Risk factors and Addictive Behavior
People of any age, sex or economic status can become addicted to a drug. However, certain factors can affect the likelihood and speed of developing an addiction:
Family history of addiction. Drug addiction is more common in some families and likely involves genetic predisposition. If you have a blood relative, such as a parent or sibling, with alcohol or drug problems, you're at greater risk of developing a drug addiction.
Being male. Men are more likely to have problems with drugs than women are. However, the progression of addictive disorders is known to be faster in females.
Having another mental health disorder. If you have a mental health disorder such as depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you’re more likely to become dependent on drugs.
Peer pressure. Peer pressure is a strong factor in starting to use and abuse drugs, particularly for young people.
Lack of family involvement. Difficult family situations or lack of a bond with your parents or siblings may increase the risk of addiction, as can a lack of parental supervision.
Anxiety, depression and loneliness. Using drugs can become a way of coping with these painful psychological feelings and can make these problems even worse.
Taking a highly addictive drug. Some drugs, such as stimulants, cocaine or painkillers, may result in faster development of addiction than other drugs. However, taking drugs considered less addicting — so-called "light drugs" — can start you on a pathway of drug use and addiction.
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.
Preparing for your appointment
It may help to get an independent perspective from someone you trust and who knows you well. You can start by discussing your substance use with your primary doctor, or ask for a referral to a specialist in drug addiction, such as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, or a psychiatrist or psychologist. Take a relative or friend along.
To prepare for your appointment:
Be honest about your drug use. When you have a drug-use problem, it can be easy to downplay or underestimate how much you use and your level of dependence. To get an accurate idea of which treatment may help, be honest with your doctor or other mental health provider.
Make a list of all medications, vitamins or other supplements that you're taking and the dosages. Tell the doctor about any legal or illegal drugs you're using.
Prepare questions to ask your doctor. Basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What's the best approach to my drug problem?
- Should I see a psychiatrist or other mental health provider?
- Will I need to go to the hospital or spend time as an inpatient or outpatient at a recovery clinic?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can have? What websites do you recommend?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you're suggesting?
Don't hesitate to ask questions anytime during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Be ready to answer them to reserve time to go over any points you want to focus on. Your doctor may ask:
- What drugs do you use?
- When did your drug use first start?
- How often do you use drugs?
- When you take a drug, how much do you use?
- Do you ever feel that you might have a problem with drugs?
- Have you tried to quit on your own? What happened when you did?
- If you tried to quit, did you have withdrawal symptoms?
- Have any family members criticized your drug use?
- Are you ready to get the treatment needed for your drug problem?