The Connection between Behavioral Addictions and Substance Use Disorders

The Connection between Behavioral Addictions and Substance Use DisordersBehavioral addictions, such as an addiction to gambling or shopping, are characterized by consistent compulsions to participate in certain behaviors, regardless of the consequences. Those with behavioral addictions often face several damaging personal characteristics and emotions that may lead them to use substances. Sometimes, the substance use becomes another compulsion, while in other cases the substances are used to cover up these feelings. Regardless of the specific reason, co-existing behavioral addictions and substance use is a harmful combination.

Impulse Control Issues

Impulsivity, the key component of behavioral addictions, is the predisposition toward unplanned reactions despite the possibility of negative consequences. Reduced impulse control is a constant concern for those suffering from behavioral addictions. In fact, the term “impulse control disorders” is often used synonymously with behavioral addictions. By consistently giving into impulses, those with behavioral addictions reduce their ability to overcome such impulses in the future, creating a dangerous spiral of behavior.

Those with one specific behavioral addiction often end up with several addictions, as one behavior may not satisfy the addict’s emotional needs. These people turn to the next available impulse, which may take the form of drugs or alcohol. This co-existing addiction problem is damaging to the familial, social, occupational, and personal aspects of the addicts’ lives. Ultimately, poor impulse control for a behavioral addict can lead to incredible emotional struggles that may instigate further substance use.

Shame and Guilt Issues

Emotional struggles for those with behavioral addictions often include feelings of shame and guilt. These two connected yet distinct, emotions can lead an addict to grow progressively worse or to turn down the prospect of recovery. Furthermore, shame and guilt can lead a behavioral addict to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol as a means to overcome such painful feelings.

Shame occurs when people feel bad about themselves, the things they have done, or the way people perceive them. Feelings of shame have a dangerous impact on a person’s recovery prospects. According to a 2005 published study at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) and George Mason University reveals that shame is the emotional component of addiction that prevents them from expressing their problems.

Guilt, on the other hand, may actually be beneficial if it leads the addict to seek treatment. However, guilt is often not enough to bring an addict into treatment. When a person consistently feels guilt without acting on it, it may damage his self-esteem. People who experience this often end up feeling like they are bad people or that they are too weak to do anything about their behaviorally addictive problems.

Whether they occur simultaneously or individually, shame and guilt are often the triggers that lead a behavioral addict to abuse substances. However, the substance use and abuse ultimately contribute to worsening feelings of guilt and shame, therefore worsening the initial issue at hand.

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