The word “addiction” often evokes associations with addictive substance use, such as alcohol or drugs. This association is most accurate and understandable, because much more is said about addiction to psychoactive substances than behavioral addictions. The latter, however, can be just as harmful.
Behavioral (functional) addiction is a group of psychological addictions associated with compulsive (persistent and repeated) performance of certain activities aimed at reducing the feeling of tension and improving well-being. Due to the performance of these activities, a person feels pleasure, euphoria, relief and a feeling of satisfaction.
Addictions (both behavioral and addiction to psychoactive substances) have one thing in common. It is incorrect impulse control. We can talk about behavioral addiction when a given activity (behavior) is undertaken due to a very strong desire (internal compulsion). The addicted person will not only feel compelled to start the activity, but will also be willing to continue this activity for as long as possible.
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The age group where behavioral addictions are common are children and adolescents.
Types of behavioral addictions
The most common behavioral addictions include:
- pathological gambling,
- sex / porn addiction,
- Internet and telephone addiction,
- compulsive overeating,
- addiction to aesthetic medicine and plastic surgery.
The causes of behavioral addictions
In the scientific literature, we can most often find the statement that there is no single factor explaining the mechanism of behavioral addictions.
There are, however, several addiction models that attempt to explain the genesis of behavioral addictions. Belong to them:
- Biomedical model – neurotransmitters and genes are responsible for the development of addiction.
- Psychodynamic model – addiction as an attempt and a way to deal with traumatic childhood experiences.
- Cognitive-behavioral model – the cause of addiction in this model is learned (through reinforcement) abnormal patterns of thinking, experiencing and behavior.
Criteria for the diagnosis of behavioral addictions
Behavior (action) is an internal compulsion. The addicted person is unable to resist the impulses that drive him to engage in “addictive” activities.
The addicted person feels a state of strong anxiety and internal tension just before starting the activity. Relief and pleasure comes with the start of the activity (which motivates the addict to engage in the addictive activity again in order to feel relief – a vicious circle mechanism).
An addicted person may have the impression that he or she does not control himself (he loses control over the activity performed, he cannot stop).
The presence of at least five of the following criteria:
- The thoughts and actions of the addicted person focus on the “addictive” activity – activity planning, preparation.
- The behavior becomes more and more repeated, it lasts longer than originally planned by the addict, even if he wants to stop, he cannot.
- The addicted person tries to take back control of his life and may try to reduce, control or give up the addiction, but these attempts do not bring the desired results.
- Almost all of his time is spent by the addicted individual either in “compulsive” activity or in preparation for it (eg, a gambling addict may spend almost all his time in a casino or prepare “strategies and plans” to ensure that he / she wins).
- Neglecting all spheres of life not related to behavior, e.g. family life, work life, school, relationships with peers.
- Not to stop taking “addictive” activities despite the awareness that they lead to negative consequences, such as health, financial, family and relationship crises.
- The phenomenon of increasing tolerance – the addicted person is not satisfied with the amount or intensity of the behavior over time, he no longer feels as much relief and pleasure as at the beginning, and therefore begins to take the “addictive” activity more often or more intensively, hoping that the positive the sensations will return to their original form.
- Restlessness and irritation arise when the behavior is impossible or the person is forced to stop.
Some of the above-mentioned behaviors included in the diagnostic criteria last longer than a month or have a tendency to recur and repeat over the course of an individual’s life.
Treatment of behavioral addiction
The methods of treating behavioral addiction are based primarily on psychotherapy, in some cases pharmacotherapy is used as a means of supporting the psychotherapy process. The person struggling with addiction may also attend self-help group meetings.
The effectiveness of the treatment of behavioral addiction largely depends on the will and (internal) motivation of the person struggling with the addiction.
Most often in the treatment process, cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy and motivational dialogue are used. It is also advisable to combine individual patient therapy with group therapy (e.g. support groups for addicts) and family therapy (e.g. systemic psychotherapy).
Behavioral addictions, due to their properties that significantly reduce the quality of life and the level of functioning of the addicted person, and their widespread prevalence among all age groups, deserve special attention of the media and the scientific community. Public education and prevention of addiction to psychoactive substances and behavioral addictions should be a priority.