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Alcohol, drugs, gambling, compulsive shopping, internet and sexual addictions and other addictive behaviors can be dangerous and costly to the person involved, his or her family, and workplace.
An addictive behavior is any activity, substance, object, or behavior that has become the major focus of a person's life to the exclusion of other activities, or that has begun to harm the individual or others physically, mentally, or socially. A person can become addicted, dependent, or compulsively obsessed with anything. Some researchers suggest that there are similarities between physical addiction to various chemicals, such as alcohol and heroin, and psychological dependence to activities such as compulsive gambling, sex, work, running, shopping, or eating disorders. It is thought that these behavior activities may produce beta-endorphins in the brain, which makes the person feel "high." Some experts suggest that if a person continues to engage in the activity to achieve this feeling of well-being and euphoria, he/she may get into an addictive cycle. In so doing, he/she becomes physically addicted to his/her own brain chemicals, thus leading to continuation of the behavior even though it may have negative health or social consequences. Others feel that these are just bad habits.Most physical addictions to substances such as alcohol, heroin, or barbiturates also have a psychological component. For example, an alcoholic who has not used alcohol for years may still crave a drink. Thus some researchers feel that we need to look at both physical and psychological dependencies upon a variety of substances, activities, and behaviors as an addictive process and as addictive behaviors. They suggest that all of these behaviors have a host of commonalities that make them more similar to than different from each other and that they should not be divided into separate diseases, categories, or problems.
Characteristics of Addictive Behaviors
There are many common characteristics among the various addictive behaviors:
1. The person becomes obsessed (constantly thinks of) the object, activity, or substance. 2. They will seek it out, or engage in the behavior even though it is causing harm (physical problems, poor work or study performance, problems with friends, family, fellow workers). 3. The person will compulsively engage in the activity, that is, do the activity over and over even if he/she does not want to and find it difficult to stop. 4. Upon cessation of the activity, withdrawal symptoms often occur. These can include irritability, craving, restlessness or depression. 5. The person does not appear to have control as to when, how long, or how much he or she will continue the behavior (loss of control). (They drink 6 beers when they only wanted one, buy 8 pairs of shoes when they only needed a belt, ate the whole box of cookies, etc). 6. He/she often denies problems resulting from his/her engagement in the behavior, even though others can see the negative effects. 7. Person hides the behavior after family or close friends have mentioned their concern. (hides food under beds, alcohol bottles in closets, doesn't show spouse credit card bills, etc). 8. Many individuals with addictive behaviors report a blackout for the time they were engaging in the behavior (don't remember how much or what they bought, how much the lost gambling, how many miles they ran on a sore foot, what they did at the party when drinking) 9. Depression is common in individuals with addictive behaviors. That is why it is important to make an appointment with a physician to find out what is going on. 10. Individuals with addictive behaviors often have low self esteem, feel anxious if the do not have control over their environment, and come from psychologically or physically abusive
Causes of Addictive Behaviors
There is no consensus as to the cause. As an example of this confusion, many people consider addictive behaviors such as gambling and alcoholism as "diseases," but others consider them to be behaviors learned in response to the complex interplay between heredity and environmental factors. Still others argue for a genetic cause. Some researchers point out that, unlike most common diseases such as tuberculosis, which has a definite cause (a microbe) and a definite treatment model to which everyone agrees, there is no conclusive cause or definite treatment method to which everyone agrees for most of the addictive
behaviors.Though the theories for the causes of addictive behaviors and their treatment are numerous, various types of therapy can help a person who has an addictive behavior.
If you think you, or a family member, might be addicted to a substance, activity, object, or behavior, please talk to your family physician, clergy person, counselor, or seek out a support group for the problem. Do it today!
Some of the substances that are considered addictive are: alcohol, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, marijuana, tranquilizers, and some prescription drugs. Substance use becomes abuse when it is habitual and interferes with a person’s functioning at work or in a relationship.
If you, or someone close to you at home or at work, are worried about the effects of alcohol or drugs, ask yourself:§ Have you ever tried to cut down your use of alcohol/drugs?§ Have you ever been angry with someone who has criticized your use?§ Have you ever felt guilty about your use?§ Have you ever had an "eye-opener" (a morning use of substance to reduce the effects of hangover/shakes, headaches, thirst, craving)§ Have you had blackouts?§ Have you missed work, been late, or left early because of your substance use?§ Have you ever been arrested for driving under the influence (DWI or DUI)?If you (or the person you are thinking about) can answer yes to any of these questions, you may want to speak with a professional about options for treatment. Please contact us to arrange an appointment or to speak with someone about your concerns. Also, see our other page
Alcohol & Drugs for much more information about this topic.
Opportunities to gamble have become more widely available.
With advanced technology comes more accessible ways to gamble. "Day-trading" and other online games are prevalent.
Pathological gambling is a disease, often hidden. It also coexists with other addictive problems such as alcohol or drug use as these substances enhance the experience for the gambler. It affects the victim, his/her family, friends, and coworkers, similar to other diseases of addiction. The compulsion to gamble is more common among the young, the poor, and the poorly educated, as they have more limited ways to acquire the wealth so visible in our society. Costs of gambling are enormous. Families can be impoverished and destroyed.
Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
Did gambling affect your reputation?
Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or
otherwise solve financial difficulties?
Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or
After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible
and win back your losses?
After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win
Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal
Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or
Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?
Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an
illegal act to
Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
Do arguments, disappointments, or frustrations create within
you an urge to gamble?
Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a
few hours of gambling?
Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a
result of your gambling?
Compulsive Shopping and Spending
Compulsive shopping and spending is
described as a pattern of chronic, repetitive purchasing that becomes
difficult to stop and ultimately results in harmful consequences. It is
defined as an impulse control disorder and has features similar to other
addictive disorders without involving use of an intoxicating drug.
Screening for Possible Spending Addiction
What behaviors indicate compulsive shopping and spending? Behaviors typical of compulsive shopping and spending include the following:
Shopping or spending money as a result of feeling
disappointed, angry or scared
Shopping or spending habits causing emotional distress
in one's life
Having arguments with others about one's shopping or
Feeling lost without credit cards
Buying items on credit that would not be bought with
Feeling a rush of euphoria and anxiety when spending
Feeling guilty, ashamed, embarrassed or confused after
Lying to others about purchases made or how much
Thinking excessively about
Spending a lot of time juggling accounts or bills to
Identification of four or more of the above behaviors may indicate a possible problem with shopping or spending. What problems are caused by compulsive shopping and spending?
Compulsive shopping or spending may result in interpersonal, occupational, family and financial problems in one's life. In many ways the consequences of this behavior are similar to that of any other addiction.
Impairment in relationships may occur as a result of excessive spending and efforts to cover up debt or purchases. Persons who engage in compulsive shopping or spending may become pre-occupied with that behavior and spend less and less time with important people in their lives. They may experience anxiety or depression as a result of the spending or shopping which may interfere with work or school performance.
Financial problems may occur if money is borrowed or there is excessive use of credit to make purchases. Often the extent of the financial damage is discovered only after the shopper or spender has accumulated a large debt that necessitates a drastic change in lifestyle to resolve. Recovery groups such as Debtors Anonymous have formed to help compulsive shoppers and spenders return to normal, appropriate patterns of buying.
Some Possible Causes of Compulsive Spending
What makes compulsive shopping and spending addictive? There are many social and cultural factors that tend to increase the addictive potential of shopping and spending. The easy availability of credit and the material focus of society in general encourage people to accumulate possessions now and worry about financial responsibility later.
Society places a strong emphasis on one's outer appearance and many media personalities promote spending money to achieve a certain look that will bring about happiness. In addition, the accessibility of purchasing has been made easier with the arrival of online shopping and television programs devoted to buying goods 24 hours a day. Items can be purchased and ordered by express delivery to arrive quickly without the buyer having to leave home or personally interact with anyone else.
The shopping and spending activity itself is associated with a feeling of happiness and power which is immediately gratifying. The after effects of remorse and guilt drive the spender back to purchase again to be able to achieve that brief but intense emotional high. Research has shown that many compulsive shoppers and spenders also suffer from mood disorders, substance abuse, or eating disorders. As with any addiction, the person becomes dependent on the behavior to relieve negative feelings that cause them distress and discomfort.
Psychotherapy and, at times, certain medications, can be helpful in treating addictions. If you (or the person you are thinking about) fit the patterns of behavior described above, you may want to speak with a professional about options for treatment.
For further information about these and other addictive behaviors and their treatments or to schedule an appointment, call our offices to speak to a therapist about your particular needs and concerns.
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