Recovery from addiction requires that we maintain an awareness of other expressions of addiction. We may remain free from drugs and alcohol, but turn to other behaviors and activities that give us feelings of pleasure. The disease of addiction is not specific to substances, but can also extend to activities such as sex, gambling, or any other behavior that gives our brain a feeling of reward.
Addiction causes an inability to regulate how much we engage in substance use, but we can also lose our ability to regulate how often we engage in a certain behavior or activity. Dr. Shahram Heshmat, in a 2017 Psychology Today article entitled 10 Patterns of Addictive Behavior, explains, “The psychological concept of operant conditioning suggests that if a behavior is followed by a rewarding experience, an animal (or individual) becomes more likely to repeat the rewarding behavior at a later time. For example, a dog performs a trick to get a dog treat. In human beings, operant conditioning allows them to learn behavior leading to certain rewards (or consequences). For example, learning that playing video games (or web-surfing, shopping, or work) is followed by a reduction in distress, an individual will be more likely to engage in the act in the future.” These rewards can cause a person to engage in the activity compulsively despite negative consequences, just like substance addiction.
The reward of a pleasure-producing activity acts similarly on the brain as addictive substances, and can be dangerous in recovery. According to Ruth Engs of Indiana University, Bloomington, “Some researchers imply that there are similarities between physical addiction to various chemicals, such as alcohol and heroin, and psychological dependence to activities such as compulsive gambling, sex, work, running, shopping, or eating disorders. It is thought that these behavior activities may produce beta-endorphins in the brain, which makes the person feel ‘high.’ Some experts suggest that if a person continues to engage in the activity to achieve this feeling of well-being and euphoria, he/she may get into an addictive cycle. In so doing, he/she becomes physically addicted to his/her own brain chemicals, thus leading to continuation of the behavior even though it may have negative health or social consequences.” We may feel that these activities and behaviors are not harmful because they do not involve substances, but they can continue the cycle of addictive behavior that may be detrimental to our lives or lead us back into substance use.
Your life can become one of happiness and health in sobriety. You can change your story and begin building a brighter future on the journey of recovery. Oceanfront Recovery, located in beautiful Laguna Beach, is staffed with compassionate professionals dedicated to tailoring treatment to each client’s specific needs and unique challenges. For information about individualized treatment options, please call today: (877) 279-1777