Behavioral Addictions

When we think of addiction, we typically think of physical substances like drugs, alcohol, or even food. Becoming hooked on certain behaviors, however, is just as real, and can be just as devastating.

Gambling, video games, exercise, pornography, videos, shopping, work—all are potentially consuming addictive behaviors. Like drugs, such behaviors are capable of creating dependence. The brain mechanisms governing them are virtually the same, and people come to rely on the stimulation and distraction such fixations provide. Addictions may have several root causes. Some are a twisted emphasis on biological needs, like food and exercise, while others feed on our need for social connection, our sense of identity, or other emotional factors.

All give a brief buzz of satisfaction, but the feeling quickly fades, leading to emptiness and remorse. Pornography preys on our desire for intimacy while offering a shallow and unfulfilling version of it. Shopping addicts look to possessions as a source of happiness, yet find they only compound their sense of loneliness. Exercise addiction can be about perfectionism (the desire to look a certain way or be responsible or consistent), attempting to ward off some potential medical problem, or simply a more "healthful" substitute for another addiction.

The signs of addiction include:

The consequences of any addiction can be devastating, including social isolation, discouragement, relationship problems, academic failure, and decreased work performance. Severe cases of behavioral addiction may need to be treated with counseling and behavior modification.

How can we avoid addictive behavior? While avoiding overt immorality, remember that balance is the key to everything else. Seek moderation in whatever you do. Over-indulgence in potentially addictive behaviors makes us crave for them. And remember the “enough” principle. Accepting that what you have in the present is adequate for today’s needs can bring everything into perspective. As Jesus told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12). If you are already under the power of addiction, God’s power is indispensable. You may also need support from other people, whether a friend, pastor, or professional counselor.