn.

Porn addiction is a compulsive behavior that involves an uncontrollable compulsion to watch porn or consume other pornographic materials. Symptoms include experiencing cravings to view more porn, watching porn for longer than intended, loss of attraction for a partner due to unrealistic expectations about sex, and multiple unsuccessful attempts to cut down on watching porn. 

Problematic porn use is a complex condition that has a range of possible causes, and they may include changes in brain chemistry, unresolved trauma, underlying mental health conditions, and sexual dissatisfaction. Certain people are also more likely to suffer from pornography addiction, including those with a history of substance use problems, individuals suffering from psychological disorders, and those who have a history of physical or sexual abuse. 

Pornography has a plethora of negative impacts on those who get addicted to it. The short-term effects of a porn problem include procrastination, feelings of boredom, an unhappy intimate partner, and social problems. Furthermore, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Sexual Health & Compulsivity, the long-term effects of porn addiction are social isolation, mood disorders, relationship problems, and erectile dysfunction due to desensitization. 

And even though porn addiction is not recognized in the DSM-5 as a diagnosable condition as of writing, there are many treatment options available for the condition, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), couples therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). 

But aside from seeking the help of a professional, some self-help strategies may also help in overcoming porn addiction. These include adding blocks on your devices that make it harder to access porn, finding healthier ways of intimacy, opening up to people you trust, and looking for better ways to handle urges and life stressors.

However, giving up porn may not be that easy for some people, as uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms may occur. Signs of porn addiction withdrawal include intense cravings, behavioral changes, sexual aggression, mood swings, and relationship issues. 

Tragically, porn addiction also encourages mental health disorders, and its psychological impacts may range from brain fog to social anxiety and substance abuse challenges. 

6. Sex addiction

Sex sign with pink and blue shredded paper.

Sex addiction refers to the compulsive need to participate or engage in sexual activities despite serious consequences. Symptoms that are indicative of sex addiction include committing sexual acts in inappropriate places, preoccupations with sex, inability to control sexual urges, and using sexual activities to escape negative emotions. 

Because compulsive sexual behavior is a complex condition, there is no single factor that leads to its development. That said, various contributing factors could play a role in the development of sex addiction, including structural abnormalities in the brain, a neurological condition diagnosis, an existing mental health problem, and relationship deficits. 

Some risk factors also exist for the condition, including being male, having a substance abuse problem, and experiencing physical or sexual abuse. Just like other behavior addictions, sex addiction can cause severe damage to an afflicted person’s health and relationships. The short-term effects of sex addiction include decreased productivity at work, inability to complete domestic tasks, and poor emotional control. 

These can eventually result in long-term effects, such as a decline in personal relationships, financial ruin due to job loss, sexual dysfunction, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Fortunately, recovering from sex addiction is possible through different treatment options, including individual therapy, couples counseling, family therapy, self-help or support groups, and medications for those with underlying mental health conditions. 

Sexual addictions also come in different forms, including voyeurism, exhibitionism, prostitution, sadistic or masochistic behavior, trading sex, and anonymous sex. And even though recovery is more successful with professional help, afflicted people can also overcome sex addiction by looking for alternative ways to cope with stress and negative emotions. 

However, the road to recovery is not without challenges. A sex addict who is unable to fuel their addiction may experience withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, feelings of shame and guilt, mood swings, insomnia, and agitation. The condition has profound psychological impacts that can worsen over time and cause depression, drug abuse, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

7. Shopping addiction

Woman looking inside shopping bags.

Shopping addiction refers to a behavioral problem in which an individual engages in compulsive shopping and patterns of overspending that become severe enough to affect their quality of life. Also known as compulsive buying disorder, signs that are indicative of shopping addiction include preoccupations with shopping, feeling guilt and shame following a purchase, lying about shopping habits, and being unable to stop shopping. 

Research has identified common factors that may lead to the development of compulsive buying disorder. The causes of shopping addiction include pre-existing mental health disorders such as anxiety disorders and binge-eating disorders, low self-regulation, and materialism. Other risk factors for the condition also exist, including being female, having low self-esteem, and susceptibility to negative moods. 

The short-term effects of shopping addiction may initially feel positive, as many compulsive buyers use shopping to elevate their mood or distract themselves from life stressors. However, these positive emotions are often accompanied by negative ones such as guilt and shame, which can also be triggers for the afflicted person to do more shopping.

Meanwhile, the long-term effects of compulsive buying disorder are escalating financial problems that can eventually lead to piling debt and bankruptcy, legal consequences, and worsening mental health. Luckily, shopping addiction help is possible through therapy and medications, regardless of which category of compulsive buying one falls into. 

The types of individuals with shopping addiction include compulsive shopaholics, trophy shopaholics, bargain seekers, bulimic shoppers, shopaholics, and collectors. The good news is that no matter which type of compulsive shopper you are, overcoming shopping addiction is achievable through a couple of ways, including admitting to yourself that you have a problem, having social support, developing healthy coping mechanisms, implementing boundaries around shopping, and attending support groups. 

The progression of the behavioral problem also includes a cycle of withdrawal when a person is trying to cut back on addictive behaviors around shopping. Withdrawal symptoms of shopping addiction may include mood swings, increased tension, irritability, and intense urges to shop again. 

In addition to financial and legal problems, shopping addiction also has some serious psychological impacts, such as anxiety disorders, depression, isolation, agitation, and procrastination. 

8. Tattoo addiction

Woman with tattoos.

Tattoo addiction refers to a dependence on tattooing that becomes repetitive  or excessive to the point that it causes issues related to one’s physical and emotional well-being. Although it is not formally recognized as a diagnosable condition, from a different perspective, a love of ink may come with harmful consequences. 

The symptoms of tattoo addiction include constantly thinking about your next tattoo session, feeling a sense of euphoria that comes with tattooing, and continuing tattooing despite resulting conflicts. Because experts are still debating over whether one can indeed have too much love for ink, the factors that contribute to the condition are still poorly understood. 

However, possible causes for tattoo addiction may include adrenaline-seeking behavior, a desire for creative expression, and a means of exposing trauma. Risk factors also include a history of an alcohol use disorder, having an addictive personality, high pain tolerance, and a hunger for endorphins, which are chemicals released by the brain in response to pain. 

The short-term effects of tattoo addiction include allergic reactions, significant pain, bruising, swelling, and MRI complications, while its long-term effects are skin infections and other skin problems, blood-borne diseases, and pain addiction. Tattoo addicts can also be treated the same way as those with substance addictions, particularly with the use of therapies such as biofeedback, dialectical, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

Individuals who suffer from tattoo addiction can also experience withdrawal symptoms such as extreme moodiness and irritability as a result of not being able to get a tattoo. And although for some people, getting a tattoo helps in their healing journey, studies have found that its massive use is associated with mental health concerns and sleep difficulties. 

9. Video game addiction

Man with headphones in front of a monitor playing game.

Video game addiction is defined as the excessive use of video games that involves a lack of control over the habit and that leads to physical, social, and emotional problems. Medically known as gaming disorder, it is a diagnosable condition that was officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2018. 

Symptoms of gaming addiction include obsession with one or more video games, the need for more and more time to be spent playing games, failed multiple attempts to cut back on playing internet games, lack of interest in other activities, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they cannot play video games. 

A combination of different factors can cause someone to be addicted to video games. The causes of gaming disorder are the addictive qualities of video games, instant gratification from playing, a desire to escape reality, and co-occurring mental health disorders. There are also risk factors for video game addiction, including having an addictive personality, low self-esteem, aggression, and impulsivity. 

Needless to say, any kind of addiction towards something is bound to have repercussions on one’s well-being. The short-term effects of gaming addiction include hunger, fatigue, lack of motivation, and sleep deprivation, which can all lead to more permanent effects, such as insomnia, obesity, social isolation, and aggression.

Treatment for this form of behavior addiction typically involves therapy, with the most common type used for video game-related problems being cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). And now that gaming disorder has been recognized as an official disease, more people are able to overcome it with professional help. 

If left untreated and one decides to deal with the disorder alone, it could be an unpleasant experience, especially with the possibility of suffering from video game addiction withdrawal symptoms, including intense urges to play video games, irritability, anxiety, stress, restlessness, and mood swings. 

The psychological impacts of computer and video gaming addiction can also be severe, and may lead to poorer overall mental health, decreased cognitive functioning, poorer impulse control, depression, development of ADHD symptoms, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. 

 10. Love addiction

Couple silhouette at night in front of a city view.

Love addiction, also known as relationship addiction, refers to a pattern of behavior characterized by an unhealthy attachment with one or more romantic partners. Common indicators of love addiction include constant craving for a romantic relationship, finding it extremely difficult to be outside a relationship, using sex or manipulation to hold on to a partner, and staying in an abusive relationship despite repeated promises to oneself to leave.

While genetics and upbringing may play a part in the development of relationship addiction, there are also other causes of love addiction, including a history of childhood trauma and neglect, a fear of abandonment, low self-esteem, and low self-worth, while risk factors that make people more likely to develop the condition are unhealthy parent-child relationships, emotional and psychological problems, relationship breakdown, and involvement in abusive relationships. 

The short-term effects of love addiction are problems at work or school, lack of interest in hobbies, and lack of socialization with loved ones, while its long-term effects include emotional isolation, financial challenges, and declining physical and emotional health.

The good news is that if you are willing to work through it, healing from love addiction is possible with the use of treatment methods, such as therapy and medication. Professional help is also best paired with lifestyle changes, such as developing healthier coping strategies, distancing yourself from toxic relationships, being able to recognize the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one, and surrounding yourself with a positive support system. 

Without treatment, living with love addiction can be tough, especially when a breakup happens and the afflicted person experiences withdrawal symptoms as a result, including anger, pain, a sense of betrayal, mood swings, and extreme irritability. 

And because love addiction tends to develop as a form of defense against psychological pain, it is also bound to have psychological impacts on a person, including obsessions over romantic and sexual relationships, irrational habits, intense emotional pain, and unhealthy emotional attachments. 

11. Work addiction

Man working on a computer.

Work addiction, also referred to as workaholism, refers to a mental health condition that involves a compulsive need to work despite the negative consequences it has on one’s health. The symptoms of work addiction include putting work as one’s topmost priority in life, spending an increasing amount of time working in order to feel better, feeling uncomfortable when not working, and excessive worrying about your work performance. 

And even though addiction to work is not recognized as a diagnosable condition, experts speculate that it has probable causes, including genetics, a country’s work culture, and environmental stressors in childhood. Risk factors for work addiction are having low self-esteem, being a perfectionist, being raised by overly demanding parents, and having a fear of intimacy. 

The overall impact of workaholism may manifest in physical and emotional ways, with its short-term effects being bursts of anger, dissatisfaction with work, and physical pains. Meanwhile, its long-term effects may include dysfunctional family relationships, a weakened immune system, heart problems, and an increased risk of developing other health problems. 

Because work is an important part of life, total abstinence is not the goal in treating workaholics. Instead, it is achieving a healthy work-life balance. That said, the most effective treatment methods for work addiction include family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), support groups, and medications. 

But while working with mental health professionals is the most effective way to recover from work addiction, there are also steps you can take to get past work addiction. Some ways to overcome workaholism include asking for the support of loved ones, identifying priorities in life, setting limits to your working hours or days, and resting once in a while by engaging in other fun activities. 

When left to fend for themselves, workaholics may find the recovery process more challenging, especially with the possibility of experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as high levels of stress, mood swings, increased irritability, anxiety, and depression. The condition can also take a toll on one’s mental health. The psychological impacts of work addiction include low self-esteem, poor quality of life, work burnout, frustration, and agitation. 

What are the treatments available for Behavioral addiction?

Each of the problems mentioned in the addictive behaviors list may be challenging to take on, but recovery is possible when the treatment plan is tailored to the patient’s specific needs and situation. The treatments available for behavioral addiction are listed below. 

Man laying on a sofa in front of a therapist.

1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that is widely used in addiction treatment, whether it involves substances or behaviors. CBT is a psychological treatment that helps a person identify and change problematic behaviors and thought patterns that have a detrimental influence on one’s behavioral problems. 

CBT works by helping you manage or reduce symptoms of behavioral addictions by replacing negative, often unrealistic thoughts with positive and realistic ones. It operates on the idea that thoughts and feelings are connected, and therefore, what we think and do play a role in what we feel. 

CBT particularly helps individuals with behavioral addictions by teaching them how to become aware of the negative thoughts that lead them to engage in addictive behaviors, so that they could develop healthier coping strategies the next time these destructive thoughts come up. This way, they can avoid acting on irresistible urges brought by their behavioral addiction. 

During a CBT session, your therapist will help you explore your thoughts, feelings, and behavior to identify which ones are unhelpful and need to be changed. They will also help you determine problems and create a list of possible solutions that you could use to reduce the negative impacts of behavioral addiction in your life. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term psychosocial intervention that ranges from around five to 20 sessions. You and your therapist will decide the number of sessions that may be right for you, according to various factors, such as the type of behavioral addiction, the severity of your symptoms, and the amount of time you have spent dealing with your situation.  

2. Group therapy

Group therapy is another form of psychotherapy that involves one or more therapists working with a range of five to 15 patients at once. This small number of people usually meet together for an hour or two each week. 

Group sessions work by connecting a person with other people who share the same problems or experiences and are working toward similar goals. During a session, group members speak openly about their current situation and talk directly to one another regarding their personal problems. 

Those with behavioral addictions may benefit from group therapy, as this form of treatment gives them a voice and makes them realize that they are not alone in their struggle. This helps foster a supportive environment and encourages members to influence each other in a positive way. 

Group therapy sessions typically run around 90 minutes per session and can last anywhere between two and three months or even a year. 

3. Medications

Medications can also be used to treat behavioral addictions, especially when they co-occur with a mental health disorder. But since only a few behavioral addictions are actually recognized as a diagnosable condition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any medications intended to treat these conditions. 

For instance, a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions suggests that opioid receptor antagonists, such as naltrexone and nalmefene have been shown to be effective in reducing gambling behavior. Other antidepressants and mood stabilizers, on the other hand, may help treat psychological disorders that often co-occur with pathological gambling, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. 

The length of time it takes for medications to work against behavioral addictions is unclear because studies on pharmacological treatments for such conditions are still limited. Therefore, more studies with a greater number of subjects that take place over a longer duration need to be conducted in order to determine the effectiveness of medications for addictive behaviors. 

4. Counseling

Counseling is a type of talking therapy that involves the process of meeting with a trained therapist to gain assistance in resolving mental health issues, behavioral problems, and problematic beliefs. When it comes to behavioral addictions, counseling works by providing patients with a safe space where they can freely speak their minds without having the fear of being judged. 

This way, the therapist can identify deep-seated issues such as trauma, neglect, or grief that may have contributed to the patient’s disorder. And treating the underlying issue makes it easier to treat behavioral addiction. 

During counseling or therapy, your therapist may ask about what particular concern/s brought you to therapy and what symptoms you are experiencing. They may also ask you to complete a questionnaire as a form of mental health assessment and explore your childhood, medical history, and long-term goals. 

Counseling lasts from a few months to years, depending on the specific issue that a patient wants to address. On average, however, 50% of patients are required to have 15-20 counseling sessions.

5. Self-help groups

Self-help groups are groups of peers who share the same life situation and mental, emotional, or behavioral problems that come together to improve their conditions. These groups are typically peer-led, which means that they may not always have a trained therapist to lead them. 

However, self-help groups have proven to be beneficial for those suffering from behavioral addictions, as they receive an ample amount of mutual help and emotional support from their peers. At a support group, each member is given an opportunity to share their personal experiences, feelings, and coping skills, which is very important for those in the recovery process to learn tips and new ideas and gain encouragement from people who share the same struggle. 

Most self-help groups meet every week or two for an average of one to two hours, depending on the number of people in the meeting. Groups can also have shorter meetings if there are fewer members or if some members’ physical problems make it uncomfortable for them to sit for longer periods. 

Is it possible to treat Behavioral addictions?

Yes, it is possible to treat behavioral addictions and rise from their dire consequences with the use of different treatment options, including therapy, medications, and support groups. Because each behavioral addiction is unique, by seeking professional help, an expert can create a treatment plan that is tailored to your specific needs and situation. 

An individualized treatment plan is a significant component of the recovery process. It allows for unhealthy addictions such as behavioral problems to be curbed and for those who suffer from them to reclaim their lives.