In our society the word ‘addiction’ is strongly associated with drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. When people think of addiction they picture illegal substances and narcotics. In the last couple decades’ addiction has really gained national attention, with SAMHSA estimating over 25 million American have a significant problem with drugs or alcohol. However, are not the only things can people can become addicted to. Recent psychological research has created a new class of addiction termed ‘Behavioral Addictions’. These habits produce a psychological ‘high’ that can become so strong that the addict loses control and seeks the activity despite the dangers and consequences. People with drug or alcohol addiction or recovery from substance abuse problems are at a much higher risk to developing a behavioral addiction than an average American. That’s because these activities can produce dopamine, the so-called ‘feel good’ chemical, which is the same neurological transmitter involved in drug addiction.
People addicted to gambling may most closely resemble people addicted to drugs and alcohol, because they impact the brain in similar ways. The risk and reward of gambling produces euphoria in the gambler. The thrill of winning, pulling a bluff, and getting lucky can create an intensely pleasurable experience. Gambling can become a behavioral addiction when the person starts to impulsively gamble despite recent losses, lack of money, or disregard for responsibilities to family or work. Gambling addicts can become so obsessed with gambling that they will steal and even rob to get money to continue their habit. When they win a big sum of money it does not satisfy them and they continue gambling, often eventually losing all their winnings. This addiction is so common that there are even 12 step groups for it and the APA includes it in their classification system.
Like gambling addiction, sex addiction is one of the more acknowledged behavioral addiction, with its own 12 step groups. What causes people to become addicted to sex? Dopamine; the same brain messenger chemical involved in drug, alcohol, and gambling addiction. Many sex addicts also have some form of other mental issues, such as body dysmorphia, low self-esteem, and hyper-sexuality. When a person becomes addicted to sex they begin to seek intercourse with different people, often complete strangers. Severe cases of sex addiction involve having sex with 4 or more people in a single night, sometimes without even exchanging names. A sex addict will begin to put their health, career, and relationships in jeopardy to achieve the ‘high’ that they get from having sex. Risk, such as sexual infections or unwanted pregnancy, is not enough to stop their habit.
The advent of computers and the internet have resulted in increased communication, sharing of knowledge, and technological advancements. In 2016, it is obvious we live in a digitally wired world. Internet addiction occurs when a person becomes too attached to their computer and specifically the internet. This addiction is a little more controversial than the previous two cases. Many psychologists anddoctors aren’t convinced that internet addiction is a true disorder. However, some research has shown that an addiction to the Internet involves loss of control, as well as negative consequences at work and at home comparable to more standard addictions. One study even found that compulsive use of the internet may occupy up to 11 hours out of an “Internet addict’s” day and it is estimated between 6 to 11 percent of internet users may be affected by compulsive internet use.