When most people hear the word “addiction,” they think of the dependence on a substance, such as drugs or alcohol. And for good reason: According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), one in every eight people in the United States has a significant problem with alcohol or drugs.
But uppers, downers, and other commonly abused substances aren’t the only things people are addicted to. In fact, just substitute the word "behaviour" for "substance," and you open up the definition of addiction to all kinds of surprising dependencies. Whether it’s sex, the Internet, or bungee jumping, the desire to experience that “high” becomes so strong, the addict loses control and seeks the activity despite all negative consequences. Here are eight habits you can surprisingly become hooked on.
Constantly bucking your odds? Of all behavioural addictions, an addiction to gambling is the one that most closely resembles drug and alcohol addiction. Though the American Psychiatric Association (APA) currently considers compulsive gambling to be an impulse control disorder, the organization is seriously considering reclassifying it as an addictive disorder. In fact, studies show that gambling addictions light up the same areas of the brain as drug addictions — and treatment for compulsive gambling is usually included in the same type of therapy settings as drug and alcohol abuse.
Thanks to big names such as Tiger Woods and Anthony Weiner, the topic of sex addiction is frequently in the news. But is a sweet tooth for sex a real addiction? Perhaps: Though it’s not formally classified as an addiction (yet), there are treatments for it, and the APA is considering adding addictive sexual behaviour to its updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders under the heading “hypersexual behaviour disorder.” In addition, the symptoms of sex addiction — including loss of control and disregard for risks and consequences — are very similar to those of traditional addictions. What’s a sex addict to do? Like drugs, alcohol, and even gambling, addiction treatments for hypersexual activity seem to respond best to 12-step programs, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous.
We’re living in a wired world — but is it possible to be too plugged in? Psychologists don't generally consider Internet addiction a true addiction, but it can be a true problem for some people. An addiction to the Internet involves loss of control, as well as negative consequences at work and at home. One recent study even found that compulsive use of the World Wide Web may occupy up to 11 hours out of an “Internet addict’s" day. Other studies suggest that compulsive Internet use affects 6 to 14 percent of Internet users.
Shopping: It’s yet another behaviour that, when it spins out of control, is considered to be an impulse control disorder (rather than a true addiction). Do you purchase items to avoid feeling sad — but then feel guilty afterwards? Do you have a closet full of clothes that still have the price tags on them? You could be a shopaholic. Studies show that compulsive shopping affects more women than men, and that it can result in big problems, both financially and personally. How can you get help? Treatment for a shopping addiction usually involves counseling and behavioural therapy.
Video Game Addiction
Can’t get your hands off that game console? Research shows that video game addiction is most common in boys and men — and one recent study even found that as many as one in 10 video players between the ages of 8 and 18 are “out-of-control gamers” (and games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft begin to feel more like reality than fantasy). If you’re addicted to your video games, treatments include counseling and behaviour modification.
Plastic Surgery Addiction
To improve the way they look, some people go under the knife again and again … and again. In fact, people with a propensity for plastic surgery may obsessively go from doctor to doctor until they find a plastic surgeon or dermatologist who agrees to treat them. The truth is, these people are more likely to be suffering from body dysmorphic disorder than a cosmetic surgery addiction. People with BDD, about 1 to 2 percent of the population and up to 15 percent of plastic surgery patients, are preoccupied with their appearance and are hell-bent on the idea that they are ugly or deformed.
For years, Americans have argued over whether food obsessions can actually be food addictions — or whether this “disorder” is more of an excuse. In truth, binge eating disorder is a real problem that affects about 3 percent of adults in the United States. Symptoms include eating to ease emotions, overdoing it on food while alone, and feeling guilty after the binge. But while food can seem like a drug for people with eating disorders, experts’ last word is that this is not a true addiction. The cause of eating disorders is not known, but it is probably linked more to depression than addiction.
Risky Behaviour Addiction
Get your rocks off from risk? Thrill seekers share many of the same symptoms as drug addicts; they get a rush from skydiving or rock climbing, but after a while, they seek out even more dangerous adventures to feel that same level of excitement. And studies show that these “thrills” release the same flood of brain chemicals released by addictive drugs.
The bottom line: Not all behavioural addictions meet the classic definition of physical addiction, but they do share many of the psychological and social hallmarks — and they will respond well to traditional types of addiction treatment.