Characteristics of Addictive Behaviors
Any activity, substance, object, or behavior that has become the major focus of a person’s life to the exclusion of other activities, or that has begun to harm the individual or others physically, mentally, or socially is considered an addictive behavior. A person can become addicted, dependent, or obsessed with anything. Some researchers imply that there are similarities between physical addiction to various chemicals, such as alcohol and heroin, and psychological dependence to activities such as compulsive gambling, sex, work, running, shopping, or eating disorders. It is thought that these behavior activities may produce identical chemicals in the brain (endorphins), which gives the person a sense of well-being or a “high.” Some experts suggest that if a person continues to engage in the activity to achieve this feeling of well-being and euphoria, he/she may get into an addictive cycle. In so doing, he/she becomes physically addicted to his/her own brain chemicals, thus leading to continuation of the behavior even though it has negative health or social consequences.
There are many common characteristics among the various addictive behaviors:
- The person becomes obsessed (constantly thinks of) the object, activity, or substance.
- Over time, a person needs more of the substance or activity to feel the same euphoric effects. As tolerance increases, so do consequences and negative effects that intensify the feeling of isolation and fear of discovery.
- They will seek out and engage in the behavior even though it is causing harm (physical problems, poor work or study performance, tense relationships).
- The person will engage in the activity, that is, do the activity over and over
- Ceasing the substance or activities results in physical and emotional symptoms of withdrawal. These can include irritability, craving, restlessness or depression.
- The person does not appear to have control as to when, how long, or how much he or she will continue the behavior (They drink 6 beers when they only wanted one, buy 8 pairs of shoes when they only needed a belt, ate the whole box of cookies, etc).
- He/she denies problems resulting from his/her engagement in the behavior, even though it is clearly and increasingly obvious to others.
- Person hides the behavior after family or close friends have mentioned their concern, or out of fear that he/she will be imminently exposed.
- Many individuals with addictive behaviors report a blackout for the time they were engaging in the behavior (don’t remember how much or what they bought, how much they lost gambling, what they did at the party when drinking).
- Addicts gradually spend less time on activities that used to be important to them (hanging out with family and friends, exercising or going to the gym, pursuing hobbies or other interests) because of their addiction.
- Depression and anxiety are common in individuals with addictive behaviors. They are often resistant to see a physician or other health/mind professional, for fear that they will be asked uncomfortable questions.
- Individuals with addictive behaviors usually have low self-esteem, feel anxious about their loss of control over their environment, and come often from psychologically or physically abusive backgrounds.