Understanding Non-substance Or Behavioural Addictions

When we hear the word ‘addiction’, we usually associate it with substances like illicit drugs and alcohol. In broader terms, addictions can develop into anything that isn’t substance-related too, like food, gambling, gaming, shopping, and more. When a person does things in excess and can’t seem to control it or stop, it becomes an addiction. This type of addiction is known as Non-substance Addiction or Behavioural Addiction.

The negative effects interfere with a person’s daily life, even endangering their wellbeing and safety. Non-substance addictions can cause physical, emotional, psychological, and even financial distress. Understanding non-substance addiction is crucial to preventing serious harm and helping people regain control of their life.

Types Of Non-Substance Addiction: Non-substance addictions, also known as behavioural addictions, involve compulsive and excessive engagement in specific activities or behaviours, despite negative consequences. These are some common types of non-substance addictions:

Gambling Addiction (Pathological Gambling): This involves an uncontrollable urge to gamble, even when it causes financial, emotional, or social harm. People with a gambling addiction become preoccupied with gambling, lie about their gambling activities, and jeopardize relationships and finances.

Internet and Technology Addiction: This encompasses excessive use of the internet, social media, video games, or other digital technologies. Individuals with this addiction tend to neglect real-life responsibilities, experience withdrawal symptoms when not online, and have difficulty controlling their usage.

Gaming Addiction (Video Game Addiction): Similar to internet addiction, gaming addiction involves obsessive and compulsive playing of video games. People with this addiction may spend excessive hours gaming, neglecting work, education, or personal relationships.

Shopping Addiction (Compulsive Buying Disorder): Shopping addiction involves the compulsive need to shop and make purchases, often leading to financial problems. Shopping addicts shop to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression, and tend to hide their purchases or debts.

Workaholism (Work Addiction): Workaholics have an obsession with work and an intense need for achievement and success. They often work long hours, neglect their personal lives, and may experience physical and mental health issues, and burnouts due to overwork.

Exercise Addiction (Compulsive Exercise): Exercise addiction involves excessive and compulsive physical activity, driven by the need for perceived health and fitness benefits. Addicts continue exercising even when injured or fatigued, leading to physical harm.

Sexual Addiction: This entails compulsive and unhealthy sexual behaviors, such as excessive pornography consumption, multiple sexual partners, or risky sexual activities. This addiction can lead to relationship problems, legal issues and emotional distress.

Food Addiction (Binge Eating Disorder): Food addiction is characterized by the consumption of large quantities of food, often in a short period, even when not hungry. Individuals with this addiction may use food to cope with emotions and experience guilt and shame afterward.

Hoarding Disorder: Hoarding is a behavioural addiction where individuals have an overwhelming urge to acquire and save excessive quantities of possessions, often leading to clutter and unsafe living conditions. People with hoarding disorder have difficulty discarding items, experiencing much distress to de-clutter.

[Note: The classification and recognition of some of these behavioural addictions are still evolving in the field of psychology and psychiatry.]

Symptoms / Signs of Behavioural Addiction:

Guilt: Constant feeling of regret for your behaviour and a heaviness each time you lose control.

Lack of control: Knowing that you need to stop a certain behaviour but feeling completely helpless to do so.

Crash: Following the activity, you feel an emotional low or crashing sensation as if falling from a great height.

Recklessness: You ignore your responsibilities and commitments in order to continue the addictive behaviour.

Adrenalin Rush: Partaking of the addictive behaviour or even anticipating the activity, gives you a rush of feel-good emotions.

Secrecy: Telling lies, feeling compelled to cover up the truth, not being honest with family members, creating elaborate stories to ensure you can continue your addiction.

Causes Of Non-Substance Addiction: Any form of addiction affects a person’s brain activity. The person’s reward, motivation, and memory systems have been altered in a way that brings physical and emotional satisfaction when they participate in addictive behaviour. This feeling of excitement or ‘rush’ is what keeps a person continuing their bad habits despite the negative outcomes. Prolonged engagement unlocks a series of euphoric feelings and strange behavioural characteristics that further add to their addiction.

Diagnosis Of Non-Substance Addiction: This calls for the help of a medical or mental health professional. The person undergoes a thorough assessment conducted by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists and general practitioners.

Treating Non-Substance Addictions: Similar to drug and alcohol addiction, there are many treatment options available to those who suffer from behavioural addiction. These treatments, if supervised by professionals, can lead to recovery, giving the person back their ability to live a balanced life. Treatment Options include:

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT helps individuals identify and change distorted thought patterns and develop healthier behaviours. CBT can be tailored to address specific addictive behaviours.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): A client-centered approach, MET helps individuals find motivation to change their addictive behaviours. It focuses on setting and achieving goals for change.

Support Groups: Support groups like Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, or Internet and Technology Addiction Support Groups provide a sense of community and understanding, by offering a platform for sharing experiences and coping strategies.

Family Therapy: Involving family members in therapy helps improve communication, support, and understanding within the family unit. Family therapy can address the impact of addiction on relationships.

Medication:  In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, which often accompany non-substance addictions.

Mindfulness-Based Approaches: Mindfulness techniques, such as Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP), helps individuals become more aware of their cravings, helping them manage without acting on them.

Residential / Inpatient Treatment: For severe cases, residential or inpatient treatment programs provide a structured environment with intensive therapy and support.

It’s important to tailor the treatment approach to the individual’s specific addiction and needs. Additionally, ongoing support and relapse prevention strategies are crucial for long-term recovery.

[Disclaimer: Kindly note that this article is for information purposes only and is NOT a substitute for actual mental health care.]

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