Substance Abuse vs. Behavioral Addiction

Substance abuse is not the only type of addiction. Behavioral addictions can be just as debilitating, albeit more difficult to recognize.

Substance abuse and addiction are among the biggest behavioral health challenges facing society today. Since substance abuse is one of the most deadly types of addiction, it often gets the most attention. However, substance abuse is not the only type of addiction. Behavioral addictions can be just as debilitating, albeit more difficult to recognize.

How are substance abuse and behavioral addiction similar? How are they different? If you or someone you know is having issues with substance abuse and addiction issues, it is critical to understand these differences so you can seek the right treatment.

What Is Substance Abuse?

According to information published by the National Library of Medicine, substance abuse refers to the “excessive use of a drug in a way that is detrimental to self, society, or both.” This refers to both physical dependence and psychological dependence. Both are common features of substance abuse.

Different drugs can cause different types of dependence. A physical dependence means the use of a drug has altered an individual’s physical state so that it results in withdrawal symptoms if the drug is no longer used. Examples of drugs that can cause physical dependence are opioids and alcohol. Psychological dependence is the intense need to take a drug in the absence of physical dependence. An example of a drug that can cause psychological dependence is cannabis.

Substance abuse can present in people in different ways. Some of the most common signs of substance abuse include:

  • A need for an increased amount of a drug to achieve the same effect, usually known as tolerance
  • If a substance can lead to physical dependence, withdrawal symptoms can occur when the drug is no longer being taken
  • Investing significant amounts of time, energy, and money to obtain the drug, despite of the harm it causes to oneself or others
  • Significant disruption to work, school, and relationships

Examples of common substances that are abused include opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, and alcohol. It is important to identify substance abuse issues promptly so that the individual can get help.

What Is Behavioral Addiction?

Behavioral addiction is similar to substance abuse in that it leads to a short-term cycle of reward that could cause similar consequences. However, behavioral addiction does not necessarily involve the use of a drug. According to information published by the National Library of Medicine, “the essential feature of behavioral addictions is the failure to resist an impulse, drive, or temptation to perform an act that is harmful to the person or to others.” Further, continued engagement in these behaviors can significantly interfere with other areas of life, including the ability to maintain employment or relationships.

There are several examples of behavioral addictions that could have a negative impact on someone's life, including:

  • Gambling
  • Playing video games
  • Eating disorders, including binge eating or food restriction
  • Excessive media use
  • Sex addiction
  • Addiction to physical exercise

Even certain criminal behavior could be categorized as behavioral addictions. Kleptomania is one of the most common examples, which refers to someone compulsively stealing the same object over and over again. These compulsive behaviors give an individual a short-term high, similar to substance abuse.

Similarities and Differences Between Substance Abuse and Behavioral Addiction

There are a lot of similarities between substance abuse and behavioral addiction. According to the NIH, “many people with behavioral addictions report an urge or craving state prior to initiating the behavior, as do individuals with substance use disorders prior to substance use.” In addition, both substance abuse and behavioral addiction target the brain’s reward center, placing someone in a positive feedback loop where they engage in potentially dangerous behaviors to achieve a physical high.

Another similarity is the impact it can have on someone's relationships. Both behaviors are harmful not only to oneself but also their family, friends, and colleagues. Relationships often deteriorate when someone is struggling with substance abuse or behavioral addiction.

There are some significant differences between substance abuse and behavior addiction. While substance abuse involves the use of drugs or alcohol, these substances do not have to be used for someone to have a behavioral addiction. Behavioral addiction can also be more challenging to identify as it may not result in physical changes, unlike substance abuse.

Furthermore, the treatment plans for substance abuse and behavioral addiction can vary significantly. While both may require support groups, psychotherapy, and pharmacological treatment, treatment should be tailored to the needs of the individual. For these reasons, it is important to rely on a professional who can help someone manage the symptoms of substance abuse and behavioral addiction while focusing on the recovery process.

Contact MATClinics for Help With Substance Abuse and Addiction Issues

If you or someone you know is having issues with substance abuse and addiction, seeking treatment is crucial. MATClinics provides medication-assisted treatment for people struggling with a wide variety of substance abuse. We always customize our addiction treatment plans to meet your needs, and we work hard to get to the root cause of the issue while also minimizing complications and side effects. Contact us today to speak to a member of our team, and let us help you get on the road to recovery.

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