Addiction When It Isn’t Drugs or Alcohol

Addiction When It Isn’t Drugs or Alcohol

Table of Contents

Many associate addictions with drugs or alcohol but forget how easy it is to trade a substance addiction for an unhealthy coping mechanism like social media or gambling. Since your client’s brain has been rewired due to addiction affecting their reward system, it has become easy for them to shift from one obsession to the next without realizing what is happening. While not everything can be an obvious detriment right away, monitoring these behaviors before they get out of hand is essential.

What Counts as Addiction?

In the most basic sense of the definition, an addiction is a compulsive need to use habit-forming substances that cause withdrawal and social or psychological harm. This definition primarily focuses on addiction to substances such as drugs or alcohol. However, there is another form of addiction that is called “behavioral addiction.” Behavioral addiction and substance addiction are very similar. The most significant difference is that the person is addicted to the feeling or behavior brought on by the action rather than being attached to a substance with a behavioral addiction.

Examples of Behavioral Addictions

Many things can become addictive for some people. What can make someone addicted depends on the person. However, it typically tends to be an action that can trigger the reward centers of our brain. If the action can trigger a response that floods our dopamine receptors, it can work as an addiction replacement. Activities that can turn into addiction can include:

  • Shopping
  • Sex
  • Social media use
  • Television
  • Food
  • Hoarding

What to Watch For

There isn’t anything wrong with your client enjoying their favorite show, checking a news feed, or eating a nice dinner once in a while, but it can become harmful in excess. Once it becomes a compulsive, repetitive pattern, then there is a chance that it is starting to get out of control. The biggest red flag for addiction is taking a negative toll on an individual’s life and general wellbeing. For example, if a person enjoys shopping once in a while, that is fine. What wouldn’t be so good is shopping so often that they run up credit cards and find themselves in debt.

This is also true for social media use and watching television. Your client might occasionally give themself an afternoon off to binge-watch their favorite show, and that is okay. However, it becomes a problem when watching TV is all they do instead of healthier activities like exercise, socializing with friends in person, or taking care of daily chores. Television watching has gotten out of control at this point and could negatively impact their quality of life.

Why Is There Risk for More Addiction?

If your client has been diagnosed with substance addiction in the past, they are far more likely to pick up a behavioral addiction if they are not careful. Substance use completely rewires the brain. The area of the brain that acts as a reward center is severely impacted by substance use. It takes a while for it to go back to its original wiring, and in some cases, it never does, depending on the severity of the substance use.

Sometimes when a person goes through treatment, they trade addiction for something else to give them pleasure. They might trade alcohol for eating food. Eating becomes a replacement coping mechanism when things become stressful or difficult psychologically. It can also become a behavior used to fill the time that had once been designated for substance use.

Those with substance use disorder (SUD) can also trade one substance use for another. Many people in the treatment community use nicotine. While there is disagreement among some, many agree that even though it might be commonplace in some addiction recovery communities, nicotine is still a substance that is addictive.

Your client might be at additional risk if they also have a diagnosis that carries with it the propensity of developing SUD, such as ADHD, bipolar, or BPD. Since behavioral and substance addictions are very similar, individuals with conditions vulnerable to any form of addiction can develop one.

Open Communication Is Vital

Even if your client is unsure if their behaviors are a concern, the good news is, at the very least, they are talking about it. What might seem normal to them might not be customary to everyone else. If it comes across like they might have a behavioral addiction, then you may want to discuss specific potential treatment plans with them. Behavioral addiction can get out of hand fast and have serious negative consequences on a person’s life.

When you or your loved one is in recovery, they still might be at risk for developing behavioral addictions if they aren’t careful. It’s easy for someone with a history of addiction to trade one for the other. Since the brain’s reward system has been completely rewired, it makes it easy to fall into another addictive trap. There are many things that can become an addiction, from food to shopping to even social media use, if a person isn’t careful. It might not be evident at first that an addiction is forming, but it’s crucial to catch it before it’s too late. If you are concerned that you or a loved one has a behavioral addiction, then contact your therapist right away to assess the situation before it gets out of hand. For more information on behavioral addictions and how to stay safe, call Jaywalker Lodge today at (866) 529-9255

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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