Hobby or Obsession? When Pleasure Becomes Addictive

Posted on December 30, 2012 by VITAL WorkLife

Most people are aware of the dangers associated with drinking and using drugs. Fewer people are aware that almost any pleasurable behavior has the potential to become addictive when done to extreme. Such addictions include: Excessive gambling, internet & online gaming addiction, binge eating, compulsive shopping or spending, obsessive exercise or sex addiction.

Defining Addictive Behavior

Addiction definition

Any activity, substance, object, or behavior that becomes the major focus of your life—to the exclusion of other activities—or that has begun to harm you or others in your life either physically, mentally or socially should be considered addictive.

"It's often difficult for people to know just when these behaviors crossed the line from 'normal' into 'obsessive,'" says Deb Wood, senior EAP consultant for VITAL WorkLife. "Yet the pain and life consequences resulting from addictive behaviors can be just as devastating as chemical dependency."

How Addiction Develops

According to the American Association of Addiction Medicine, "Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry."

One theory of addictive behavior is that some people become physically addicted to the beta-endorphins their brains produce when experiencing pleasure. They either use that "high" to maintain a constant sense of euphoria or to counteract feelings of depression or anxiety. When addicted to their own brain chemicals, people will continue with the behavior despite increasingly negative social and emotional consequences.

There may also be underlying psychological disorders. Many people engaging in addictive behaviors suffer from depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. Compulsive gambling has also been linked to bipolar disorder.

Recognizing Addictive Behavior

People engaging in addictive behaviors don't exhibit the physical side effects that make alcohol or drug abuse easier to spot. While there are many types of addictive behaviors, here are some characteristics common to almost all people engaging in addictive behavior:

  • An obsession with some person, activity or substance
  • An insistence on continuing to engage in the behavior even though it is causing poor performance at work or school, social or family conflict, or health problems
  • An inability to stop engaging in the activity after promising to quit
  • Signs of irritability, craving, restlessness or depression when not engaging in the behavior
  • Denial of problems resulting from the behavior

People engaged in compulsive gambling, shopping or online gaming often go to great pains to prevent others from knowing the cause or extent of their problems, until the consequences become evident.

  • A compulsive gambler's wife may see distracted behavior, ATM withdrawals and long absences from home and jump to the conclusion that her husband is having an affair—rather than spending every minute and dime he has at the casino.
  • An online game-addicted teen may seem like a super diligent student until the bad grades or teacher notes start coming home.
  • Binge eaters often eat in private and explain their weight gain as hormonal or genetic—or, if bulimic, purge the excess food so no weight is gained.

Family and friends of the addicted person may experience confusion, anger and self doubt as they try to figure out what's going on.

"It's not usual for the spouse to experience lower self-esteem, an inability to concentrate or a tendency to think obsessively about what's going on or how to address the issue," says Wood. "It often leads to a breakdown in the relationship."

Intervention & Recovery:

Help for the Addicted & Their Loved Ones

Some people recognize they have a problem and reach out for help. Other people may require a formal intervention where those who care about the addicted person explain what they see happening and how the behavior affects them.

Treatment may involve one-on-one counseling, medication for depression or anxiety, participation in a 12-Step or self-help program—or a combination of all of the above.

"It's much harder to abstain completely from behaviors that have become addictive than it is to completely quit drinking or using non-prescription drugs," explains Wood. "People have to learn how to spend without overspending, eat without binging, or surf the Internet without getting sucked into an online game."

Family members may want to receive couples, family or individual counseling or participate in support groups to understand how to set limits around the behavior and agree on consequences in the event of relapse.

"The biggest obstacle for most addicts is breaking through the denial," says Wood, "For most family members, the most difficult thing is letting go of anger and rebuilding trust. In either case, counseling helps."

Coping with Addictive Behavior:

How Your EAP Benefit Can Help

If you or a loved one is engaging in addictive behavior, VITAL WorkLife is here to help. Your EAP benefit includes free and confidential professional support services from VITAL WorkLife.

Simply call 800.383.1908—any time of the day or night—to speak to an EAP counselor about whatever addiction issues you face. Your EAP counselor can:

  • Assess whether or not a behavior has become addictive
  • Provide one-on-one counseling, by phone or in person
  • Recommend various treatment options
  • Refer you to appropriate support groups
  • Provide support to family members

"If a person's been engaging in an addictive behavior for any period of time, there are often emotional, financial, social and health issues to resolve," notes Wood. "We'll take a look at the big picture and direct you and your family members to whatever resources you may need."

Helpful Online Resources

Your EAP benefit also includes unlimited access to a wealth of web-based Work & Life Resources at the VITAL WorkLife website, including the following articles on addictive behaviors:

  • Addiction to MMORPG's: Symptoms and Treatments
  • Couples Recovering from Sex Addiction
  • Cybersex Addiction Checklist
  • Family Impact and Treatment of Sexual Addiction
  • Sexual Addiction
  • Surfing Not Studying
  • eBay Addiction
  • How Can I Manage Compulsive Shopping and Spending?
  • Signs of Internet Addiction

Accessing these resources is easy. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Go to VITALWorkLife.com, click on Member Login and enter your user name and password.
  2. On the page that comes up, in the left hand column, click on the "Your Work & Life Resources" button.
  3. In the shaded area at the top of the screen, click on the pull down menu that says "Balancing." In the middle of the page, click on the topic "Addiction & Recovery."
  4. In the Categories box on the right side of the Personal Growth page, click on "Other Addictive Behaviors."

We Can Help

As part of your EAP resources, you have access to unlimited in-the-moment behavioral health support and face-to-face or virtual counseling sessions. If you or someone you know is struggling, don't hesitate to reach out! Access your resources today by calling 800.383.1908 or connect through your VITAL WorkLife App

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Contact us to learn more about how our well being resources can help your employees.

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