Behavioral Addictions


Do you know that some behaviors, like gaming and gambling, can produce symptoms similar to substance use disorder? These are known as behavioral or process addictions.

While a number of behaviors can mimic addiction, to date only one behavioral addiction has been recognized by both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental health (DSM) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)—gambling addiction. It is defined in the DSM-5 as “persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.”

Research has proven that gambling activates the same reward systems in the brain as substance use disorder.

Symptoms of Gambling Addiction

The National Council on Problem Gambling offers the following as symptoms of problem gambling “increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, “chasing” losses, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences. In extreme cases, problem gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide.”

Gaming Disorder

In addition to gambling disorder, internet gaming disorder is currently being considered for inclusion in the DSM. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) included gaming disorder as a behavioral addiction in its International Classification of Diseases. Gaming, like gambling, stimulates reward mechanisms in the brain that can lead to addictive behaviors. WHO characterized gaming disorder as “impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

Other Potential Behavioral Addictions

Other potential behavioral addictions include sex addiction, exercise addiction, and shopping addiction. While none are included in the DSM at this time, many people identify as having one of these addictions. There are numerous support groups across the country for people looking for help for these behavioral addictions.

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