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The Connection between Behavioral Addictions and Substance Use Disorders

The Connection between Behavioral Addictions and Substance Use Disorders

Behavioral addictions are a controversial topic. Some argue whether they can be considered addictions, since there are no physical withdrawal symptoms, and suggest labeling them as impulse control disorders. However behaviors can produce the same rewards as the use of addictive substances, and individuals may find themselves with little control over the behavior and continue to engage in it despite experiencing negative consequences.

Features Shared by Behavioral Addictions and Substance Use Disorders

“Introduction to Behavioral Addictions,” published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, lists the following shared features of behavioral and substance addictions:

  • Tolerance
  • Comorbidity
  • First-person experiences
  • Genetic contribution
  • Response to treatment
  • Neurobiological mechanisms

Although behavioral addictions may not involve actual chemical substances, they have much in common with drug and alcohol addictions. “Introduction to Behavioral Addictions” explains that substance abuse disorders and behavioral addictions are more likely to develop during adolescence and young adulthood and that both involve chronic patterns of relapse. Individuals who engage in substance abuse or behavioral addictions share impulsive personalities and low levels of harm avoidance traits.

Co-Occurring Behavioral Addictions and Chemical Addictions

A study of pathological gamblers, published in the May 2005 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, found that “almost three quarters (73.2%) of pathological gamblers had an alcohol use disorder, 38.1% had a drug use disorder, 60.4% had nicotine dependence, 49.6% had a mood disorder, 41.3% had an anxiety disorder, and 60.8% had a personality disorder.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse reports that the reverse is also true, as individuals addicted to drugs experience a higher risk of developing a severe gambling problem. The same neurological processes and release of and reaction to dopamine occur with drug use and engaging in problematic behaviors, and one often leads to turning to another for a further or better “high.”

Treating Behavioral Addictions and Substance Use Disorders

Co-occurring behavioral and substance addictions may seem like overwhelming challenges to overcome, but both issues respond to similar treatment, and, if both are acknowledged and addressed during rehab, individuals can find freedom from compulsive behaviors and substance use. Call our toll-free helpline to get connected to integrated treatment resources that approach individuals as a whole and offer care for all co-occurring addiction and mental health issues. Our admissions coordinators are here 24 hours a day, so there is no wrong time to call.