Addictive behaviors are actions beyond conscious control that are constantly repeated by a person who is dependent on a chemical substance or activity. Addictive thoughts or obsessions are often at the basis of addictive behaviors. The person feels compelled to seek out alcohol, drugs or a certain activity even if he wants to stop doing so, and even if his obsession interferes with his career, relationships and/or health. He cannot control his addictive behaviors, and he may deny that they exist or that they are having a bad effect on his life.
Another symptom of addictive behaviors is loss of control. For example, a gambler may tell herself she is stopping after her first loss of the evening or a smoker may pledge to just have one cigarette, but the gambler keeps going all night and the smoker goes through an entire pack. Other symptoms include hiding the activity from family and friends, depression, low self-esteem, and the sense that you are wasting time or ruining your life, but yet you cannot stop. People can have addictive behaviors centered around any number of things, including drugs, alcohol, gambling, binge eating, sex or even shopping.
When a person has addictive behaviors and is not physically dependent on a chemical substance, therapists say that he is “psychologically dependent”. Psychological dependence may be a form of physical dependence in the sense that the person keeps repeating an activity because it produces endorphin activity in the pleasure centers of his brain, and some scientists believe that such an individual can become physically addicted to his own brain chemicals. Addictive behaviors may also have a genetic component. Those who have been abused as children or experienced other traumas or who suffer from depression are more likely to become addicts.
Physical dependency occurs when the person has become biochemically dependent on using alcohol or certain drugs, whether illicit or prescription. Without her chemical substance, she will not feel normal, and she will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Very often the person will have to go through chemical withdrawal under medically supervised conditions. People with addictive behaviors often have to go through treatment programs, psychotherapy and/or 12-step programs to overcome them.