6 Types of Behavioral Addiction to Avoid in Recovery

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Amethyst Recovery focuses on the treatment of drugs and alcohol. Nonetheless, we like to occasionally cover certain forms of behavioral addiction in our articles. Examples that we have covered in the past include eating disorders, gambling addiction and hypersexual disorder. But many other forms of behavioral addiction exist as well. We hear about these from time to time, often scoffing in disbelief. Because even if food addiction is very real, it’s hard not to roll our eyes when a friend talks about how they’re “addicted” to coffee or chocolate.

On top of that, there are the addictions we hear about in the news. It seems like every other week, our local station covers some strange behavioral addiction that appears to be sweeping the nation. To listen to these stories, one would think that these behavioral addictions were spreading as rapidly as the opioid epidemic. Upon hearing such hyperbole, we tend to simply stop listening.

The rhetoric may sometimes be exaggerated, but many forms of behavioral addiction appearing on the news are real. Not only that, but we run the risk of developing some of them while attempting to fill the void in addiction recovery. It’s good to discover new hobbies, but we must also achieve a sense of balance.

Below, we’re going to cover six forms of behavioral addiction that recovering addicts and alcoholics should beware. These are not the sort of non-traditional compulsions you see on TLC’s My Strange Addiction—if you ever find yourself drinking paint markers or eating your couch, you will likely be able to identify the problem long before reading about it on the internet. Instead, these are things that many people do every day. Some of them simply take it too far. Perhaps you suffered one of these compulsions during your period of active substance abuse, which means that you should be even more on the lookout in recovery. Either way, be wary if you find yourself engaging in any of the following behaviors to an excessive degree.

1. Video Game Addiction

Video games are excellent in moderation, but they shouldn’t outrank health or responsibility. (Ten03/Shutterstock)

Video games are excellent in moderation, but they shouldn’t outrank health or responsibility. (Ten03/Shutterstock)

This particular form of behavioral addiction makes the news pretty often. We heard about it constantly when Blizzard released World of Warcraft, and now it seems we can’t go ten minutes without hearing another story about Pokémon Go. Many people defend this new game, noting that it’s helping people get outside and start socializing. Detractors point to players getting into car crashes, entering restricted zones such as hospital helipads, or even getting robbed at gunpoint. Back when Warcraft was the game of focus, the news cited stories of gamers playing for so long that they (or others) died of malnutrition.

Obviously, people should be smart about how they play their games. That said, not every unfortunate incident points to addiction. Death by malnutrition clearly presents a far stronger case for behavioral addiction than getting robbed by some jerks with a gun. So how can you tell if gaming has turned into a behavioral addiction? According to a recovering addict writing for Stuff Nation, the answer is simple—just monitor how long you play. If you spend more time gaming than you spend sleeping, there is a problem. If you binge on a game for more than four hours straight, you should pay attention.

But that’s not quite enough to classify an addiction. Fortunately, the author found a research article that sheds further light on the situation. Apparently, behavioral addiction is not unlike drug or alcohol addiction. The behavioral addict develops tolerance, needing to indulge themselves more than usual over time. Behavioral addicts also suffer withdrawal, and lie about their indulgence if they fear rebuke. They may also sacrifice jobs, relationships, and other responsibilities. That’s something to keep in mind while reading the rest of these entries as well, as it applies to far more than just video game addiction. So if you find yourself playing Skyrim for eight hours when you’re supposed to be looking for work, you might want to consider that you’re more than just an “avid gamer.”

2. Exercise Addiction

Once you’ve injured yourself, it’s time to quit for the day. (Lifestylepic/Shutterstock)

Once you’ve injured yourself, it’s time to quit for the day. (Lifestylepic/Shutterstock)

There is a wonderful article about exercise addiction on Breaking Muscle, which lists all of the symptoms above such as tolerance, withdrawal, and time spent. It also notes interference with relationships, and continuance despite injury. The author, Coach Eric Stevens, notes that this type of behavioral addiction involves happiness that is dependent on fitness. Exercise addicts are those who feel worthless on days when they do not work out. Some may need to exercise two or even three times a day in order to keep their self-esteem high.

Aside from the symptoms noted above, Stevens states that those who train like professional athletes but do not play sports should be paying attention to their habits. Professional athletes get paid for what they do. Due to the high demands of their profession, they often have to squeeze weight, aerobic and flexibility training into a single day. They do this multiple times a week, with enough rest to keep themselves from getting injured. Those who suffer from behavioral addiction may not be resting, and they are squeezing a lot of exercise into days on which they likely have jobs and families that need attending.

Naturally, physical fitness is a great thing. It requires lots of nutrition, which is good for mental health. And you’ve likely heard that exercise itself can provide you with a calmer state of mind as well. But if it’s become an obsession that trumps physical safety and familial responsibility, you might want to tone it back.

3. Shopping Addiction

Going to the mall and spending money is a lot more fun than paying off the subsequent debt. (zhu difeng/Shutterstock)

Going to the mall and spending money is a lot more fun than paying off the subsequent debt. (zhu difeng/Shutterstock)

Out of all forms of behavioral addiction on this list, shopping addiction might be the most heavily scrutinized. Most assume that shopping addicts are merely people who suffer from immense greed. In fact, some might hesitate to use the word “suffer,” assuming that anyone who can afford to go shopping regularly must be living a pretty good life. What we fail to realize when making such judgments is that many shopping addicts can’t afford to shop regularly. Not only do they get buried by massive piles of debt, but many begin stealing in order to continue their habit. And much like alcoholics or drug addicts, many shopping addicts lose their sense of euphoria and start to regret their actions.

Some may do their shopping in person, while others simply like to buy online. Back when he was working on Degrassi: The Next Generation, Drake claims that he suffered his own personal eBay addiction. He Instagram post on the subject didn’t say how much debt he accrued, but he laughs that he’s most certainly paid off his debt. Unfortunately, most who develop this behavioral addiction do not become famous recording artists. Their debt simply continues to build. Whether they are shopping because they need material possessions to hide their dissatisfaction in life or because they think these possessions will raise their social status, shopping addicts usually achieve neither.

We’ve talked about the benefits of treating yourself before, but noted that it should be an occasional thing. Otherwise, we risk losing our sense of balance. If shopping has landed you in debt, perhaps it’s time to treat yourself a little less.

4. Porn Addiction

Shopping and video games are not the only forms of behavioral addiction that you may discover online. (MyImages – Micha/Shutterstock)

Shopping and video games are not the only forms of behavioral addiction that you may discover online. (MyImages – Micha/Shutterstock)

If you’ve read about this one lately, it was likely because of this amendment to the GOP draft platform:

“Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and wellbeing.”

While this is less about behavioral addiction than it is about regulating internet pornography to keep it away from children, many websites are claiming that it refers to porn addiction. Some sites are critical of this platform addition, claiming that Republicans are inciting controversy over nothing. Others say that they are ignoring the opioid epidemic, even though they recently authored a bill that will increase funding for opioid treatment and prevention programs.

The politics, however, are not really our focus here. Porn addiction may sound like an offshoot of sex addiction, and to some extent it is. But even just on its own, it affects a large number of people. The New York Times covered a story earlier this month about a man who started a website for recovering porn addicts. His page gets about one million unique visitors per month. Having suffered an addiction that had him watching porn upward of fourteen times per day, he knows that it can be both mentally and physically exhausting. He lost multiple relationships during his behavioral addiction, and is currently meeting others who suffer the same struggles today.

Like many other forms of behavioral addiction, porn addicts do not receive much sympathy. After launching his website, the man above began receiving death threats. His site became the target of hackers, and many posted pornographic images on the page. One morally bankrupt individual even got his information and sent pornography to his father. But despite all this, he has not given up on helping others. Like any other addiction on this list, the key is to replace one’s compulsions with healthy activities. Remain happy and healthy, seek therapy, and you will not need to lose relationships due to an unhealthy obsession with pornography ever again.

5. Internet Addiction

It can be hard to identify internet addiction, given how central online media has become in today’s society. (Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

It can be hard to identify internet addiction, given how central online media has become in today’s society. (Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

In 2014, Maria Konnikova of The New Yorker asked a question that many have likely asked at one point or another: “Is internet addiction a real thing?” To find the answer, she researched behavioral addiction itself. She found that both substance and behavioral addictions involve cravings and mental obsession. She even found that they have many similar genetic attributes. And while internet addiction may not be included in the current version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), some internet users do seem to be a bit out of control.

This particular behavioral addiction is especially problematic given our reliance on the internet. Short of moving to Lancaster County, it’s hard to imagine an abstinence-based method of recovery. Many people work online, or need the internet to do their homework. Yet many of these same people fail to get their work done because they’re too preoccupied with the latest trending hashtags. What are they to do?

Konnikova notes that there are several apps to help limit you from visiting certain websites. There are also apps that tell you when you’ve been on your smartphone for too long. Using these types of apps wisely might enable you to avoid unhealthy amounts of internet consumption. Finding other hobbies such as reading books or playing sports might also prove helpful. These tips might benefit those who are addicted to video games or pornography as well.

But more importantly, learn to say when enough is enough. Many social media users will get offline early in the day, stating they’ve had “too much internet today.” This is generally when they find themselves getting into arguments with strangers or getting too angry at various news stories. When your own internet consumption is making you unhappy, it’s time to take a break. You don’t need to read every tweet. You don’t need to (and really shouldn’t) pirate every movie. And you don’t need to argue with every misguided person you see in the comment section of an article. Who cares if the two of you have different opinions about the new Ghostbusters? Connectivity is great, but it can also be overwhelming when overused. A few hours of quiet solitude each day might do us some good.

6. Work Addiction

Even when stress piles up, some will choose to keep working when they have the option of going home. (sheff/Shutterstock)

Even when stress piles up, some will choose to keep working when they have the option of going home. (sheff/Shutterstock)

As noted by an article on Everyday Health, work addiction may be one of the most difficult forms of behavioral addiction to pinpoint. People respect those who work hard. Even in many of our own articles, we proclaim the importance of responsibility in recovery. The notion that anyone could be too responsible seems wholly ludicrous. But think of the parents who make decent livings yet never spend time with their kids. Think of the people who seem to have no romantic or social life because they’re always at the office. They don’t go on vacation, and they spend more time looking at their phones than most avid Pokémon Go players.

When work begins hurting our health, our families, or any other aspect of our lives, it becomes a problem. When we find that even our dreams revolve around working, we are likely doing it too much. (Dream time is when you’re supposed to be flying around on jetpacks and fighting zombies, not working.) And when we find that we feel emotionally conflicted when we are not working, then we have become dependent on it.

Some people develop this type of behavioral addiction due to money or status. Others develop it because they truly find their work to be thrilling. Some simply feel there are problems at home, and work allows them to escape. No matter what the reason for your work addiction, try to remember what “all work and no play” did to Jack Torrance. If you really want to, you can likely find ways to cut back on your work hours. If you can’t, then you might consider sending out your CV to a few places. Seek therapy if you really need to, but don’t let an unhealthy preoccupation with ambition take you from your family. They need you.

You deserve to be happy and healthy. Whether you need therapy or simply a wake-up call, do not let behavioral addiction ruin your recovery. Because you never know—any damage to your mental or emotional state might lead right back to substance abuse. What starts as a seemingly harmless fixation might very well be the thing that drives you back to a life of addiction. That’s simply too great a risk for anyone to take.

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