Typically, when the word addiction is mentioned, most people think of an addiction to drugs or alcohol. In fact, that’s exactly how the mental health field has been categorizing addiction for the last 20 years, as seen the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
However, in May 2013, the most recent version of the DSM was, and it includes addictions not only to substances, but also to behaviors. In fact, it’s clear that addiction can take on other forms than those with drugs and alcohol. Truly, any behavior can become an addiction, particularly if an individual has lost power over it.
Addiction simply means that the activation of the brain’s reward system has been triggered. Although drugs and alcohol can have a physical and psychological addiction, it is possible to develop an addiction to other behaviors, especially those that give a teen a certain euphoria when engaging in that activity. For instance, the thrill of wining can fuel a gambling addiction. And the excitement of a sexual experience can contribute to a sexual addiction.
It’s when a teen begins to focus on that activity alone, an addiction may be settling in. And when an activity becomes the sole focus of a teen’s life to the exclusion of other life-activities, there’s a pretty good chance that a teen is addicted to that activity. Exposure to these behaviors, just as exposure to rewarding drugs, facilitates the brain’s reward process, or cycle, of addiction. For this reason, behavioral addictions, such as shopping and gambling, are also known as process addictions.
A process or behavioral addiction, as they are known in various settings, is characterized by:
- An inability to abstain from the behavior
- Impairment in behavioral control
- Craving or hunger for the behavior, just as one would crave drugs
- The diminished recognition of severe problems as a result of the repeated behavior
- A dysfunctional emotional response.
Here are common behavioral addictions that can be found among teens:
Research indicates that 1.4% to 17.9% of adolescents around the world are addicted to the Internet. However, addictions to Internet use are not as prevalent in the United States as they are in other countries. Typical signs that an adolescent has an Internet addiction include difficulty completing daily tasks, academic performance declining, losing track of time on the Internet, isolation from friends and family, and experiencing euphoria with Internet use.
When teens lose their ability to limit their playing and spending habits, an addiction might be setting in. According to YouthGambling.com, 4-7% of teens exhibit gambling addiction behavior, which include enjoying the rush of gambling; using the earnings of a win to stay in the game, versus walking away, and relies on loans from friends and families; doing anything to stay in the game and continue to gamble; focusing on winning big and will continue to play despite continued losses; and playing online, maxing out credit cards, if necessary, to continue to play.
An addiction with sex includes compulsive behavior where there is a loss of control and an adolescent spends large amounts of time engaging in sexual-related activity to the point where he or she is neglecting social, academic, or familial responsibilities. An addiction to sex includes obsessive thoughts about sex that disrupt functioning at school, home or at the work place; an inability to refrain from viewing pornography or engaging in sexual behavior; and avoiding time with friends or other typical teen activities to instead spend time on the computer or have sexual encounters.
This kind of addiction is known as omniomania. Sadly, of all the addictions, it is the most reinforced by the media, advertising, billboards, and consumerism in general. About 6% of the U.S. population has a shopping addiction, which usually begins in late adolescence. A shopping addiction becomes the main way a person might be coping with stress to the point when it becomes excessive, severely affecting finances, relationships, and functioning.
Another activity that can become an addiction is playing video games. This can be especially true if those games involve violence, which in turn can create feelings of euphoria and excitement. If a teen begins to rely upon the thrill of playing video games to the exclusion of developing other areas in their life, there might be an addiction. There might be a compulsive need to continue to participate in those activities because of the psychological dependence that develops.
It’s common for teens to admit what they would like to change about themselves, whether it’s losing weight, changing their hair color or even having plastic surgery to correct what they believe to be a flaw. Some teens have a belief that they are ugly or deformed in some way, when in fact they look normal. And this belief can contribute to an addiction to plastic surgery. If surgery gives a teen a pleasant experience about themselves, they may grow dependent upon future surgeries to feel good about who they are.
There are various treatment methods for a behavioral addiction that are similar to treating an alcohol or drug addiction. There are also rehabilitative centers that focus strictly on behavioral addictions. If you are a caregiver or parent, seeking assistance from a mental health professional can help break the cycle and facilitate recovery for a teen, regardless of the addiction type.