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What we often don’t think about is the fact that along with substance use disorders, there are other types of addiction as well. Addiction is a dysfunction of your brain’s reward system. When you have an addiction, it also affects your memory and motivation.

These adverse effects on your brain function that occur with an addiction can lead your body to crave a behavior or substance.  You may obsessively try and pursue whatever it is you’re addicted to. Even when negative consequences stem from the addiction, you continue anyway. Your addiction is your ultimate priority, above anything else.

Broadly, we can divide the different types of addiction into two categories—chemical and behavioral.

Chemical addiction is the misuse of substances like illicit drugs. Behavioral addictions are those compulsive behaviors that you carry out even when they aren’t beneficial and are harmful. Sometimes you’ll hear references to a shopping addiction or internet addiction, for example.

Addictive behavior often co-occurs with other mental disorders. 


Understanding Addiction

Addiction interferes with your brain’s reward system and other elements of its function. When you’re doing enjoyable things, your reward system releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Dopamine doesn’t necessarily cause feelings of pleasure. Instead, it reinforces the association your brain makes between certain activities and feelings of pleasure you experience.

That reinforcement leads you to want to continue to seek those things out.

If you use drugs or engage in a certain behavior, you may want to experience the feelings of euphoria they create again. This can lead to cravings for behavior or substance like prescription medications, illegal drugs, or alcohol. Cravings can be one of the first symptoms of addiction.

When you continue to use the substance or do the behavior, your brain keeps triggering a high release of dopamine. Then, eventually, your brain starts to produce lower amounts of dopamine naturally in response to triggers that would ordinarily bring you pleasure.

As this goes on, you need more stimulus to make up for the dopamine your brain isn’t producing anymore, which is tolerance or physical dependence. 

When an addiction develops, you might lose interest in things you previously enjoyed since you aren’t making dopamine in response to these activities.

Loss of control is a defining feature of addiction, which can lead to problems in relationships, health, and your career. Many people also experience other adverse consequences of compulsive behavior patterns or substance use, like financial issues. 

When you’re in active addiction, you no longer get the pleasurable feeling from the drug or behavior, but you can’t stop doing it without therapy, addiction treatment, or behavior modification. 


What is Chemical Addiction?

Chemical addiction is a catch-all term used to refer to substance abuse, addiction, and physical and psychological dependence.

Because of that, it’s often known as a substance use disorder. A substance use disorder or actual addiction is diagnosable and can fall into one of three categories—mild, moderate, and severe.

Symptoms of substance use disorder are:

  • Intense cravings that make it hard to think about anything else daily
  • Needing to use larger doses of the substance to get the same effects
  • Feeling uncomfortable if you can’t get the substance
  • Risky use, like driving under the influence
  • Problems managing your daily responsibilities
  • Relationship issues stemming from substance use
  • Not spending as much time doing the activities you once enjoyed
  • Unsuccessful efforts to stop using the substance 
  • Withdrawal symptoms if you cut down your usage or stop cold turkey 

Some of the most common substance addictions and addictive substances include:

  • Alcohol use disorder 
  • Nicotine
  • Opioids, including prescription drug addictions and heroin
  • Cannabis
  • Amphetamine drug addiction 
  • Methamphetamine addiction disorder 
  • Cocaine


Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions can be a little harder to spot and diagnose. There are fewer evidence-based criteria for the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral addictions compared to something like alcohol addiction. 

Currently, the DSM-5 does have two behavioral addictions it recognizes.

The first is gambling addiction (compulsive gambling), and the second is internet gaming disorder which is similar to video game addiction. 

  • There’s disagreement among medical experts about when behaviors can potentially become addictions and the particular behaviors that have a predisposition to lead to addiction.
  • Currently, the American Psychological Association doesn’t include behavior patterns linked to things like exercise, shopping, and sexual behavior in the DSM, because it says there isn’t enough peer-reviewed evidence available to develop diagnostic criteria.
  • That doesn’t mean that behaviors can’t lead to symptoms of addiction. It just means that as it stands right now, more research is needed to standardize how we diagnose and understand these addictions compared to other types of addiction.

General signs of a possible behavioral addiction include:

  • Spending an excessive period of time engaging in the behavior
  • Having urges to keep engaging in the behavior despite its negative effects on your life, responsibilities like school or work, or your relationships
  • Using behaviors to manage uncomfortable emotions
  • Hiding what you’re doing or how much time you spend on a behavior
  • Trouble avoiding the behavior
  • Experience symptoms of withdrawal if you don’t engage in the behavior like anxiety, depression, restlessness, or irritability
  • Continuing to engage in the behavior even when it creates distress
  • Unsuccessful efforts to stop doing whatever the behavior is 

Common types of behavioral addiction that often lead people to get professional treatment include:

  • Exercise
  • Compulsive shopping 
  • Food addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • Social media
  • TV


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Treatment for Substance Addiction

With a substance use disorder, most people need professional treatment. There are complex physical and mental factors and potentially co-occurring disorders that play a role in addiction. If you’re dependent on a substance, you may need a supervised detox first.

  • During detox, you can receive medical treatment for the physical symptoms of chemical dependence. 
  • Then, you could go to residential or outpatient treatment.
  • During residential treatment, you stay at a treatment facility, receiving specialized care and support. 
  • Residential rehab can last for a few weeks to several months on average.
  • An outpatient program is more flexible, and you continue to live at home.

Regardless of the specific type of addiction treatment program you participate in, psychotherapy and counseling will likely be part of it. 

  • Working with a therapist or counselor can help you understand why you started using substances and develop new coping mechanisms.
  • An FDA-approved medication can also be used for substance addiction. 
  • There are medication-assisted treatments for alcohol, opioid and nicotine addictions in particular. 
  • Medications reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Support groups like a 12-step program can help people get sober or stay in addiction recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are two of the more well-known 12-step programs.


Treatment for Behavioral Addiction

The most common approach to treating different types of addiction involving a behavior is therapy, as with other mental health disorders. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy is an evidence-based way to treat behavioral addictions.

When you participate in CBT, you’re focused on paying attention to your distressing thoughts and emotions. You work with a therapist to learn how to reframe those thoughts. You can work on the goal of developing better-coping skills.

Depending on your symptoms, an SSRI antidepressant might be part of the treatment. Participation in self-help groups can be valuable for behavioral addictions. 

Often, as is the case with treating chemical addictions, behavioral addiction treatment requires a combination of approaches.


Get Help to Avoid Complications

Different types of addiction can vary, but the one underlying concept is that they are treatable. Without treatment, both substance addictions and behavioral addictions can worsen and complications can develop. 

Over time without treatment, the effects on your life become more damaging. Reach out to us to learn more about getting the treatment you need for mental health issues or substance abuse disorder.