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Behavioral addictions are non-substance-related addictive behaviors that involve repeated and compulsive engagement in a particular activity despite its negative consequences. Behavioral addictions are increasingly being recognized as a mental health disorder. An addiction, defined in the simplest possible way, is something that controls you instead of you controlling it i.e. an uncontrollable habit. 


Some common examples of behavioral addictions include:


Social Media addiction

Internet addiction

Gaming addiction

Relationship addiction

Shopping addiction

Pornography addiction


These behaviors can produce feelings of pleasure and reward in the brain, which reinforces the addictive behavior and leads to continued engagement. Over time, the individual may seek out more and more opportunities to engage in the behavior. The desire to experience a ‘high’ from the behavior becomes so strong that the individual continues to engage in the activity despite negative consequences such as financial problems, relationship difficulties or psychological harm. These behaviors can create considerable distress and be difficult to change even when the person wants to stop. In some cases, people can also experience withdrawal, including negative emotions and other symptoms, when they aren't able to engage in the activity. 

There is a strong correlation between addiction and mental health. Research has shown that individuals who struggle with addiction are more likely to have mental health disorders, and vice versa.

Mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common among individuals with addiction. These disorders can contribute to the development of addiction, as individuals may turn to addictive behaviours as a way of coping with their symptoms. Conversely, addiction can also contribute to the development of mental health disorders.


People who are prone to anxiety and depression are at an increased risk of developing addictive behavior for a variety of reasons. First, individuals with anxiety and depression may turn to addictive behaviors as a way to cope with their symptoms. These behaviors may provide temporary relief from feelings of sadness, worry, or fear.


Additionally, addictive behaviors can cause changes in brain chemistry that contribute to the development of anxiety and depression. In turn, individuals with anxiety and depression may be more susceptible to the reinforcing effects of addictive behaviors. This is because addictive behaviors can activate the brain's reward system, which releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. For individuals with anxiety and depression, this may be especially appealing as they may be seeking relief from negative emotions.


The psychology of behavioral addiction is complex and multifaceted. There are several psychological factors that can contribute to the development and maintenance of behavioral addiction.

One of the main psychological factors is reinforcement. As mentioned, behavioral addictions can activate the brain's reward system, leading to the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. The experience of pleasure and reward reinforces the behaviour, making it more likely to be repeated.


Another psychological factor that can contribute to behavioral addiction is impulsivity. Individuals who are more impulsive may be more likely to engage in addictive behaviors without considering the consequences. This impulsivity can lead to a cycle of repeated engagement in the behavior, despite negative consequences.


Stress and coping are also important psychological factors in behavioral addiction. Individuals may turn to addictive behaviors as a way of coping with stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions. Over time, the behavior can become a habitual coping mechanism, making it difficult to break the cycle of addiction.


Lastly, individual differences in personality, genetics, and environmental factors can also play a role in the development and maintenance of behavioral addiction.


Evidence suggests that the relationship between anxiety, depression and addictive behavior is complex and bidirectional. Understanding the relationship between anxiety, depression, and addictive behaviors is important in developing effective prevention and treatment strategies for individuals with co-occurring disorders, including the use of addictive behaviors as a coping mechanism, changes in brain chemistry and susceptibility to the reinforcing effects of addictive behaviors. Effective treatment for behavioral addiction typically involves addressing these underlying psychological factors. Behavioral addiction counselling is a form of therapy that aims to help individuals who struggle with behavioral addictions. In behavioral addiction counselling, the therapist will work with the individual to identify the underlying causes of their addiction, such as stress, anxiety, or trauma. The therapist will also help the individual to develop coping skills and strategies to manage cravings, triggers, and the negative emotions that can arise from stopping the problematic behaviour that one has become habituated to.

If you are feeling distressed and find yourself unable to cope you need to seek professional help.

Seeking timely help can prevent a negative spiral.

Reach out to Mind Matters Counselling.

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