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“Addiction is a pathological relationship in which

Obsession replaces people”~ Patrick Carnes

A common prevailing assumption is that physical dependence characterized by withdrawal symptoms is required in order for someone to be diagnosed with an addiction disorder, but the fact is that non-chemical/ behavioral addiction can occur with all the negative consequences in a person’s life excluding the physical issues faced by people who compulsively engage in drug and alcohol abuse. Non-chemical addictions do not involve any chemical substance but can lead to equally devastating lifestyles. Providing an overview on types of non-chemical addiction, their effects and treatment is prime theme of this article. Are you ready to learn about behavior addictions?

People engage in hundreds of different behaviors throughout the day, each one with its own set of consequences. In general, people make choices about which behavior to engage in next relatively thoughtfully and with the intent to improve their experience. For example, if you are hungry, you may choose to get a healthy snack that will not only satisfy your hunger but also give you energy to continue your day. All behaviors could not be defined as addictive the compulsion to continually engage in any behavior despite of its negative impact on the person’s ability to remain mentally and/or physically healthy and functional in the home and community defines behavioral addiction. Person may find that behavior rewarding psychologically or get a “high” while engaged in that behavior but may later feel guilt, remorse, or even overwhelmed by the consequences of that continued choice. Addictive behavior becomes impulsive in nature it contributes to the development of a range of physical or mental health problems and the person is unable to stop it.

“The more you engage in any type of emotion or behavior, the greater your desire for it will become” ~ Chris Prentiss

Common non-chemical addictions

  1. Gambling addiction

 Nearly everyone gambles in some form including on the lottery, horses, home poker games, or sporting events but compulsive nature of gambling behavior separates an addictive gambler from a normal. Gamblers begin as most others do, by placing small bets on horses or engaging in low-stakes card games or craps. Their successes reinforce them to repeat their behavior and bets become larger, more frequent, and more irrational. They develop a pattern to place ever-larger bets to make up for their losses. When gambling turns into an addiction, those who seek treatment often report huge losses, including legal problems, foreclosure, bankruptcy, divorce, lost careers, and more. Additionally, many who struggle with gambling addiction may consider or attempt suicide.

  1. Food Addiction

Food is a basic biological need and we all have to eat. Many people are prone to overeating on occasion or eating out of boredom or for pure enjoyment but people who struggle with food addiction cannot control their compulsive eating behaviors. They tend to crave foods that are high in fats, sugar, and/or salt and often describe feeling “high” while engaging in the activity. Food addict develops a tolerance for food which means that they need more and more of their favorite foods in order to experience the “high” they seek. Food addicts may indulge in binge eating or (consuming large quantities of food in one sitting) or they may consume smaller quantities of food over a longer period of time, but eat constantly during that time. A food addict can become grossly overweight, leading to extremely low self-esteem, which becomes more pronounced as he or she gains weight. This condition is referred as bulimia nervosa a psychological disorder.  The addict then seeks comfort by eating more food, setting up a cycle that probably will lead to a premature death if not interrupted.

A counter part of bulimia nervosa (over eating food addiction) is anorexia nervosa (addiction to not eating). This addiction often starts as an attempt to lose weight and ends in malnutrition. These addicts literally starve their bodies, consuming as little food as possible increasing a probability of heart failure or kidney failure, either of which can result from malnutrition.

  1. Work addiction

Another form of addiction is addiction to work. No other addiction is so willingly embraced than that of a workaholic. Traits of workaholics are often the same traits used to identify hard workers and loyal employees. When work becomes an addiction, it can lead to harmful effects in other areas of life, such as family neglect or deteriorating of health. The individual drowns himself/herself in work to the point of shunning all societal obligations. Their other duties and responsibilities are often shifter to other family members. Children of such parents are neglected consequently leading to a poor or no relationship with the workaholic parent.

  1. Internet addiction

Internet is an amazing information resource, especially for students, teachers, researchers and physicians. People all over the globe use it to connect with individuals from other countries and cultures. However, when the computer world rivals the real world, it becomes an addiction. Some people choose to commune with the computer rather than with their spouses and children. They insulate themselves from intimate settings and relationships. Internet abuse has been cited as a contributing factor in the disintegration of many marriages and families and even in the collapse of many promising careers.

5.       Video Game Addiction

Addiction to the fantasy and escape provided by video game play is a growing phenomenon.  Graphics are getting better all the time, new games are always coming out, and the ability to communicate with others via headsets while playing the game with people who would otherwise be strangers from all around the world is uniquely interesting to people who may have a hard time connecting with others in real life. Similarly, taking on the role of someone else and living a virtual life can also be fascinating. As compared to a substance abuse addiction or other behavioral addictions, video game addiction may seem relatively harmless, and certainly many people can play video games on occasion without ever developing a problem. However, compulsive video game play can interrupt a person’s ability to connect positively with others, develop healthy relationships, maintain responsibilities at work and make choices that support their physical and mental health. Ultimately, those who don’t get treatment may end up completely isolating themselves from the real world, losing their ability to function, be with family, and achieve any goals outside of the video game world.

“Addiction is an adaptation.

It’s not you but the cage you live in” ~Johann Hari

Diagnosing behavioral addiction

Mental health professionals and addiction experts continue to debate the existence of and diagnostic criteria for behavioral addictions. However, all behavioral addictions have common traits that enable us to identify a behavioral addiction.

  • Preoccupation with that behavior
  • Diminished ability to control the behavior
  • Building up a tolerance to the behavior so the behavior is needed more often or in greater intensity to get the desired gratification
  • Experiencing withdrawal if the behavior is avoided or resisted
  • Experiencing adverse psychological consequences, such as depression or anxiety symptoms, when the behavior is avoided or resisted


Unfortunately, as is common for all who struggle with addiction, people living with behavioral addictions are unable to stop engaging in the behavior for any length of time without treatment and intervention. Identifying when a behavior has turned into a problem issue and that problem has developed into an addiction can be tricky. It can be easy to be too close to the person and unable to recognize when things have gone from occasionally upsetting to a diagnosable disorder that requires treatment. The fact is that addiction is defined as a disease of the brain, a chronic illness that requires intensive therapeutic and medical treatment. It can quickly spiral out of control, causing problems in every part of the person’s life. When this happens, and the person is still unable to stop engaging in the addictive behavior even with a genuine desire to stop or great fear or remorse about what has and will happen, it is time to seek treatment. Behavioral addiction treatment and rehabilitation presents a challenge in many cases because, unlike treatment for drugs or alcohol, abstinence can be impossible. For example, a person who is addicted to overeating cannot cut food out of their life. For this reason, some types of behavioral addiction treatment programs focus primarily on rehabilitation and recovery rather than detoxification or abstinence.

Type of behavioral addiction treatment program you need will depend on your specific addiction. For example, a gambling addiction requires abstinence as part of the treatment program, while overeating requires relearning behaviors so that you can modify negative patterns and engage in healthy eating. Mentioned below are few treatment approaches for behavioral addiction.

“Before you can break out of prison,

You must realize you are locked up” ~ Unknown


Behavioral addiction residential treatment programs address the underlying psychological issues that led you to develop the process addiction. These programs often follow the same structure as substance abuse treatment programs, including 12-step programs, motivational enhancement, and cognitive behavioral therapies that have proven successful at treating behavioral addictions. These treatment programs focus on helping you develop healthier ways of dealing with life and daily stressors.

One to one psycho-therapy

In addition to residential programs, outpatient behavioral addiction treatment is another option for those struggling with these conditions. Outpatient therapy involves visiting a treatment facility or medical professional on a daily or weekly basis during the beginning stages of treatment. As you begin to feel more control over your behavioral addiction, treatment may become less frequent. During individual or one-on-one counseling, you meet privately with a behavioral health counselor who is trained in behavioral addiction therapy. Sessions focus on identifying the emotional issues and underlying causes of the behavioral addiction, which can include trauma therapy, if applicable. One-on-one counseling offers you a chance to privately voice concerns that may otherwise be uncomfortable to talk about with others in a group setting. In many behavioral addiction treatment programs, therapy is based on the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) model. CBT focuses on eliminating unhealthy or negative behaviors by replacing them with positive, healthier options. This form of treatment teaches new behavioral patterns as well, but the focus is usually on the motivations behind behavior rather than the physical actions themselves. One of the main goals of CBT is to change or modify the thought processes that led to the behavioral addiction.

Group therapy

Another treatment option is group therapy in which you attend a session that at least two other patients and one behavioral health counselor are present. Group therapy allows you to share common experiences and understand that you are not alone in the addiction and recovery process. During group therapy sessions, the therapist may lead your group in a focused topic or leave the topic of discussion up to the group members. Common topics in group sessions include denial, legal problems, relationship problems, work problems, health issues, financial struggles, identity crises, and stress.

12 steps recovery program

Similar to group therapy, 12-step recovery programs provide a structured framework for working through behavioral addiction problems while having the support of others who have been through similar experiences. Twelve step programs have religious undertones and require participants to admit that they do not have control over their addictions. Non-12-step programs follow a similar structured framework, but exclude any religious affiliation and emphasize taking personal accountability for one’s addiction. Non-12-step, 12-step, and group therapy programs are excellent options for long-term recovery because they offer built-in support from people who understand how hard overcoming addiction can be.

“Addiction does not kill the addict.

It kills the family, kids and people who tried to help” ~ Sober origins

Family support

It is often just as important for loved ones and family members to engage in their own healing processes as it is for the person living with the behavioral addiction. Family members are encouraged to not only take part in their loved one’s recovery but also to engage in support groups designed for family members, personal therapy sessions, and family therapy sessions with the person in treatment.

Ideally, people suffering from behavioral addiction will receive multiple forms of treatment. For example, in an inpatient setting, you participate in one-on-one therapy sessions, group therapy, skills building activities, and coping skills development. This diverse therapeutic approach offers the greatest chance of success in beating a behavioral addiction.






(Director Nishan Attock)

Clinical Psychologist

Counselor & Psychotherpist


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