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How to Recognise Addictive Behaviour

One of the reasons many become so trapped in addictive behaviour is that they just do not recognise what is happening. There is a great deal of confusion about what it means to be 'addicted'; part of the problem is that different definitions exist for it. The most important thing is that you are able to recognise when you are slipping into behaviours that will lead to suffering.

What is Addictive Behaviour?

The most well known types of addictive behaviour involve alcohol and drugs. It refers to a situation where a person has developed a physical or psychological dependence (usually both) to a particular substance. To say that a person has become physically addicted means that the functioning of their body has changed in response to the substance abuse. What happens is that the body adapts to behaviour by developing a tolerance for it. This in turn means that the individual needs to use more of the substance in order to achieve the same effect. Eventually the person is drinking or drug taking so much that they become ill if they try to stop or cut down on their use.

Psychological dependence means that the person has a mental compulsion to keep on using alcohol or drugs. This is because unconsciously, the brain has started to associate the behaviour with the internal rewards system. Psychological dependence means being unable to cope without the substance - when trying to stop, these individuals experience cravings and strong urges to use again.

It is not only alcohol and drugs that can lead to addiction; there are also behavioural addictions that involve psychological rather than physical dependency. The most common types of this addiction are:

  • gambling
  • food disorders (for example, binge eating)
  • sex addiction
  • relationship addiction
  • internet addiction
  • social media addiction
  • gaming addiction
  • co-dependency
  • porn addiction
  • shopping addiction
  • workaholism
  • exercise addiction.

These behavioural addictions might seem to be less harmful than drink or drug problems, but the reality is the opposite - they can lead to a great deal of suffering and potentially even drive the affected person to suicide.

There have been many attempts to define addictive behaviour. The definition that seems to be most accurate would be to describe it as any behaviour that is obviously causing the person harm, but they are unable to stop it.

How to Recognise Addictive Behaviour

The sooner you are able to spot the signs that you are engaging in addictive behaviour, the easier it will be for you to escape it. Here are just some of the signs that you could be dealing with this type of issue:

  • you feel defensive when others question your behaviour - this can be a sign of denial
  • you spend increasing amounts of time thinking about, engaging in, and recovering from the effects of (in the case of alcohol and drugs) the behaviour
  • you are losing interest in activities you used to once enjoy; you want to spend more time engaging in this new behaviour
  • it is interfering with your ability to meet your work, family, or social responsibilities
  • you sometimes feel guilty about engaging in the behaviour
  • you suspect your life would be better if you weren't engaging in it
  • you have needed to take time off work due to the behaviour.

The symptoms of addictive behaviour can vary greatly, depending on what it is being abused or being done excessively. A good rule of thumb is that if you are worried that what you are doing is wrong for you, it probably is. If you try to stop/reduce the behaviour, but find it a struggle doing so, you are almost certainly addicted.

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