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What Are Behavioral Addictions and How Do They Relate to SUDs?

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What are behavioral addictions?  Behavioral addictions are similar to substance addictions and are also referred to as non-substance addictions.  The disorders are similar in that they both indicate a lack of impulse control.

Although the concept of behavioral addictions is controversial, the fact is that they engage in many of the same behaviors as drug users.  They will lie, steal, or resort to prostitution or other drastic measures to get their fix.  

Here are some things to know about behavioral addictions and how they relate to or accompany substance use disorders (SUDs).

Behavior Addictions: A Quick Guide

Due to the constant barrage of entertainment and instant gratification, millions of Americans today are overstimulated and desensitized.  As a result, they are bored and search for more stimulating things to satisfy their desire for excitement.  

Some of the most prevalent behavioral addictions in society today include:

  • Sex, pornography
  • Internet, social media
  • Gaming
  • Exercise
  • Gambling
  • Shopping
  • Hoarding
  • Risky behavior
  • Eating
  • Kleptomania

With each of these behaviors, a person will display a compulsive, repetitive pattern of behavior that has a detrimental impact on their daily life.

Does Genetics Play a Role in Behavioral Addictions?

Researchers estimate that 40 to 60 percent of a person’s propensity for behavioral addictions or SUDs is related to genetics.  SUD or behavioral issues are most common in individuals with a family history of substance use, depression, or other psychiatric disorders.

What Factors Contribute to Behavioral Addictions?

In addition to genetics, environmental factors can contribute to a person’s behavioral issues or substance use.  These influences can include relationship problems, stress, peer pressure, problems at work or school, and dysfunctional home life.

Other factors that play a role in behavioral addictions may include:

  • Poverty
  • Poor social skills
  • Childhood trauma
  • Sexual abuse or neglect
  • Witnessing crime or violence

In effect, people with behavioral addictions are victims of one or more of the contributing factors. 

What Are the Warning Signs of Behavioral Addiction?

Most behavioral addictions are hard to spot because they seem like normal activities. However, someone with an addiction to a specific behavior or activity will show some warning signs.  Here’s what to look for:

  • Uses the behavior or activity as a coping tool
  • Can’t stop the behavior or activity despite the consequences
  • Neglects responsibilities such as work, school, or family 
  • Tells lies to cover up the extent of the problem
  • The behavior is their priority 
  • Experiences irritability, anxiety, or depression when not engaged with the behavior or activity

Sadly, individuals with behavioral addictions not only harm themselves but family members are also affected.  They often struggle with anger, guilt, shame, and financial problems as a result of a loved one’s addiction.

What Is the Relationship Between Behavioral Addictions and SUDs?

The co-occurrence of behavioral addictions and SUDs is not uncommon.  For example, a person who has a gambling disorder is likely to use alcohol or tobacco.  Or, a person with risk-taking tendencies is more likely to drink alcohol or try drugs.

The connection between behavioral addictions and SUDs is evidenced by the following statistics:

Lifetime Estimates of Substance Use Disorders in Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral Addictions Lifetime Estimates of SUD
Pathological Gambling 35% – 63%
Kleptomania 23% –  50%
Pathologic Skin Picking 38%
Compulsive Sexual Behavior  64%
Internet Addiction 38%
Compulsive Buying 21% – 46%

Source:  Gran JE. Impulse Control Disorders: A Clinician’s Guide to Understanding and Treating Behavioral Addictions New York, NY: Norton Press, 2008.

When someone struggles with behavioral addictions in combination with a substance use disorder, professional addiction treatment is their best hope for recovery.  It’s crucial to choose a facility that offers a secure, respectful environment where clients can forget the outside world and focus on the recovery process.  A long-term inpatient program is the best treatment approach for individuals with co-occurring disorders.

Treatment for Behavioral Addictions at Design for Change Recovery

Most people with substance use disorders also suffer from an underlying mental health disorder or behavioral addiction.  At Design for Change Recovery, we understand the challenges this poses.  To help these individuals reach lasting recovery, both factors must be addressed simultaneously.  

Our customized programs are designed based on each client’s unique situation and needs.  We conduct an in-depth assessment to develop a treatment plan that will focus on the physical, emotional, mental, and social aspects.  In this way, our clients learn how to manage behaviors and triggers that contribute to both addictions.  

Design for Change in Lancaster, CA offers an accredited, evidence-based continuum of care that helps clients take back control of their lives.  Some of the options we offer for the treatment of behavioral addictions include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Group, and Individual Counseling; 12-Step Programs; Holistic Therapies, Exercise and Fitness, and more.  

To learn more about how we help people overcome behavioral addictions and SUDs, reach out to us by phone, email, or online.  One of our representatives will tell you more about our compassionate, professional approach to addiction treatment.


What Are Behavioral Addictions and How Do They Relate to SUDs?