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Chemical Addiction and Behavioral Addiction

Published on 11. 23. 2014

The term “addiction” is increasingly used to refer to a range of excessive behaviors, such as gambling, video game playing, eating disorders, sports and physical exercise, media use, pornography, sex addiction, pathological working, and compulsive criminal behavior. Although such behavioral addictions do not involve a chemical intoxicant or substance, a group of researchers have posed that some core indicators of behavioral addiction are similar to those of chemical or substance addiction. At present, researchers emphasize that in order to make a diagnosis of behavioral addiction, functional impairments must be present at work, in social relationships, or in other social situations.

Behavioral activities such those cited above, are conducive to addiction because they provide the opportunity for immediate reward. The fast feedback that occurs in a gambling setting can quickly turn a pastime into a compulsive pursuit of reward, where one can't voluntarily disengage from the activity and harmful consequences occur-from losing large amounts of money to disruption of relationships.

Although the terms “Substance Addiction” and “Behavioral (or Process) Addiction” describe two types of addiction, they are similar in many ways. Primarily the difference is that addiction to a physical drug carries the additional risk of physiological harm as a consequence of the substance ingested.

Both classes of addiction create changes in brain and cause similar harm to a person’s social and emotional life, and the lives of those around them. All addictions, whether Behavioral Addictions or Substance Addictions, involve similar malfunctions in the original, normal, neuro-chemical Reward and Gratification Systems of the brain that we are all born with.  Therefore, all addiction is fundamentally a mental health issue, no matter what type of addiction is involved.

It is never a moral weakness, or a lack of willpower, or because someone is basically ‘no good’, ‘weak’, or ‘bad’.

Studies show, that if the brain activity of non-addicted people is compared to the brains of those who do have an addiction, the Reward Centers in the brains of addicted people are abnormally over-excited at the thought of receiving the desired reward, compared with the lower (normal) level of brain excitement experienced by non-addicted people.

Conversely, when the ‘reward’ is actually received by someone with an addiction, the Gratification, or Satisfaction Centers in the brains of addicted people are much less ‘pleased’ or satisfied, than for non-addicted people.
These 2 abnormal forces are recognized as primary causes driving addicts to lose control over their behavior:

  • vastly increased intensity of mental and emotional cravings
  • the need for more and more of the drugs or activity to get the level of satisfaction that they crave.

It’s an overpowering and accelerating downward spiral that often leads to depression, shame, humiliation, isolation and even suicide. Mentally, psychologically, and emotionally all addictive behaviors share these psychological qualities.

Many people find it difficult to understand why a person with a behavioral addiction doesn’t just stop doing the harmful activity, believing it  not as difficult to control as drug addictions because there is no addictive substance involved.

While it’s true that drug addiction produces additional physical chemical dependency from the drug itself, the neuro-chemical and psychological processes in the brain that drive both types of addiction are real, visible on brain scans, and basically the same.

Addiction is hell
No one ever enjoys having an addiction

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