Types of Addiction

We usually think of “addiction” as the compulsive use of alcohol and other drugs. But humans can get addicted to anything that spikes the reward chemicals in our brain: social media, online shopping, gaming and gambling can all be addicting and carry many of the same downsides. Here are some of the most common behavioral addictions.
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The terms "addiction," "chemical dependency," "substance abuse," and "substance use disorder" are often used interchangeably in reference to the compulsive use of alcohol and other mood-altering substances, whether they’re prescribed and taken legally or illegally. But most professionals now use the term "substance use disorder" to describe the disease more broadly and without any stigmatizing language.

Of course, addiction isn’t confined to psychoactive drugs like alcohol and marijuana: a person can become psychologically dependent on a behavior, like shopping, gambling or gaming.

The Neurobiology of Addiction Applies to Other Stimulating Behaviors

Since 1956, addiction has been classified as a disease by the American Medical Association. And the American Society of Addiction Medicine describes addiction as "a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry." 

Since then, much research has been conducted in order to understand the neurobiology of addiction—how the brain and limbic system are affected by addiction, the role of genetics and family history, and the interplay between different neurotransmitters, hormones and chemicals. 

Some behaviors like sex and exercise trigger a flood of dopamine in the brain, much like alcohol and marijuana. Although this brain chemical is naturally produced, humans can become psychologically dependent on the stimulating effects of their favorite exercises or activities, sometimes turning a habit or hobby into something else entirely.

Other Types of Dependence: Compulsive Behaviors and Process Addictions

Although the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation focuses mostly on alcohol and other drug addiction and mental health disorders—offering inpatient and outpatient treatment for substance use disorders, as well as outpatient mental health services—there are compulsive behaviors that also require intervention and treatment, especially when they’re causing negative consequences in a person’s life. In some cases, these compulsive behaviors are referred to as "process addictions."

Some common traits across addiction and compulsive behaviors or “process addictions” include:

  • The belief that happiness depends upon the "drug of choice" or behavior
  • Relationships suffer because of compulsive use or behavior
  • The mind and body develop a tolerance to said substance or behavior
  • Withdrawal symptoms develop when a person quits their compulsion
  • A person loses control over their substance or behavior despite obvious signs that they and their loved ones are suffering 
  • The most common types of "process addictions,” compulsive behaviors and behavioral health conditions include: 
  • Exercise addiction: Exercising too frequently and to the point of injury, refusing rest between workouts
  • Body dysmorphic disorder: Obsessing over bodily perfection, becoming preoccupied with perceived physical defects
  • Food addiction: Overeating or undereating to the extreme detriment of one’s health
  • Gambling addiction: Risky and compulsive gambling despite negative consequences to a person’s mental and financial health
  • Video game addiction: An obsession with video games, often to the detriment of one’s personal life, hygiene, and work/school goals
  • Smartphone addiction: Compulsively checking a smart device, becoming anxious without their device and ignoring loved ones while they’re on their device 
  • Love and relationship addiction: Unhealthy and destructive relationship patterns, including the tendency to jump quickly from one relationship to the next or to have multiple relationships at one time
  • Self-harm addiction: Continually and compulsively causing physical pain to one’s self in order to mask emotional dysregulation
  • Sex addiction: Having compulsive sexual thoughts or participating in compulsive sexual activity, alone or with others, despite harmful consequences
  • Shopping addiction: Shopping and spending money regardless of the financial means or consequences
  • Social media addiction: Obsessively scrolling, posting and checking for post interactions on social media
  • Work addiction: Compulsively pursuing recognition, approval and success in the workplace, leading to a loss of emotional, mental or even physical health. 

Like other chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma and hypertension, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. And like other chronic diseases, addiction can be successfully treated and managed. Whether you are addicted to a substance or you have become dependent on behaviors that negatively impact your life, there are treatment options that can help you quit.

Learn more with our What You Need to Know series. This program is ideal for educating patients and their families, school faculty and staff, behavioral and mental health professionals, and more.