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Behavioural Addictions

Commonly misunderstood, behavioural addictions are real and are engulfing. See how to overcome such fixations here with our help at Addiction Advocates.  Enquire Now
Further Information
Behavioural Addictions
Updated on 16/09/2021
Medically reviewed by
Dr Alexander Lapa (Psychiatrist)

The diagnosis of addiction is highly linked to the presence of toxic, addictive substances, such as drugs and alcohol. Of course, experiences of such addictions are common, resulting in many pre-conceived ideas.

Yet an addiction can, in fact, develop without the presence of a physically consuming substance, in fact, heightened by the presence of positive reinforcements.

Known as behavioural addictions, here’s where individuals become addicted to experiences, feelings, activities, and tangible objects, down to the positives that they feed within the internal reward system.

Emotional responses are also attached to such stimuli, strengthening psychological reinforcers and enhancing the risks of addiction.

There are, in fact, a wide plethora of behavioural addiction types, from shopping addiction and social media addiction to sex addiction and plastic surgery addiction, all offer rewarding experiences in one way or another.

Whether pleasure, excitement, fulfilment, increased self-esteem, competitiveness, or further feelings within the self-actualisation hierarchy are encountered, those feelings are longed for consistently, tying to the motivator itself.

While behavioural addictions do vary, they have many similarities, require professional intervention, and benefit from psychological addiction treatment.

Unfortunately, many are misunderstood, yet if you’re struggling, please be reassured that you are understood here at Addiction Advocates, openly offering guidance through behavioural addiction recovery.

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Are you suffering from a Behavioural Addiction and need help? Addiction Advocates are leading UK based experts in Drug Addiction and Rehabilitation Treatment. Find out how we can help by getting in touch with our friendly team today.

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What is a behavioural addiction?

Behavioural addiction is a compulsive, routine reaction to a positive stimulus. Such stimulus can be an object, can be an experience, can be a memory, can be an emotion or can be an activity.

Influencing stimuli entice and fulfil the internal rewards system, offering positive reinforcements, thus reinforcing the need for consistent exposure.

Unlike addiction, which is driven by physical consumption, behavioural addictions are motivated by psychological consumption, tying emotional responses with exposure.

Individuals with such addictions will feel the need to be exposed to positively viewed stimulants in order to feel ideologies of emotions.

For example, exercise is found to increase motivation, happy chemicals and elevate mood. This is common knowledge, yet experiences of it also deliver such reliability. As exposure to those feelings will be encountered, exercise levels will be increased to encounter them again and again.

It’s clear to see how addictive activities and experiences can be when paired with uplifting emotions, especially for those with pre-existing vulnerabilities, in this case influencing an exercise addiction.

The realism of behavioural addictions can be extremely challenging to live through, as behaviours, personalities, attitudes, and outlooks become consumed by influential stimuli.

Life becomes engulfed by the source itself, turning a once hobby or irregular experience into a routine-like habit, recognised as behavioural addictions. Some individuals can be at greater risk of fixating on experiences or activities, defined as behavioural addictions.

Those who have encountered trauma, those with self-esteem issues, those with unrealistic ideas of reality, those with unhealthy lifestyles, those who thrive off false senses of security and those who encounter mental health issues are all vulnerable.

Types of behavioural addictions

There are many different types of behavioural addictions, as any given stimuli can be addictive where emotional responses are provided in turn of exposure.

However, some very common behavioural addictions can amount to serious, life-limiting conditions if allowed.

Internet AddictionInternet addiction: Feeling fixated on online connectivity, to virtual personas, to compare the lives of others, to scrolling through online content, and to the 24/7 outlet of activity.

Internet addiction can result in obsessive behaviours, along with mental health vulnerabilities.

Shopping AddictionShopping addiction: A shopping addiction can be detrimental to the quality of life, where financial and legal implications are common.

Impulsive shopping is common, even when consequences are present.

Sex AddictionSex addiction: A sex addiction usually results from a lack of connectivity, trauma, detachment, and abandonment.

It’s one of many misunderstood behavioural addictions, which can be highly damaging to relationships, personal self-esteem, and mental health.

Plastic Surgery AddictionPlastic surgery addiction: Being addicted to adapting personal image is very unhealthy, controlled by the obsessive behavioural addiction of plastic surgery fixation.

The fulfilment that such changes can make can trigger excessive emotional responses, driving ongoing surgery.

Gambling AddictionGambling addiction: Gambling is a dangerous activity, down to the spiralling emotions it causes. Through positive exposure, a behavioural addiction can soon develop, to again experience the highs, even amidst the lows.

There are further behavioural addictions to consider, which can also be very damaging.

If you encounter any changes to your behaviour, down to the positive reinforcements, you’re experiencing, considering support will be encouraged.

Warning signs of habitual behaviours

Each behavioural addiction will carry its own warning signs. However, some commonalities across the board should be taken seriously, indicating the development of habitual behaviour.

Internet Addiction

  • A rapid change in behaviours
  • Frantic mood changes
  • Relief through exposure to objects, experiences, activities, or emotions
  • Mental health struggles
  • Feelings of chasing positive feelings or reinforcers
  • Using addictive stimuli as coping strategies
  • Leading unhealthy, obsessive routines
  • Requiring exposure to addictive stimuli to lead an everyday life
  • Negative side effects of such actions aren’t fulfilled

Ultimately, a change in behaviour and response to stimuli is an indicator of behavioural addictions. You may personally struggle to notice such changes yourself. Yet if you do, or encounter the concerns of others, considering behavioural addiction treatment will be recommended.

Treating behavioural addictions

Treating behavioural addictions will be approached with sensitivity, compassion, and personalisation in mind. Each addiction type is different, as is each client. With this in mind, assessments will be required to understand the depth and motivators behind behavioural addictions.

The aim of treatment will look to detox clients from exposure to influential stimuli while also changing outlooks on the consumption of such stimuli.

Cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behavioural therapy, stress management, support groups, exposure therapy, motivational therapy, educational sessions, lifestyle management, mindfulness and dual diagnosis treatment are prevalent when treating behavioural addictions.

Exact forms and degrees will all depend on the nature of addiction, including the behaviours and emotions linked to stimuli.

Managing behavioural addictions

Rehab itself will help to educate and treat clients through behavioural addictions. However, as emotional responses drive addictions, management must be in place, as emotions can resurface.

Relapse prevention planning, lifestyle management, and ongoing therapy will help manage potential triggers of behavioural responses, also assisting to curb relapse risks.

Depending on personal needs and addiction types, a wealth of confidential support and treatment is available to guide clients through behavioural addiction recovery.

Behavioural addictions are different to stereotypical views on addiction. They are uncontrollable, they materialise from our human responses, and they develop down to vulnerabilities.

Get In Touch TodayGreater awareness of their materialisation is required to understand how damaging ongoing changes in behaviour can truly be.

For more information on this, contact our Addiction Advocates team to help you through specific behavioural addictions.


Seth is an author, addiction recovery expert and fully accredited member of the national counselling society. He has experience working with a wide range of addictions and mental illnesses using a number of evidence-based therapies and programmes such as the SMART models of addiction recovery.

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