The Difference Between a Behavioral Addiction and a Drug Addiction

The Difference Between Behavioral and Drug Addiction

Anything that becomes the sole focus of someone’s daily life, to the point where they neglect those around them and their responsibilities, can be seen as an addiction. It may be an object, behavior, activity, or substance but regardless gives the individual some sort of pleasure or reward. Addiction elicits a response in the brain that gives the user a high they have to replicate over and over for a long period of time. It involves repetition due to immense cravings and addicts will sometimes sacrifice anything necessary to satisfy the itch. Many incur financial debt, lose personal relationships, and have their health negatively impacted. Whether it is drug addiction or behavioral addiction, addiction begins to cause harm to the person struggling with it and upon quitting they will often begin to experience the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal that may be incredibly difficult to deal with. While there may be slight variations, almost every addiction follows the same pattern of use and abuse by individuals and are very dangerous. 

What is a Behavioral Addiction?

Difference between behavioral and Drug AddictionBehavioral addiction or process addiction affects the networks of the reward system in the brain. This disorder involves a pattern of repetitive and compulsive actions that are non-drug-related. The behavior brings the individual ecstasy and/or relief from stress. Therefore, addicts become singularly focused on doing or pursuing this activity despite any roadblocks or adversities they may try to intervene. As with every addiction, they will have issues functioning in their normal lives during which refraining from the behavior is extremely taxing. Like with drug addiction, people experience strong cravings and struggle to resist from having the behavior consume their lives.

Often a person will be unaware of the toll their addiction has taken due to their inability to be present outside of what they are doing. A gambling or shopping addict may pay little to no attention to the mounting pile of debt they are incurring from spending so much frivolously. They are still seeking out that high from winning a game or the rush of euphoria with a new outfit. Meanwhile, a sex addict may solicit relationships that can damage their personal and/or professional lives. He or she may have an encounter with a coworker that violates company policy and ruins their career, look for sex outside of a monogamous relationship that later destroys it, or find themselves in risky situations that may have long-term health ramifications. Mundane tasks, such as exercise, can become an addiction and destabilizes a someone’s life.

Many specialists have suggested that addiction can occur with any behavior, object, or activity gives a reward to the user. Regardless of what the issue is, if you believe that you or a loved one may have a behavioral addiction, it is important to seek out help and advice. Many people live in denial for a long period of time, only deepening their reliance on certain things or activities. Most people think they can help themselves by cutting back on certain activities over time and weaning themselves off, but this rarely works. Most people active in behavioral addiction will not admit they have a problem because it doesn’t look like a typical drug or alcohol addiction. Often times they need a loved one to speak to them directly about their issues and how it is negatively affecting their life and the lives of those around them. Many people need to hear directly from someone they trust before they even start addressing the fact that they may have a problem.

What is Drug Addiction?

Difference between Drug Addiction and Behavioral AddictionDrug addiction is a chronic disease where an individual has the persistent desire to use a drug despite the potentially dangerous consequences. They experience difficulty managing their urges and often will not be able to function daily without the use of a particular substance. While the initial use of a drug is usually voluntary on the part of the person, repeated use is due to the development of an addiction that strips them of their will to resist. Addicts will undergo painful and uncomfortable withdrawal when trying to quit the drug as their bodies have grown accustomed to it and often relapse due to the relentless cravings that follow afterward.

Sustained use leads to needing greater doses to produce the same high from when the drug was first tried. If a user attempts to stop, their tolerance level dramatically decreases and in the event of a relapse may overdose. When used, drugs immediately impact the chemistry of the brain and bind to receptors to give the addict a sense of euphoria or pleasure. Addicts will sacrifice their finances, personal relationships, and health to experience the joy it gives them and often become reclusive as the habit will strain their social interactions. Over time, drugs can significantly alter the brain to the point where they impair judgment, learning, decision-making, and behavior.

Similar to a behavioral addiction, most people in active drug addiction need their loved ones to talk to them directly about their problem and let them know they are concerned. Without the advice of trusted friends, the addiction will only get worse. It only becomes harder to detox and get sober the longer a person uses. The moment you think that someone you know might have an addiction problem, it needs to be addressed.

What is the Difference?

First, it should be acknowledged that a person who needs help is unlikely to suffer from just one or the other. When someone is in the throes of active addiction, there is a drug addiction in place, but even if the chemical dependency were completely removed, there is still addictive behavior left behind that needs to be addressed. Similarly, in most cases of gambling addiction, although the client is predominantly concerned about their gambling, they likely overlook the alcoholism that supports their habit. The two conditions overlap very often. Rarely will you see someone who has become addicted to a substance who only needs a detox.

While behavioral addiction and drug addiction are incredibly alike, they vary in significant ways. With behavioral addiction, an individual is not addicted to a substance but rather behavior or emotion brought about by doing the action. In addition, the physical signs of drug addiction often do not accompany behavioral addiction. Heroin can be used through injection or by smoking. Intravenous use may leave physical marks, cause blood poisoning if dirty needles are used, or lead to the transfer of diseases like HIV through the bloodstream. Smoking causes irreparable damage to the lungs that can kill healthy cells and inhibit a user from breathing properly. Such physical tolls are not prevalent with addiction to behaviors like shopping, exercise, and gambling.

Both behavioral and drug addiction cause changes to happen in the brain that produces a high that addicts become obsessed with replicating. However, drug addiction if continued over a period of time may permanently damage the brain and its ability to maintain chemical balance. Some drugs completely destroy neural pathways and break down receptors to the point where some neurotransmitters can no longer be released without the aid of medication or an outside source.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is responsible for publishing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It is heavily relied on by healthcare professionals, policy makers, and organizations as a tool that offers common language definitions for mental disorders using a set of standardized criteria to classify them. The fifth edition, the most recent one, was released in 2013 and only identifies gambling, but not any other behavioral addictions, as an addictive disorder. This does not mean that gambling is the only non-substance addiction that exists. It shows there is not nearly enough research and evidence currently to include any other behaviors in the same way that drugs and alcohol are categorized due to the extensive amount of studies that have been conducted on them for decades thus far.

Drug addiction has been a well-documented affliction for some time now. There are countless specialists and doctors that can assist an addict in withdrawal and sobriety. Numerous rehabilitation facilities, such as Florida House, have developed tested treatment strategies to aid users in kicking their habits and getting clean. However, treating strictly a behavioral addiction is relatively new and not well known to the public. Exercise, shopping, gambling, and technology are all sources of behavioral addiction but are not heavily stigmatized in the way heroin and cocaine are. Many people with behavioral addiction do not know they have it because they have not been taught that exercising too much or shopping often can be indicative of a disorder. Not many specialists exist who can help them to navigate their particular addiction and the treatment programs are newer as well. There are not widespread detox programs for behavioral addiction and medication may not be used to treat it in the way it is implemented in the drug recovery process. At Florida House Experience, we do treat addiction beyond the chemical dependency including standalone behavioral disorders such as gambling. 

Treatment for Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, it is important to seek help. Florida House is equipped and prepared to assist in any way that we can. We offer a wide array of treatment techniques and consultation services that customize recovery specifically to suit an individual’s needs. Whether it is behavioral addiction or drug addiction, anything that begins to negatively impact one’s life and cannot be stopped is an issue that demands immediate attention. Addiction is often accompanied by withdrawal and the process can be facilitated by us. Please contact Florida House to speak with someone from our team of trained professionals at (855) 441-2449.

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