If you’re struggling with addiction, it is essential to understand the distinction between substance and behavioral addictions. While both can be damaging and challenging to overcome, they have distinct causes and require specific treatments.

Substance and Behavioral Addictions

The most widely recognized type of addiction is substance addiction. Another term for this is substance use disorder (SUD). This addiction type involves the misuse of drugs or alcohol and the physical dependence that develops as a result. Substances used can range from illegal substances like cocaine and heroin to prescription medications like opioids and benzodiazepines. SUD can be caused by many factors, including genetics, environmental influences, and psychological factors.

Behavioral addiction, on the other hand, is less well-known. However, it can be just as destructive as substance addiction. This addiction type involves a dependence on certain behaviors. Behaviors like gambling, sex, or shopping can activate similar reward centers in the brain as drugs or alcohol do. Like substance addictions, behavioral addictions can lead to serious life consequences. For example, gambling addiction can lead to severe financial issues. Sex addiction damages relationships and can put people’s health at risk.

It is essential to note that not all behaviors are addictive. While many people enjoy playing video games, not everyone who does is addicted. Behavioral addiction occurs when a behavior becomes compulsive and disrupts daily life.

The Substance and Behavioral Cycle of Addiction

Both substance and behavioral addictions share a similar cycle of addiction. It consists of three stages: binge/intoxication, withdrawal/negative affect, and preoccupation/anticipation.

#1. Binge/Intoxication Stage

In this stage, an addict engages in addictive behavior. This could include using drugs or alcohol, gambling, or engaging in other compulsive behaviors.

During this period, they experience intense pleasure and a reduction of pain. Unfortunately, the neurochemical changes that produce this enjoyable experience reinforce the behaviors that preceded them. This makes the addiction more difficult to stop.

#2. Withdrawal/Negative Stage

During the withdrawal/negative affect stage, people experience negative symptoms when not engaging in addictive behavior. These withdrawal symptoms could include physical manifestations like shaking and sweating as well as psychological ones like anxiety and depression.

To escape these unpleasant symptoms, people are tempted to engage in their addictive behavior again. This is one reason professionally supervised detox is often necessary to get people through the withdrawal stage without relapsing.

#3. Preoccupation/Anticipation Stage

At this stage, people tend to spend a great deal of time thinking about and anticipating when they can engage in their addictive behavior again. They may obsess over when this will be possible again and plan their schedule around it.

Similarities and Differences in Substance and Behavioral Addictions

Substance and behavioral addictions are distinct, yet they can also be connected. For example, someone addicted to opioids may also engage in compulsive gambling to obtain money for drugs. Recognizing this connection helps the treatment providers at Dream Recovery to create a more comprehensive treatment plan for our clients.

Impact on the Brain

One similarity between substance and behavioral addictions is how they impact the brain.

Substance addiction directly affects reward centers in the brain by flooding them with dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and reward. Over time, however, the brain becomes dependent on substance production for dopamine production, leading to intense cravings when substances are not present in the body.

Behavioral addiction also activates the reward centers of the brain. Addictive behaviors can flood the brain with other neurotransmitters like serotonin and endorphins. These neurotransmitters are linked to pleasure and mood regulation. When released in large amounts, they too can cause pleasurable emotions and pain relief.

Treatment Methods

Understanding the differences between these addiction types is also helpful in recovery. One distinction between substance and behavioral addictions is how they’re treated.

Substance addiction typically requires detoxification, therapy, and support groups. Detoxing involves getting rid of addictive substances. This step can be dangerous if done without medical supervision. Therapy can help you identify the root causes of your addiction and develop healthier coping mechanisms. In some types of substance addiction, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is used in the early stages of recovery.

Behavioral addiction does not require substance detoxification. The main focus of treatment for behavioral addiction is therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly employed to help patients identify the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to their addiction and develop healthier coping mechanisms. In some cases, medication may also be prescribed to manage symptoms such as anxiety or depression.

Steps to Address Substance and Behavioral Addictions

The following steps can be used to help you recognize both substance and behavioral addictive tendencies. These steps are used during treatment at Dream Recovery.

Identify Your Triggers

Recognizing what situations or emotions tend to set off your addictive behavior can help you create strategies to avoid or cope with them. This can help you to recognize if specific situations or behaviors tend to influence a consistent actionable result, leading to a continuation of the cycle of addiction. When you know your triggers, you can better protect your sobriety.

Practice Self-Care

Addiction can have a devastating impact on both physical and mental health. To stay healthy, it’s essential to nourish yourself with nutritious meals, get enough sleep at night, and engage in regular physical activity. Self-care is vital when it comes to recovery. 

Establish a Support Network

Surround yourself with people who will help you with your recovery. This could include family, friends, or members of an online support group. Having like-minded individuals surrounding you can help you to overcome the addictive tendencies you are currently engaged with and set yourself up for long-term success. 

Set Goals

Setting achievable goals and objectives can help you stay motivated and focused on your recovery journey. Start small, then increase the difficulty as you progress. Use the SMART goal method to help you implement goals that you will be able to achieve.

Understanding the distinction between substance addictions and behavioral addictions is crucial for anyone struggling with addiction. When both types of addiction occur simultaneously, it is important to address both. Recognizing the cycles of addiction and their impact on the brain can help you identify the root causes of your addiction and develop healthier coping mechanisms. It is essential to seek professional help and create a support network to achieve long-term recovery. Addressing each addiction type can ensure that your treatment plan is personalized to your needs by acknowledging each addictive tendency that feeds into your substance use disorder. To learn more about the difference between substance and behavioral addictions, reach out to Dream Recovery today at (657) 216-7218.

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