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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.

Understanding the Condition

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.

Some common behaviors that can develop into an addiction are:

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

Knowing 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

Getting Help

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 right treatment, you can learn how to manage the behavior and reclaim your life.


  1. http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/why-cant-i-stop/201606/what-is-behavioral-addiction
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