When most people hear the word “addiction”, they think of drugs and alcohol. And while it’s true that substance abuse is a widespread issue in the U.S., there are many different types of addiction that can all prove harmful to individuals and families in their own ways.
It’s important to remember that the American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction in all forms as a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Many people who find themselves addicted to something don’t always know quite how it happened, or why, but there is likely an underlying reason. For some, feeding their addiction makes them feel whole because of a negative experience in the past. Filling that hole inside themselves becomes the most important thing, and friends and family can get lost along the way.
It can be difficult to pinpoint an addiction, but in general, repeating a behavior that is detrimental to one’s health and well-being or that causes issues with loved ones can be defined as an addiction. Here are some of the more surprising things a person can be addicted to.
Spending money on clothing, furniture, jewelry, and other goods can be fun, but when a person begins racking up credit card debt and spending cash that could be used to pay bills or finance other necessities, that could be a sign of addiction. Some big spenders love the feeling that shopping gives them because it reminds them of happier times; others do it out of the fear that they will have to “go without”, especially if they grew up without means. Still others have an addiction to shopping because they suffer from mood disorders. If you believe a loved one has a shopping addiction, you can help by offering to help them plan a budget to pay off their debt and teach them how to shop responsibly, such as making out a list before they go into a store and sticking to it, rather than impulse buying.
Many people who suffer from a sex addiction have a deep fear of being alone and use sex and physicality to get close to people they don’t know well. For some, sex addiction can be dangerous, especially if reckless behavior caused by substance abuse is also introduced. For others, the addiction can lead to marriage and other family issues. Feelings of shame and self-loathing are common in those who have an addiction to sex, so it’s important to reach out if someone you care about feels driven by physical compulsions, and let them know there are ways to get help if they want it.
Gambling addictions can be difficult to conquer, in part because the parts of the brain that feel fulfilled by gambling are the same ones that take pleasure in drugs and alcohol. Whether it’s from a casino, scratch-off lottery tickets, Bingo games, or betting on sports events, gambling can become addictive very easily for some people and can quickly become detrimental to relationships, home life, and even employment, and some addicts find it impossible to quit on their own because of the temptation to go bigger in order to reap a bigger reward.
“People will get inured to the high of gambling at a certain point and need to gamble with bigger bets and riskier betting options. When people try to stop, they go through withdrawal, with insomnia, agitation, irritability, and a feeling of being ill at ease, similar to what we see in some substance abuse disorders,” says Jon Grant of the University of Chicago.
Help is available to anyone who feels their life is moving beyond their control. If someone you love is at risk from addiction, let them know they are not alone and that things can get better if they’re willing to try.