SMART helps people find tools they can use to abstain from harmful addictive behaviors. We see a lot of people come to SMART face to face meetings with a huge array of addictive behaviors that they want help with.
Using a science based approach means (thankfully) that we don’t discriminate or erroneously categorize behaviors.
This also puts a lot of emphasis on an individual’s honest assessment of the benefits and harms of the behavior in question. With those things in mind, here’s some great information about the similarities of addictive behaviors, no matter how different they may appear on the outside:
Similarities of Addictive Behaviors
* Adapted from the works of Ruth C. Engs
(Used with permission)
Any activity 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 either physically, mentally, or socially falls under the definition of an addictive behavior.
According to W.R. Miller in “The Addictive Behaviors”, an individual can become addicted, dependent, or compulsively obsessed with any activity, substance, object, or behavior that gives them pleasure.
Several researchers imply that there is a similarity between physical addiction to various chemicals such as alcohol and heroin, and psychological dependence involved in such activities as compulsive gambling, sex, work, running, or eating disorders. The reason for this is that these behavior activities may produce beta-endorphins in the brain, which makes the person feel “high.” These and other reports suggest that if a person continues to engage in the activity to achieve this feeling of well-being and euphoria, they may get into an addictive cycle. In so doing, they become physically addicted to their own brain chemicals, leading to continuation of the behavior even though it may have negative health or social consequences.
Most physical addictions to substances (i.e., alcohol, heroin, barbiturates) also have a psychological component. For example, someone who has not used alcohol for years may still, on occasion, crave a drink. Thus, some researchers feel the 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 also suggest that all of these behaviors have a host of things in common that make them more similar to each other than different, and they NOT be divided into separate diseases, categories, or problems.
These common characteristics include:
- The person becomes obsessed (constantly thinks of) the object, activity, or substance.
- They will seek out, or engage in the behavior even though it is causing harm (i.e., physical problems, poor work or study performance, problems with friends, family, co-workers, etc.)
- The person will compulsively engage in the activity (do the activity over and over) even if they do not want to and find it difficult to stop.
- Upon cessation of the activity, withdrawal symptoms (i.e., irritability, craving, restlessness, depression) often occur.
- The individual experiences a loss of control. The person does not appear to have control as to when, how long, or how much he or she will continue the behavior. (i.e., 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.)
- The person often denies problems resulting from their engagement in the behavior, even though others can see the negative effects.
- The person hides the behavior after family or close friends have mentioned their concern. (Hide food under beds, alcohol bottles in closets, doesn’t show spouse credit card bills, etc.)
- Many individuals with addictive behaviors report a blackout for the time they were engaging in the behavior. (i.e., don’t remember how much or what they bought, how much they lost gambling, how many miles they ran on a sore foot, what they did when drinking, etc.)
- Depression is also common in individuals with addictive behaviors. (Thus the importance to make an appointment with a physician to find out what is going on.)
- Individuals with addictive behaviors often have low self-esteem, and will often feel anxious if they do not have control over their environment.
* Adapted from Engs, R.C. “Alcohol and Other Drugs: Self Responsibility”