What Is Behavioral Addiction?

Last Updated on August 10, 2023

When most people think of addiction, they probably associate the condition with drug or alcohol abuse. It’s true that many cases of addiction involve substance abuse and research shows that over 21 million adults in the United States have a problem with drugs or alcohol.1 However, it’s also possible to become addicted to a behavior, or what is called behavioral addiction.

Behavioral addiction, also known as process addiction, can be just as problematic as an addiction to alcohol or drugs, but the disease is not as well-understood. This article covers the basics about behavioral addiction and identifies some potential warning signs of the condition.

What is behavioral addiction?

How is it possible to develop an addiction without consuming an addictive substance? Experts have learned that the brain has similar reactions to behaviors as it does to substances like drugs or alcohol.2

The brain develops powerful reinforcements for these behaviors, making you want to do them again and again, even if you’re experiencing negative consequences from these actions. In many cases, the reinforcement of a behavior is so intense that an addicted person experiences withdrawal symptoms when they stop the behavior–they may feel agitated, irritable or have trouble sleeping.

Common behaviors that can develop into an addiction

Certain behaviors can become problematic when they inhibit a person’s ability to function daily or cause serious harm to them physically, emotionally, financially, or psychologically. Examples of behaviors that can become addictive include:

  • Gambling
  • Shopping
  • Sex
  • Internet use
  • Eating
  • Exercise

What are the signs of behavioral addiction?

Some of the behaviors listed above are activities that everyone engages in to some degree and may enjoy greatly. However, a behavior pattern isn’t considered an addiction unless it meets the following criteria:

  1. The person is suffering from physical or mental health issues as a result of the behavior
  2. The person is having problems at work or in relationships due to the behavior
  3. The person is experiencing other damaging consequences as a result of their extreme behavior
  4. The person is unable to stop the behavior in spite of these negative consequences

Behavioral addiction treatment

Many of the same treatment methods that are used to address addiction to drugs and alcohol are also effective in treating behavioral addiction. Talking out various issues in group and individual therapy is an essential component of the healing process.

People suffering from behavioral addiction also need to unlearn their patterns of addictive behavior and replace them with healthy new patterns. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective technique that helps participants recognize the situations that will trigger cravings for their addictive behavior and teaches them how to handle these situations.

A behavioral addiction can have damaging consequences to your personal and professional life; dealing with this condition can be even more frustrating when people don’t recognize the problem as a true addiction. If you suspect you’re struggling with a behavioral addiction, don’t give up—help and healing are available. With the help of the right behavioral addiction treatment center, you can learn how to manage the behavior and reclaim your life.

If you want to find help for recovery in Austin, the caring professionals at Nova Recovery Center are here to help. We treat all kinds of substance use disorders and co-occurring conditions, including behavioral addictions. With our individualized evidence-based treatment programs, which include cognitive behavioral therapy, we can help you overcome your substance abuse and other behavioral addictions to create a healthier life for yourself. We offer an intensive outpatient rehab in Austin, Texas as well as 90-day residential rehab, sober living, and aftercare programs.

Please contact us online or call (888) 427-4932 to get started today. An admissions representative is waiting to speak with you.


  1. http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf
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