The Most Frequent Behavioral Addictions

Believe it or not, some of the most common behavioral addictions are exercising, surfing the web or eating. Find out more about this topic with us!
The Most Frequent Behavioral Addictions

Last update: 21 December, 2020

In our current society, people often associate the word “addiction” with substance abuse. However, behavioral addictions are equally important to consider and take into account. Surprisingly, not that many people talk about them. In these addictions, people tend to have the same action patterns that appear in substance addictions.

Many times, individuals turn to addictions as a way to escape reality. Sometimes, they’re unable to achieve this by consuming a specific substance. For example, someone who compulsively uses the Internet for plenty of hours a day and avoids doing any other activity may be addicted.

Moreover, psychologists must establish the criteria to find out if it truly is an addiction or not. To do this, they learn about a few things. First of all, the number of hours the individual spends a day carrying out the action. Secondly, if it interferes with their daily life. Finally, if there’s significant discomfort or suffering.

Behavioral addictions: there’s no substance but you’re “hooked” to something

If you tell anyone that running is bad and problematic, they’ll most likely be surprised and question what you just said. Basically, you’d have to describe running in a skillful way in order to convince them that it can become an addiction.

A psychologist can know, after a good evaluation, if they’re facing an addiction or not and at what point it really is. On the other hand, if it’s already problematic to society to differentiate addiction from toxic behavior, it’s more so to know if you’re dealing either with an addiction or with just an activity.

Here are the main characteristics that define behavioral addictions:

  • Behavioral addictions are repetitive behaviors that are pleasant and that generate psychological dependence and loss of control (at least in the first phases).
  • The dependency process is NOT the behavior itself (for example, working), but the way in which the person relates to the behavior.
  • There’s an urgent need to carry out the behavior, despite the consequences that may come (losing family, health, etc.).
  • They aren’t listed as mental disorders neither in the DSM nor in the ICD (with the exception of pathological gambling).

Therefore, with this definition, the term addiction becomes broader and adapts to new realities. For example, the emergence of new technologies and a sedentary lifestyle can cause technological additions. Believe it or not, this is just as problematic as substance addiction.

A person with their hands tied, representing internet addiction.

Behavioral addictions: internet addiction

If there’s something that characterizes today’s society, it’s the massive use of the Internet. In reality, the Internet is extremely necessary; how else would you make bank transfers, write emails, carry out bureaucratic procedures, or telework in general?

Although these uses justify the daily use of the Internet in an optimal and necessary way, we all know that the use of the Internet goes much further. For example, when it comes to recreational purposes, you can find social networks, online video games, and forums or online chats.

However, when does this use become an addiction? What are the characteristics of Internet addiction?

  • Using it excessively. 40-80 hours a week with sessions of up to 20 hours with no breaks.
  • Concealing the addictive behavior.
  • Using stimulants in order to be able to keep going.
  • A complete alteration of sleep patterns.
  • Excessive fatigue.
  • Academic or work impairment.
  • Health problems (for example, carpal tunnel syndrome).
  • The addiction’s usually linked to a particular application or website that triggers excessive Internet use.

As you can see in this series of characteristics, Internet addiction has abusive use patterns and clear symptoms. It can be difficult to differentiate using the Internet due to work obligations from using it simply because you’re addicted to it. These characteristics can be of great help to better understand this.

Behavioral addictions: addiction to eating or hyperphagic actions

When it comes to eating problems, it’s pretty common for the first thing to come to mind to be anorexia or bulimia. However, when it comes to the addiction to eating and food in general, the person isn’t really concerned about their figure or weight. Despite this, it has all the components to be considered a proper addiction.

Let’s see some of the main characteristics:

  • Consuming food in a voracious way.
  • Eating a lot of food without feeling physically hungry.
  • Continuing to eat until feeling unpleasantly full.
  • Feeling guilty after overeating.
  • Importance of emotional aspects. Hyperphagia usually comes as a consequence of prolonged anxious and depressive states.

Thus, food addiction has some peculiarities that differentiate it from eating disorders. One of the biggest challenges is knowing how to diagnose it the proper way.

Physical exercise addiction

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, behaviors such as running or exercising are far from being conceptualized as negative. However, there’s such a thing as the addiction to physical exercise as avoidance of other activities. Basically, the individual carries out physical exercise compulsively in order to get the pleasure they can’t find in other areas of their life.

Let’s see the main characteristics of addiction to physical exercise:

  • Excessive worry and obsessive thoughts about doing physical exercise.
  • Exercising more than once a day despite injury or illness.
  • Presence of withdrawal symptoms when not exercising.

Addiction to shopping, work, and sex

There are other very frequent behavioral addictions that aren’t usually included in diagnostic manuals. However, they’re just as problematic as any substance addiction and cause the same interference in a person’s life.

Shopping addiction

Shopping addiction generally occurs in women in their 30s-40s. The start of this condition is usually between the ages of 18 and 20 and its course is continuous. Interestingly, it’s deeply related to anxiety, depression, substance dependence, and eating disorders.

Before going shopping, the person usually has a dysphoric mood that’s then followed by excitement at the expectation of buying. The individual loses control and acquires many superfluous items that they later regret buying. This cycle goes on and on as the person seeks to decrease discomfort.

A man suffering from behavioral addictions feeling tired and unwell.

Work addiction

In this addiction, the person has recurring thoughts about the need to be productive, in addition to cognitive distortions regarding work demands.

The person feels irritable, anxious, and overall moody when they can’t work, for example, due to holidays and days off.

Sex addiction

The person who suffers from this has impulsive sexual behaviors they feel they have to carry out despite not wanting to. It refers to irrepressible unwanted behavior.

There’s personal and emotional gratification exclusively through consensual sex with adults as well as paraphilic behaviors.

Behavior as a source of gratification

In all these behavioral addictions, the beginning of the problem is related to the behavior being the main and exclusive source of gratification. After all, these behaviors aren’t pathological in themselves. In fact, they’re even socially accepted and valued.

Therefore, it’s important to remember that, for an addictive behavior to be considered as such, the following clinical characteristics must be present: a loss of control over the behavior, psychological dependence or craving, tolerance, withdrawal, and serious harmful effects.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • CEDE (2012): Psicología clínica. CEDE. Madrid.
  • Graña, J.L. (1994). Conductas adictivas. Teoría, evaluación y tratamiento. Debate. Madrid.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.