Behavioral Addictions: Why Do I Keep Doing This?

Do you ever find yourself asking, “Why do I keep doing this?”

We all have activities that we do just for fun, and we sometimes invest a lot of time, energy and money into these hobbies. While it’s healthy and refreshing to pursue activities that motivate us and make us happy, this behavior can cross the line into addiction when it becomes all-consuming. That is, when it begins to take the place of other life activities and upsets your general life balance.

What are Behavioral Addictions?

When we hear the word addiction, we usually think about alcohol and drugs. In truth, addiction can take on many forms, and it does not always involve the abuse of a substance. Behavioral addictions, sometimes called process addictions, are self-destructive behaviors that a person struggles to stop, even if they want to.

Some common examples include:

  • Gambling
  • Gaming
  • Relationship/sexual behaviors
  • Shopping
  • Social media/internet
  • Unhealthy eating behaviors

Many people find that they continue to do these things after making promises to themselves or others that they will stop. They also may notice a profound impact on other areas of their lives as a result of these behaviors, including trouble at work, with their finances or in their relationships.

While this type of addiction is very common, it is often less well-known than substance-based addictions for the simple reason that they are less obvious to outsiders. If a person performs poorly at work because they are intoxicated, others immediately recognize the problem, and the person is offered help. However, if someone performs poorly at work because they were up all night surfing the internet, the root of the problem is rarely detected, and the person often continues to suffer silently.

What is the difference between a hobby and an addictive behavior?

An interest or hobby is generally an activity pursued for fun and enjoyment that does not create major turmoil in one’s daily life. Most people can stop these activities without much effort and shift their focus to something else, especially something important like work or school.

Addictions, on the other hand, tend to become the primary focus of an individual’s life and the rush one gets from the experience quickly overshadows the joy they would experience from other activities.

Perhaps you have wondered if something you once did just for fun has become an obsession. Maybe others have told you they are worried about your behavior, or you find yourself constantly defending yourself to friends and family.  

If you are unsure where to draw the line between an interest and an addiction, here are some common signs that your behavior has become more than an innocent pastime.

  1. Spending more time engaging in the behavior than you meant to.
  2. Feeling that the behavior has gotten “out of control” and that you are unable to stop.
  3. Increasing the amount of time, money or energy you need to invest in the behavior to feel satisfied.
  4. Continuing the behavior despite negative consequences.
  5. Failing to do what’s expected at work, home or school due to the behavior.
  6. The behavior becomes your “go to” when trying to relax or take your mind off stressful situations.
  7. Intense feelings of discomfort when you are not able to engage in the behavior.
  8. Spending less time engaging in other fun activities and healthy relationships due to the behavior.
  9. The behavior interferes with regular daily functoining or causes significant distress.
  10. Feeling guilt or shame about the behavior, or feeling the need to hide it from others.

What can I do if I think I have a behavioral addiction?

If these signs sound all too familiar, you may have a behavioral addiction. This may come as a surprise to you, or maybe you already knew you had a problem, but weren’t sure what to do about it.

The most important thing to know is that you are not alone. Millions of Americans struggle with behavioral addictions, and many do not seek help because they are ashamed of their behavior or are simply unsure where to turn. They often think they should be able to control the behavior without help, and find themselves caught in an endless cycle of deciding to quit, then deciding they can keep it under control and ultimately losing control again and again. The deep sense of guilt and shame that results is often enough to keep people from talking about their problem.

Here are few things you can do if you are struggling to stop a destructive behavior:

Cut off your access.

If you are unable to stop the behavior on your own, take advantage of any safeguards that are available. Cutting up credit cards or blocking certain apps or websites is a good way to force you to find other ways to spend your time.

Find healthy alternatives.

Social activities are great ways to distract yourself. Committing to a sports team or other regular activity that gets you out of the house and engaging with others is a great way to avoid the isolation and secrecy that often surrounds addictive behaviors.

Avoid other potentially addictive activities.

Don’t trade in one addictive behavior for another! Those in the early stages of recovery from one addiction are more vulnerable to developing a new one. This is because the brain seeks to replace the rush of the experience by over engaging in other behaviors that are pleasurable. This mostly happens without our knowledge, and we may find we’ve developed a new negative habit without even thinking about it.

Seek professional help.

Consider talking to a therapist about your struggle to refrain from certain behaviors or participating in a therapy group, such as the Addictive Behaviors Early Recovery Group at the Pine Rest Retreat Clinic. Surrounding yourself with others who understand this complicated issue can be a relief as well as a tool for education.

What if I struggle with alcohol or drugs in addition to addictive behaviors?

It is not uncommon for people with addictive behaviors to also struggle with drugs or alcohol. If you are actively engaging in drinking or drug use in a manner that is putting you or your family in immediate danger, it is recommended to address the substance issue before addressing the behavioral addictions. Consult an addiction professional to determine the best course of action.

Many people in recovery from drugs and alcohol find themselves more vulnerable to behavioral addictions, especially when they are newly sober. If you are in recovery from a substance use disorder and find that other behaviors are getting you into trouble, consider treatment for behavioral addictions in addition to substance use.

Who can I contact for help?

To address the growing need for services in this area, the Pine Rest Retreat Clinic has launched their first therapy group specific to behavioral addictions. The Addictive Behaviors Group is led by a licensed therapist who is also a person in recovery from both substance use and behavioral addictions.

The group meets twice per week virtually and offers education on topics related to addiction as well as the opportunity to explore personal concerns with a group of others in a similar situation. We’ve had great success using this format to provide education and support for those with alcohol and drug addictions and are excited to expand this service to include other types of addictive behaviors. To learn more and sign up, call the Pine Rest Retreat Clinic at 616.258.7467.

If you or someone you love is affected by behavioral or substance addictions, contact Pine Rest at 866.852.4001 for an appointment with an addiction professional at the Pine Rest Retreat Clinic.

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