Identifying Addictive Behavior
It can be easy to overdo things from time to time by, for example, eating too many sweets or going on a shopping spree. But if you find yourself repeatedly engaging in an activity that has a negative effect on your health or well-being or both, you may be engaging in an addictive behavior. Being addicted to a self-destructive behavior can be similar to being addicted to drugs or alcohol -- it can interfere in your day-to-day life and come with severe consequences. Sometimes people can moderate or stop the addictive behavior on their own. In other cases, a mental health professional or support group can help.
Common types of addictive behavior
People typically use addictive behaviors to cope with unpleasant thoughts or feelings, such as anxiety or sadness, because their actions can induce a temporary euphoria or help them feel more detached from what's bothering them. A number of behaviors can potentially be addictive. These are some of the most common kinds of addictive behavior:
- Sexual addiction. If sexual activity (such as masturbation, frequent extramarital affairs, or having many partners) becomes the primary focus of your life, you might have a sexual addiction.
- Workaholism. Workaholics tend to be high-strung people who neglect their own health. They likely think about work constantly, put in long hours, and rarely take vacations.
- Shopaholism. Shopaholics buy on impulse and are often called "compulsive spenders." They go shopping to ease distress or anxiety, usually not because they need their purchases. Shopaholics can't stop even when they find themselves in debt: as financial pressures mount, they may feel compelled to shop even more frequently in an attempt to ease their distress.
- Compulsive gambling. Compulsive gamblers typically overestimate their chances of winning a particular wager, such as buying a lottery ticket or playing online poker. The euphoria that follows a win keeps them coming back for more. In addition, because compulsive gamblers often dream of attaining wealth, even a losing streak or a large payoff won't keep them from placing another bet.
- Compulsive eating. This includes behaviors such as overeating, under-eating (anorexia nervosa) and binging and purging (bulimia). Individuals who compulsively eat often use food as a way to cope with their emotions. Secrecy often shrouds their eating habits. They might appear to have normal dietary habits in front of others while secretly purging or restricting their food intake.
- Co-dependency. Experts first used the term "co-dependents" to describe people who were involved in relationships with active alcoholics or drug addicts. More and more, the term is also used for people in unhealthy relationships who, to the detriment of their own well-being, continually put others' needs ahead of their own.
- Internet addiction. Some individuals spend so much time online that they neglect responsibilities at work or at home. This may take the shape of compulsively viewing pornography or engaging in sexual behaviors, gambling or bidding on online auctions, or online video games.
Signs of a problem
Most behavioral addictions follow a similar pattern that often includes these signs of an addiction:
- The behavior becomes all-consuming -- for example, you can't stop thinking about sex or work. You rearrange your life to pursue the behavior.
- You frequently lie to cover up the behavior or lash out at others when they express their concerns about the behavior.
- You feel anxious or depressed when you refrain from the behavior, or you might have suicidal thoughts and/or feelings of helplessness.
- You become isolated or withdrawn from family relationships and friendships.
- You have chronic feelings of numbness, detachment, or boredom.
- You need to engage in the addictive behavior more and more or for higher stakes to get the same results.
Addictive behaviors can be difficult to stop on your own and often benefit from some form of professional treatment. Some addictions like substance abuse and eating disorders may require inpatient treatment at a hospital or rehabilitation clinic. Your health care practitioner can refer you to a therapist or counselor who can help you find the best approach for you.
You can also reach out for support whenever you need it. Non-medical counseling services are available through Military OneSource or military and family life counselors. These non-medical counseling services are short-term, solution-focused, and confidential - and provided at no cost to you. Counseling topics include work relationships, stress management, situational stressors, decision making, problem solving, and communication. Military OneSource can also put you in touch with the appropriate resources and services in your community if they think you might benefit from medical counseling or other support.
- Visit Military OneSource online or call 800-342-9647.
- Military and family life counselors are available through your installation Family Support Center.
- Find support by speaking with your unit chaplain. You can find contact information locally through your Family Readiness Officer.
- If you find yourself engaging in addictive behavior that interferes with your relationships or work performance, you may benefit from further help. The resources above can help you find it.