Battling Behavioral Addictions: How to Define and Fight Them
As this decade is reaching its end, I am reminded of how long behavioral addictions have haunted me and exactly how far I've come. Around 2010, I first began exploring my sexuality as a teenager and I quickly learned how helpful sex could be as a coping skill for a struggling and defiant teenager like myself. Over time though, I wasn't just relying on sex to cope, my tendency to rely on certain behaviors or activities to survive slowly spread to nearly every area of my life including things like food, social media, shopping, and probably even others that I'm not fully aware of. Behavioral addictions are especially tricky to conquer because they commonly involve the most regular and routine aspects of our lives and they often go completely unnoticed.
Per the American Addiction Center, a behavioral addiction can be defined as the compulsion to continually engage in an activity or behavior despite the negative impact on the person's ability to remain mentally and/or physically healthy and functional in the home or in the community.1 So when you think about it, nearly every single thing out there that "feels good" or provides relief or pleasure could be classified as a behavioral addiction if things get out of hand.
Food addiction is probably one of the most acceptable and talked about forms of behavioral addiction. Food addiction can manifest in diagnoses like bulimia, but it doesn't always escalate to that level of severity. Sometimes food addiction simply means relying on certain types of food(s) to help you cope with life or difficult situations.
In my brief battle with food addiction and dependency, I found that I would often try to rely on food as a coping mechanism when I was in longer periods of abstinence from my most prominent "drug" of choice. This meant that food wasn't really my main source of coping, however, it did work as a good substitute when I was struggling.
Food addiction and dependency might be a relatively minor issue in your life, sometimes existing completely undetected for years or forever. For others though, food addiction and dependency (if it goes unmanaged) can lead to things like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, insomnia, bulimia, anorexia, and even other types of behavioral addictions.
Sex addiction is especially personal to me because it is my primary "drug" of choice. Sex addiction, like many behavioral addictions, can easily take over your life, habits, and relationships in the most intimate and subtle ways.
In many cases, sex addiction most severely affects personal relationships, because, by nature, sex is very personal. However, relationships aren't the only thing impacted.
Through my personal journey with sex and pornography addiction, I think my relationship with myself and my perception of myself were some of the most prominent repercussions I faced. Sex addiction was crippling, yet in many of the initial forming years of my addiction, being addicted to sex felt harmless and, honestly, pretty normal.
Unfortunately, though, many people will either diminish or normalize this addiction, and that's part of what makes sex addiction so dangerous. Because sex addiction is often not talked about, or worse, normalized, the thoughts, decisions, and behaviors can become harmful very quickly.
In my experience, sex addiction can and will impact your interpersonal relationships, self-worth, emotional wellbeing, mental health, and so much more.
I would bet that most people probably find the idea of a shopping addiction pretty comical at best. However, I want to be clear that all behavioral addictions can be harmful, no matter how accepted or normalized they may be in our society.
My experience with shopping addiction is pretty minimal, to be honest with you. My faulty choices normally involved me taking a secret trip to Target or Forever21 after an especially long day or week at work. This might seem like typical female behavior to some of you, but just like any other coping-skill-gone-wrong, shopping addiction can also lead to debilitating consequences if not managed properly.
Shopping addiction might impact your personal relationships if you share a joint bank account with someone you love. Even worse, it could negatively impact your personal finances and potentially lead to crippling credit card debt.
Final Thoughts on Behavioral Addiction
In conclusion, behavioral addictions are particularly pesky monsters that seek to destroy your true joy in life, your decision-making, and sometimes even your purpose or fulfillment. Though often subtle and sometimes minimal, behavioral addiction is still a life-altering concern for millions of individuals out there. Other challenging behavioral addictions include things like gambling addiction, gaming addiction, Internet and social media addiction, work addiction, TV addiction, and exercise addiction.
While not everyone who enjoys food will become a food addict and not everyone who loves sex will be a sex addict, it's important to be aware of the intentions behind your actions and who or what you're turning to after a hard day. If you're not careful, you just might end up with a story like mine, facing the repercussions of behavioral addictions that you didn't even know existed.
- Editorial Staff, "Behavioral Addictions." American Addiction Centers, September 4, 2019.
Richardson, A. (2019, October 17). Battling Behavioral Addictions: How to Define and Fight Them, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/debunkingaddiction/2019/10/battling-behavioral-addictions-how-to-define-and-fight-them