Other Addictive Behaviors

We have discussed some of the most common and severe addictions: those involving alcohol, cocaine, tobacco, and prescription drugs. Needless to say, the list could go on into what clinicians refer to as process addictions. Most addictive behavior follows the same basic patterns. There is an initial honeymoon phase of euphoria or excitement, the development of tolerance as larger or more frequent doses of the behavior are required to get a pleasurable effect, and eventually there is dependency or harmful side-effects. This exact pattern is found in a variety of addictions not directly involving drugs.

Food is not typically considered by most people a substance one abuses like a drug and becomes addicted to. For years, overeating and obesity were often diagnosed as eating disorders caused from emotional problems that could be solved by psychotherapy or counseling. Although this is true for many individuals who have used food to manage their emotions or deal with stress, the problem is more complex for the true food addict.

Money can also be an addictive substance or property. It is not how much money you have but how you spend it. Spending money for emotional comfort is habit forming, and can be addictive, just like a drug.

Gambling is a “pure addiction” according to experts. It has all the classic signs (Boles, 1984). The gambler is compulsive and would rather lose than not gamble at all. Some even go through withdrawal symptoms when they are broke and cannot gamble. Gambling follows a predictable pattern. There is a “big win” early in life that starts the addiction. From then on the gambler is hooked on “the chase” and plays as much for the high emotional stakes as the high financial stakes.

Television can be addictive, especially when it is the main entertainment medium available to people. In one study, one of eight students reported watching 21 or more hours per week…at least twice the average amount, which is about 10 hours a week.

Internet addiction started receiving attention in the late 1990s, as the web became popular. Some college students spent all their time in chat rooms (the early version of instant messaging) even if it meant missing homework assignments. Psychologists Kandell and Kimberly Young of the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford said internet addiction was like any other addiction: It became a problem when it started to interfere with other parts of life, such as sleep, work, socializing, and exercise. “Some of these people even forget to eat,” Kimberly Young commented (Murray, 1996).

Nowadays, skipping a meal because of interesting material on the internet sounds more like a virtue than a symptom of addiction, because obesity or food addiction is receiving much more attention. Morbidly obese people commonly confess that, for them, eating is like a drug experience. It provides comfort when they are feeling down, it stimulates an emotional high that blots out other concerns, and they feel compelled to indulge their appetities even when they know perfectly well how harmful it is to their health and appearance.

Sex addiction is a major problem for some people. A book published in Victorian era England, My Secret Life, went on for 11 volumes about the author’s single-minded pursuit of sex. The anonymous author, who called himself Walter, was compelled to have “many different women all the time.” Yet he did not find happiness in his obsession. “The need for variety…is itself monotonous,” he wrote. Oxford (1985) points out Walter showed all the typical signs of sex addiction, from compulsive sexuality that dominated his life, to remorse, to attempted abstinence, to bargaining with God during his numerous unsuccessful attempts to reduce the power of the addiction. Patrick Carnes , in a book titled Out of the Shadows (1983), described similar case histories of sex addicts in more recent times.

Sex addicts commonly suffer from delusions: false beliefs based on projecting their own attitudes onto others. They interpret other people’s behavior as a “sexual come-on” signal when the opposite is true.

If any of these addictive behaviors resonate with you in any way, it would be wise to read about the signs and symptoms outlined in the Other Addictive Behavior section so you can learn and begin the recovery process.


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