According to the World Health Organization, one in every eight Americans suffers from an addiction.

When most people hear the word addiction, they think of dependence on a substance such as alcohol or drugs. This makes sense as according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2019 an estimated 20.4 million Americans age 12 or older had a significant problem with alcohol or drugs.

However, drugs are not the only things Americans abuse or to which they are addicted. Simply substitute the word "behavior" for "substance" and you open up the definition of addiction to many types of dependencies.

The American Psychiatric Association describes addiction as “a complex condition; a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive behaviors despite harmful consequences.” Whether it's drugs, the internet or gaming, the need to experience the desired effect becomes so strong that the individual loses the ability to control their behavior and seeks the activity in spite of all negative consequences.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, which is used to diagnose mental and chemical disorders, outlines a new definition of addiction. This definition includes a diagnosis for non-substance addictions, including internet use, as well as other behaviors over which an individual has lost power. According to Vertava Health article "The most common behavioral addictions," the following is a list of the common behavioral addictions for which people often seek professional support:

  • Eating and food addiction
  • Shopping addiction: About 6% of the U.S. population has a shopping addiction, which usually begins in late adolescence according to SAMHSA
  • Alcohol: WHO states that alcohol causes 20-30% of worldwide incidences of cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, vehicle accidents, murder, liver cancer and esophageal cancer
  • Smoking: Tobacco is responsible for causing the most health damage in the world. According to SAMHSA, 1.3 billion people die every year due to illnesses related to using tobacco
  • Drugs: Both illegal drug use and prescription medications are on the rise around the world according to SAMHSA 
  • Exercise addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • TV addiction
  • Social media and Facebook addiction: According to WHO, prior to the need for distance learning, teens spent up to nine hours a day on screen time and children age 8-12 spent four to six hours a day in front of a screen.
  • Risky behaviors
  • Internet addiction: Internet gaming disorders were recognized by WHO as an official diagnosis in 2018.
  • Work addiction
  • Gambling addiction: According to YouthGambling.com, 4-7% of teens exhibit gambling addiction behavior
  • Internet: Addiction research indicates that 1.4-17.9% of adolescents around the world are addicted to the internet
  • Plastic surgery/body enhancement addiction

According to a Healthline article dated Sept. 28, 2020, general signs of a potential behavioral addiction include:

  • spending large amounts of time engaging in the behavior
  • urges to engage in the behavior even if it negatively affects daily life, responsibilities or relationships
  • using the behavior to manage unwanted emotions
  • hiding the behavior or lying to other people about time spent on it
  • difficulty avoiding the behavior
  • irritability, restlessness, anxiety, depression or other withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit
  • feeling compelled to continue the behavior even when it causes distress

As with chemical addiction, many different factors can contribute to behavioral addictions. There are various treatment methods for a behavioral addiction that are similar to treating an alcohol or drug addiction. Treatment approaches can vary, but talk therapy is usually the first recommendation.

A type of therapy known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is often most helpful for behavioral addictions. This, combined with more productive coping skills, can reduce the need for addictive behaviors.

Experts continue to learn about how and why addiction happens, but one thing is clear: Addiction is treatable.

Carmen Morrow is School District 423’s chemical health intervention specialist. You, Your Kids & School is a twice-month-column from School District 423.