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  • Writer's pictureMed Insider

What You Can’t Stop Doing: Behavioral Addiction

By Yuan Cheng


  • Behavioral Addiction: the inability to stop doing a temporarily rewarding activity

  • There are many multi-faceted causes of Behavioral Addiction

  • Therapy and Rehab are two recommended treatments


While substance addiction finds itself a constant center of media attention and concern, behavioral addiction often slips by unnoticed. Behavioral addiction is characterized as the constant desire to complete a specific and temporarily rewarding task despite having seen negative results or side effects from doing so. Gambling, for example, is one of the most well-known behavioral addictions. Many non-substance related behavioral addiction affects the brain in a similar way as substance addiction, and can result in serious consequences.

Of course, it is important to note that while some types of behavioral addiction have been officially recognized as disorders, others have not been due to insufficient research in their respective areas. There are still accounts of people who suffer from these un-categorized addictions, and they still warrant help and therapy to overcome.


External Factors

Because the types of behavioral addictions vary, so do their causes. There are, however, a few universal reasons why people turn to toxic behaviors. Stress, anxiety, loneliness, depression, low self-esteem, etc, all play key roles in pushing someone to engage in destructive activities that create a short-term “high.” Additionally, unhealthy behaviors are often employed as avoidance strategies or coping mechanisms for those who are unable or unwilling to deal with the problems arising from the other facets of their lives.


Research has shown that, like those with substance abuse issues, people who have familial backgrounds in addiction and other mental health concerns are more likely to become addicts themselves.

Upbringing and environment is also quite important in shaping the way someone responds to addiction. Work addicts, who compose 5-25% of the population, often excuse or continue their behavior despite the demolition of personal relationships because the current culture encourages people to work diligently and often overtime.

Personal Traits

Certain personality traits can make someone more susceptible to addiction. People who are often impulsive are more likely to become addicts. Players who are anxious, aggressive, or neurotic have a higher risk of becoming addicted to video games.

Young adults are also prone to and overrepresented in behavioral addictions. The development of gambling addictions is most prevalent amongst those aged 18 to 24, and 39%-92% of teenagers claimed to have gambled in a survey in North America.


All behavioral addictions have the same effects that, together, perpetuates a cycle of guilt and pleasure:

  • Spending a large portion of one’s day either committing the activity, planning to commit said activity, or recovering from previously commiting the activity.

  • Attempting to hide the behavior or its frequency from friends and family.

  • Forsaking opportunities (business or social) and relationships to pursue the activity.

  • Inability to stop, as well as heavy withdrawal symptoms such as aggression, depression, etc.

  • Relying on the activity to feel “yourself”—or, in some cases, need for an increasing amount of time, energy, and effort to be devoted to said activity to achieve the same “high.”



Therapy sessions, online or in-person, can go a long way in curing someone of behavioral addiction by addressing stressors and root causes directly. Going to rehabilitation centers can also be an option, typically for more recognized behavioral addictions such as gambling.

Fun Fact

One of the most common behavioral addictions is Internet addiction. Both China and South Korea announced that it is a detriment to public health. Social media and computer-generated images are said to affect the brain’s dopamine reward center the way drugs do.



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