The term “addiction” has evolved through the years; from being used to refer to dependency on substances, such as drugs or alcohol, it now covers a wider range of behaviors and behavior patterns. Behavioral patterns similar to the cycle of addiction and substance dependence are now referred to as behavioral addictions. Although its existence is still a point of debate in certain circles within the field of addiction treatment, the dynamics of behavioral addictions deserve at least a thorough consideration. Studying how these addictions work in juxtaposition to substance addiction can shed some light on some still unanswered questions regarding addiction and treatment.
Behavioral addictions begin when an individual discovers a behavior that leads to pleasurable sensations. The individual consequently associates the behavior with feelings of pleasure and seeks it out in an effort to attain that pleasure through engaging in the same behavior. This eventually becomes a behavioral pattern comparable to the habits caused by dependency in substance addiction, which adversely affects certain aspects of an individual’s life. It eventually becomes a significant part of a person’s life, so much so that its absence causes anxiety and agitation, jeopardizing one’s chances of living a happy, productive life. Many will go out of their way just to satisfy behavioral addictions – even if it means hurting other people or one’s self.
Similar to substance addiction, behavioral addictions involve strong cravings that persist and get stronger until an individual carries out the behavior. Even at the risk of harming one’s self and damaging personal relationships, behavioral addicts will find ways to satisfy behavioral addictions – by hook or by crook. Many do not recognize the compulsion of those suffering from behavioral addictions to engage in certain behaviors and assume that they do it by choice. This contributes to the social stigma of addiction, that it is an activity in which bad people engage themselves by choice.