What are Behavioral Addictions?

AddictionBehavioral Addictions, also known as process addictions, exist outside of the world of drug and alcohol use. As defined by the National Institute of Health (NIH), behavioral addiction is a compulsion to continually engage in an activity or behavior despite the negative impact on the person’s ability to remain mentally and/or physically healthy and functional in the home and community.

The person, when engaging in these behaviors, may feel a release of dopamine or serotonin in their brains just like one would experience when using drugs or alcohol. For example, when a person is gambling at the slot machines and all three characters pop up on the screen and the lights are flashing, the reward center of the person’s brain is reacting to his experience and flooding the brain with positive, feel-good chemicals. The more we feel this surge in dopamine or serotonin, the more a person may want to continue to pull the arm on the slot machine eventually leading to devastating consequences.  

Here are 5 of the most common behavioral addictions:  

  • Gambling 

    • Gambling addiction develops when a person engages in compulsive betting or gambling behaviors despite adverse consequences or distress. By the time a person realizes their addiction to gambling, they may have suffered enormous losses, such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, and divorce.  
  • Sex, Love, and Lust 

    • Sex addiction is characterized by a pattern of sexual impulses and behaviors that cause distress or impairment in family, social, occupational, or other areas of functioning. According to an article published in 2013 entitled “Should Hypersexual Disorder be Classified as an Addiction?” those experiencing a sex addiction often experience a dual diagnosis. In the study the researchers conducted, it was found that 72% of participants were diagnosed with a mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder, 38% of participants had an anxiety disorder, and 40% displayed symptoms of substance abuse.  
  • Food 

    • Those who struggle with food addiction are unable to control compulsive eating behaviors. This addiction is different from binge eating disorder as it is classified as an addiction rather than an eating disorder. A person who experiences food addiction experiences a “high” like that of using a substance.  
  • Shopping 

    • Shopping addiction is characterized by compulsive spending and can possibly lead to hoarding behaviors. Like gambling, shopping addiction can have devastating financial, social, and emotional consequences.  
  • Internet/Video Games 

    • Internet and Video game addiction are characterized by compulsive behaviors connected to being online or playing video games. Consistent time spent online, whether on the internet or playing games, can affect a person’s ability to connect positively with others in daily life, maintain responsibilities at work, and make choices that support their physical and mental wellbeing.  


About Sarah Chun

Sarah is a Resident in Counseling providing counseling services through our Alexandria location. She completed her Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a Certificate in Addictions Studies from Immaculata University. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Music: Vocal Performance from American University in Washington, D.C.

Sarah is a National Certified Counselor and a member of the American Counseling Association. Sarah is pursuing her License in Professional Counseling (LPC) for the state of Virginia and is working towards a certification in TF-CBT. To learn more about Sarah, click HERE



  • Kor, A., Fogel, Y., Reid, R. C., & Potenza, M. N. (2013). Should Hypersexual Disorder be Classified as an Addiction?. Sexual addiction & compulsivity, 20(1-2), 10.1080/10720162.2013.768132. https://doi.org/10.1080/10720162.2013.768132 

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