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24 hours rehab
Immediate Access for help and advice

Addictive Behaviour Explained

This page looks at addictive behaviours, types of addictive behaviours and the reasons why certain behaviours are addictive. It is thought that addiction can result from repeat exposure to a substance or rewarding stimuli. Dopamine – the neurotransmitter responsible for reward and motivation, is thought to play a central role in addiction. Addictive behaviours, therefore, can be identified by which such behaviours affect the dopaminergic pathways in the brain. Addictive behaviours are a distinct entity to compulsions, defined as actions that do not necessarily lead to satisfying or pleasurable outcomes.

What is Addictive Behaviour?

When a person persistently engages in activities that become harmful or detrimental to their physical, mental or social well-being, the person is exhibiting addictive behaviours.

Many activities or behaviours can lead to addiction, such as food, drugs, sex, gambling, pornography, exercise, drugs, alcohol or shopping.

Addiction can also be psychological, physical or both. A physical addiction involves substances such as heroin or cocaine.

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Types of Addictive Behaviour

Addictive behaviours can be broken down into different forms, such as substances that affect brain chemistry, and process addictions such as Gambling, Sex and Shopping.

Many substances are known for their addictive properties and repeat exposure to these drugs can result in addiction.

Opiates – both illegal and prescription based – are known to have abuse potential because of their rapid onset of effects.

Stimulants, including cocaine and methamphetamine, release significant amounts of dopamine over a short period. This pleasurable high and significant crash can trap individuals in a cycle of abuse, which ultimately leads to addiction.

This release of dopamine is not unique to substances, and many process addictions can result in a ‘high’ without the presence of drugs.

Gambling can be a highly addictive behaviour with severe consequences for relationships and financial stability. Online gambling has become more accessible in recent years, and with the rise in mobile betting, vulnerable individuals can lose money in a matter of seconds.

For gambling addicts, no amount of winning will ever satisfy their burning hunger for more. As time progresses, betting stakes are raised to produce the same ‘high’. Often, addicts make compulsive decisions to compensate for the loss of earnings, on the false assumption that they will make back what they’ve lost and more.

Other forms of behavioural addictions such as sex addiction have similar effects on the brain’s reward pathways. Such addictive behaviours have negative implications on the individuals lives and may lead to criminal activity, relationship issues and significant financial trouble.

Addictive Behaviour vs Compulsions

Addictive behaviours are distinct phenomena from compulsions, which are behaviours or routines that have no rewarding stimuli.

Examples of compulsive behaviours include nail-biting and obsessive cleaning. Compulsions are usually a result of internal struggles around maintaining control. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder categorised by repeated patterns of behaviours.
OCD and addiction both feature compulsive behaviour as a core feature, the difference being that addiction is centred around rewarding stimuli, whereas compulsions are not.
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