Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions occur when someone becomes addicted to a rewarding behavior that does not involve an addictive substance per se, such as gambling, sex, shopping or eating.  Sometimes referred to as compulsive behaviors, behavioral addictions involve compulsion to perform an action despite negative consequences.  In this way people can suffer from dependence on certain actions, they are reliant upon and/or controlled by these behaviors as their primary way of dealing with life.

The difference between behavioral and substance addiction is that behaviors affect the brain indirectly, while substances physically change neurotransmitters.  As part of our ability to survive, we naturally experience pleasure from sex and eating.  Drugs such as heroin provide a shortcut to the brain’s reward system by flooding it with dopamine, which is what makes them extremely addictive.

Addiction is a disease that is present in the brain’s reward system before an individual ever begins using drugs or repeatedly engaging in an addictive behavior. Just as most people can drink alcohol without becoming addicted, most of us engage in gambling, sex, and eating without ever developing an addiction to these behaviors. However, these behavioral addictions are more common than the public currently believes.

Some of the most common behavioral addictions are socially acceptable, and can even include necessary behaviors such as sex and eating.  This contributes to a lack of awareness that a problem is developing while negative consequences keep piling up. Gambling is the most researched and talked about of process addictions.  Consequences faced by compulsive gamblers are severe, such as financial and relationship difficulties which can frequently lead to death by suicide.  Rates of suicide by compulsive gamblers is higher than that of alcohol or drug addicts.

Sexual compulsivity has also recently received the attention of researchers and practitioners.  Addiction may occur when people become preoccupied with sex and act on sexual compulsions without concern for the negative consequences. Eating disorders can be behavioral addictions in which someone becomes addicted to the act of eating and the feelings they get from eating certain foods.  A food addiction is emotionally, physically and socially detrimental as it can cause extreme guilt, health problems, and interfere with relationships.

While most of us use the internet daily, there is a certain point in which the process is considered addiction.  When internet use is more important than real life relationships or activities, or causes problems in a person’s ability to function in daily life, they are likely suffering from internet addiction.  Compulsive spending is a form of behavioral addiction that is serious and results in similar feelings of guilt and shame, loss of control, and financial, social, and emotional consequences as other addictions.

The preceeding examples are only some of the most common and researched behavioral addictions, but behavior addictions can occur when someone loses control over any process to the point where it causes problems in daily life. Compulsive behaviors lack the physical attributes that often alert people to problems with drug and alcohol abuse, such as visible intoxication, which makes them fly under the radar more easily.  However, despite their relative invisibility, behavioral addictions can lead to serious problems in a person’s life and well-being.

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Your Brain On Drugs

your brain on drugs

Addісtіоn іѕ a nеurоlоgісаl dіѕоrdеr that affects the reward ѕуѕtеm in the brаіn. In a hеаlthу реrѕоn, the reward system rеіnfоrсеѕ important bеhаvіоrѕ that аrе essential fоr ѕurvіvаl ѕuсh аѕ еаtіng, drіnkіng, ѕеx, аnd ѕосіаl іntеrасtіоn. Fоr еxаmрlе, the rеwаrd ѕуѕtеm ensures thаt уоu rеасh fоr food whеn уоu are hungry, because уоu knоw thаt after eating you wіll fееl gооd. In оthеr words, іt mаkеѕ thе асtіvіtу оf eating рlеаѕurаblе аnd memorable, so уоu would wаnt tо dо іt аgаіn and again whеnеvеr уоu feel hungry. Drugs оf аbuѕе hіjасk this ѕуѕtеm, turning thе реrѕоn’ѕ natural needs into drug nееdѕ.

Thе brain consists оf billions of nеurоnѕ, оr nеrvе cells, whісh communicate vіа chemical messages, or neurotransmitters. When a neuron is ѕuffісіеntlу ѕtіmulаtеd, аn electrical impulse саllеd an action роtеntіаl іѕ gеnеrаtеd аnd travels dоwn thе аxоn to thе nеrvе tеrmіnаl. Hеrе, іt trіggеrѕ the release of a neurotransmitter into the synaptic сlеft – a ѕрасе bеtwееn nеurоnѕ. The nеurоtrаnѕmіttеr then binds tо a rесерtоr оn a nеіghbоrіng neuron, gеnеrаtіng а signal іn it, thеrеbу trаnѕmіttіng the іnfоrmаtіоn to thаt neuron.

Thе mаjоr reward раthwауѕ іnvоlvе trаnѕmіѕѕіоn of the nеurоtrаnѕmіttеr dораmіnе from thе vеntrаl tеgmеntаl аrеа – thе VTA – оf the mіd-brаіn tо thе lіmbіс ѕуѕtеm and thе frоntаlсоrtеx. Engаgіng in еnjоуаblе activities gеnеrаtеѕ асtіоn potentials іn dораmіnе-рrоduсіng neurons of the VTA. This саuѕеѕ dораmіnе rеlеаѕе from thе nеurоnѕ into the ѕуnарtіс ѕрасе. Dораmіnе thеn bіndѕ to and ѕtіmulаtеѕ dopamine-receptor оn thе rесеіvіng neuron. Thіѕ ѕtіmulаtіоn bу dopamine іѕ bеlіеvеd tо produce thе pleasurable feelings or rewarding effect. Dopamine mоlесulеѕ аrе thеn rеmоvеd frоm thе synaptic ѕрасе аnd trаnѕроrtеd bасk іn tо thе trаnѕmіttіng nеurоn bу a ѕресіаl рrоtеіn саllеd dораmіnе-trаnѕроrtеr.

Mоѕt drugs of аbuѕе іnсrеаѕе the lеvеl оf dораmіnе іn thе reward раthwау. Sоmе drugѕ ѕuсh as аlсоhоl, hеrоіn, аnd nісоtіnе іndіrесtlу еxсіtе thе dораmіnе-рrоduсіng neurons in the VTA ѕо thаt thеу generate mоrе асtіоn роtеntіаlѕ. Cосаіnе acts аt the nerve tеrmіnаl. It binds to dораmіnе-trаnѕроrtеr and blосkѕ thе rе-uрtаkе оf dораmіnе. Methamphetamine – a psychostimulant – асtѕ similarly tо сосаіnе іn blocking dopamine rеmоvаl. In аddіtіоn, іt саn еntеr thе neuron, іntо the dораmіnе-соntаіnіng vеѕісlеѕ whеrе іt trіggеrѕ dораmіnе rеlеаѕе еvеn in thе аbѕеnсе оf action роtеntіаlѕ. Dіffеrеnt drugs асt different wауs but the common оutсоmе is thаt dораmіnе builds-up in the ѕуnарѕе tо a much greater amount thаn nоrmаl. Thіѕ causes a соntіnuоuѕ stimulation, maybe over-stimulation оf receiving nеurоnѕ and іѕ rеѕроnѕіblе fоr рrоlоngеd and іntеnѕе еuрhоrіа experienced by drug users.

Repeated еxроѕurе tо dораmіnе ѕurgеѕ саuѕеd bу drugs eventually de-sensitizes the rеwаrd ѕуѕtеm. Thе ѕуѕtеm іѕ no longer responsive tо еvеrуdау ѕtіmulі; the оnlу thіng that іѕ rewarding іѕ thе drug. Thаt іѕ how drugѕ сhаngе thе реrѕоn’ѕ lіfе рrіоrіtу. Aftеr some time, еvеn thе drug loses іtѕ аbіlіtу to rеwаrd аnd hіghеr dоѕеѕ аrе rеԛuіrеd to асhіеvе thе rеwаrdіng effect. Thіѕ ultіmаtеlу leads tо drug overdose.

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What Constitutes A Relapse?


Relapse occurs when a once abstinent individual ingests a substance in order to get high, experience euphoria or blot out feelings and consciousness, whatever the reason. So, when it come to relapse, intent is everything. Some difference of opinion however, exists between different 12-step groups as to the precise meaning of a relapse. Two common definitions seem to exist, one held by AA, the other a commonly-held belief of people in the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous.

The organization Alcoholics Anonymous does not require any particular viewpoint. When we talk about the AA view we’re talking about a way of thinking commonly held by members of AA, not any rules or laws established by AA. In AA, only the physical consumption of alcohol counts as a relapse, commonly called a slip. When a person with any amount of AA sober time chooses to drink alcohol, they are said to have slipped or relapsed.

Narcotics Anonymous members have expressed a belief that a relapse can take place without picking up, that is, without taking a drink or a drug. The concept of a spiritual relapse is alive and well in NA. For instance, if an NA member suddenly stops attending meetings, stops calling friends from the program, or avoids their spiritual life and new ways of behaving, they can be said to have relapsed. This is in part because of tradition, in part because drug addicts tend to see their drug use are more immediately life-threatening.

However it is that you personally define a slip, it’s easy to see both sides of the controversy. Surely, taking a drink or a drug is a relapse, or slipping back into old behaviors. For many in recovery from substance abuse, displaying old behaviors or avoiding new coping mechanisms like regular 12-step meetings is an early warning sign of an eventual slip.

Despite whether you see relapse as the literal use of drugs or alcohol or conform to the popular NA belief in spiritual relapse, the problem most likely lies in the poor formation of a recovery program. Relapsed individuals should take the incident as a sign of a need for change in the way they’ve approached the process of abstaining from intoxicants and use it as inspiration for a return to recovery meetings and literature.

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Psychopath, Sociopath or Something Else?

sociopath or psychopath

Do you have an exalted sense of self?  Are you a compulsive liar?  Would you do just about anything to get you want?  If you answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, you might want to consult a professional who can determine if you are a sociopath or a psychopath. Both sociopaths and psychopaths share three common traits suggested by the questions above – conceitedness, deceitfulness, and manipulation largely unchecked by moral conscience. Some experts think sociopathy and psychopathy are the same and group them together under the diagnostic term anti-social personality disorder or APD, while others argue that there are significant differences between the two mental disorders. During active addiction, many drug addicts or alcoholics can display these common traits as well, thus necessitating the need for treatment to determine if a fundamental personality disorder of this nature actually exists as a precursor to the addictive behaviors.

The outward behavior that a sociopath or psychopath may display can be as different as night and day.  Sociopaths are more impulsive and irresponsible than psychopaths. Sociopaths tend to live on the fringes of society. They often can’t hold down a job for long and can’t settle down in one place. They may travel extensively, but they are not sightseers. If they can’t find a legitimate work to pay for whatever they need, they may do shady things like lie, cheat, and steal from people along the way. These types of traits can be seen in many active drug addicts as well, though the behaviors may be transient in relation to the depth and scope of their addiction.

Con man Charles Ponzi lived in this manner. Ponzi immigrated from Italy to America in 1903. He supposedly said, ‘I landed in this country with $2.50 in cash and $1 million in hopes, and those hopes never left me.’ However, $2.50 was all that he had left after having gambled and drunk away most of the $200 he actually had with him while on board the ship taking him to America. After arriving in Boston, he spent several years working odd jobs in the Northeast. Described as an alleged sociopath, he led a life of lies that was all about tricking people into investing in sham corporations. His International Reply Coupon scheme was one where he used money from investors to pay other investors, a form of fraud that became known as the Ponzi scheme. Ponzi spent 14 years in prison for this crime.

In contrast, psychopaths have more self-control and are more calculating than sociopaths. They blend into society more effectively than sociopaths because they are often well-educated and hold steady jobs.  Not all psychopaths are violent or a threat to society, and some manage to channel their need to control others into gainful employment. They gravitate toward positions of authority and jobs requiring objective analysis and decision-making.  Some professions with the most psychopaths include CEOs, lawyers, surgeons, and police officers. Oddly enough, chefs and salespeople also made the list. Sociopaths have a slight edge over psychopaths when it comes to establishing meaningful relationships. It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. They are capable of empathy in certain limited circumstances but not in others and with a few individuals but not others.

Gary Ridgway is a good example of the sociopath’s limited ability to feel empathy and form emotional attachments. Between 1982 and 2001, he murdered at least 49 women in Washington state. One article reports that his victims were prostitutes and young runaways. After killing them, Ridgway often returned to his dumping grounds to have sex with his victims’ corpses.  He also dumped some of their bodies in the Green River, which earned him the name of the Green River Killer. While Ridgway committed four of these horrible crimes, he was married to his third wife, Judith Ridgway. Although he targeted prostitutes because of his hate for them, he loved his wife and had a good relationship with her.  In an interview six years after her husband went to prison, Judith Ridgway still had trouble believing that her husband was a serial killer. She described their life together as loving and content.  She said, ‘he made me feel like a newlywed every day.’  However, she had to face the truth about what her husband had done after she and the police discovered evidence linking him to some of the murdered prostitutes.

In contrast, psychopaths are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others. Emotions are foreign to them. They know they should be feeling something, but they don’t feel anything. Beauty and ugliness, except in a very superficial sense, goodness, evil, love, horror and humor have no actual meaning, no power to move them. This makes psychopaths capable of hurting others without any guilt or remorse.  Psychopathy is the most dangerous of all antisocial behaviors because psychopaths can dissociate emotionally from their actions, regardless of how terrible those actions may be. Psychopaths try to compensate for this impairment by being ‘skilled actors.’ They are charming and persuasive, and they are capable of faking emotions they can’t feel. Notorious cult leader Jim Jones revealed his psychopathic mission to play whatever role was necessary to win trust and manipulate others when he stated, ‘what you need to believe in is what you can see.  If you see me as your friend, I’ll be your friend. If you see me as your father, I’ll be your father, for those of you that don’t have father.  If you see me as your savior, I’ll be your savior. If you see me as your God, I’ll be your God.’  Jones combined idealistic rhetoric and overt or subtle coercion to condition his followers to commit suicide by drinking a Kool-Aid type drink laced with cyanide and valium upon his command.

Another way psychopaths attempt to relate to others is to create a veneer of social respectability to hide their dark side and any sinister behavior resulting from it. This is an especially common strategy of psychopathic serial killers like John Wayne Gacy.  A summary of his court case noted his ‘double life.’ Apparently, evidence showed that the defendant led a double life, engaging in charitable and political activities at the same time he was committing a series of sadistic torture murders. He enticed many young men to his home for homosexual liaisons, tying or handcuffing his partners then strangling or choking them. Gacy was a successful contractor, was active in the community, and often dressed up as a clown for parties.

Active addicts of all varieties are well-known to lead double-lives to shield their behaviors from others as well.  It is known by law enforcement that many of the people who are chronically jailed or imprisoned are individuals with antisocial personality disorder.  Conversely, it is found that many people jailed at any given time committed their crimes while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  Conceitedness or self-centeredness, deceitfulness, manipulation and living a double-life are all hallmarks of active addiction behavior patterns as well as those of a sociopath. Treatment which involves the abstinence from the abused substances for a time is necessary in order to determine whether the individual is displaying transient behavior patterns due to active addiction or something more pervasive which may be fueling the addiction.  A well-trained and certified therapist will be necessary in order to make such determination and prepare the necessary treatment plan for the individual.

Different factors cause people to become a sociopath or psychopath and most are not killers. Some researchers think that sociopathy arises from childhood abuse and trauma. It is a ‘learned’ behavior arising from circumstance. This is why a sociopath may still maintain some moral conscience, some empathy, and some ability to form emotional attachments, although they are all weak. However, research suggests that psychopathy has a largely genetic component to it.  Psychopathy is related to a physiological defect that results in the underdevelopment of the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and emotions. It has been shown that brain scans of people with these disorders have shown low activity in areas related to empathy, morality, and self-control.  Differences in brain scans has been revealed in addicts and alcoholics as well.  Sociopaths make up around 5% of the general population, while psychopaths make up about 1%. However, these percentages are equivalent to millions of people, so it is quite possible that you might meet a sociopath or psychopath on any given day.

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Eating Disorder Recovery

Eating Disorder Recovery

Addictions and eating disorders are often co-occurring. Sometimes food is the thing one may feel most control over during periods of anxiousness and vulnerability in recovery from alcohol and other drugs. Eating disorders and body image issues which were never present or obvious in the past can also develop while in rehab. As maladaptive behaviors in relation to substance abuse are uncovered and discarded, new coping strategies, such as stringent dieting, compulsive overeating, or binging and purging may take their place.

While many of those who struggling with eating disorders and body image issues are women, it can be even more difficult for the minority of men facing some of the same issues to seek help. The process of recovery from eating disorder and body image issues may take some time. New and different coping styles must be developed which may include learning to tolerate new and painful emotions, acceptance of body shape or size, as well as paying attention to when one is actually hungry or full.

Most times, eating disorders are identified during evaluation when a person is just entering a treatment program during initial intake and evaluation. Still other times these issues may come to light through the skilled observation of therapists and clinical staff at a rehabilitation facility. An individual’s eating habits may be observed or staff may notice hearing negative comments about the food at the facility or about body image in particular. Individual and group sessions with the client may then focus on conversation that centers on body image. Learning to see one’s self in a more positive light, while avoiding negative self-talk about the body or food, is a start. The adoption of new, healthier coping strategies and attitudes can become key to recovery from eating disorders.

As in other addictions, causal factors which may lead to the formation of eating disorders and body image issues can be genetic, related to impulse control disturbances, perfectionism and control issues, childhood trauma and sexual abuse. Television and media may also play a role in a culture where many people are afraid of being perceived as ‘fat’. Misguided but well-intentioned family members may place focus or frequently comment on a child’s body in the context of promoting good health or eating habits. Many parts of the country have recovery groups for eating disorders, such as Overeaters Anonymous (O.A.), which focuses on issues like binge eating, anorexia, and/or bulimia. If you suspect that you may be developing an eating disorder, in addition to substance abuse problems, you’d be wise to pick a treatment facility that can treat both disorders.

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Symptoms of Depression

Depression_Addiction Treatment Malibu Beach

Many of symptoms of depression are also common parts of normal life.  As a result, patients and their families may find it difficult to understand or recognize it as a mental disorder. However, key differences in the duration, causes and strength of symptoms can distinguish between feeling down and having depression.

A person’s prevailing emotions are central to identifying depression. A person with depression will suffer from at least one of the following problems: an inability to be interested in or pleased by any previously enjoyable activity; having feelings of sadness or emptiness for most of the time during most days. Other emotional symptoms of depression can include inappropriate feelings of guilt or worthlessness, or a preoccupation with thoughts of death.

Weight fluctuations are physical symptoms of depression. Craving extra food due to depression leads to weight gain, while other patients experience a loss of appetite and lose weight quickly. Sleep problems are the other strong physical symptoms of depression. Some patients may be tormented with insomnia, while others will sleep long hours. Body aches, headaches, dizzy spells and digestive problems can also indicate depression, but they are not among the disorder’s defining symptoms.

Even with a complete understanding of depression, self-diagnosing yourself is unreliable. People with depression cannot accurately recognize the severity of their symptoms, while people who simply feel down may overstate the scope of their own problems. There is great value in getting a professional diagnosis for depression. If depression turns out not to be present, another treatable disorder, such as bipolar disorder, may be uncovered.

A person who feels down can move forward emotionally without help. However, someone with depression becomes stuck in a recurring pattern of depression symptoms. If you or someone you know shows signs of depression, then call our helpline to learn more about diagnosis and treatment. Seek help to recover from this problem.

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