Addicted to a Behaviour?

What if giving into temptation was just part of normal, daily?

And what if it wasn’t just food and drink but prescription drugs, sex, gambling, shopping, the Internet, and relationships that called one to compulsive, out-of-control behaviour, resulting in negative lifestyle consequences?

There is evidence that addiction to compulsive behaviour involves similar brain mechanisms to those that operate in drug and alcohol addiction. The ‘dopamine reward pathway’ is an instance in which a feel-good neurotransmitter is released during pleasurable behaviour. It leads to the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated, and eventually becoming a habit.

What to do?

Use these questions to identify risk of becoming addicted to a certain behaviour:

  • Has your job performance suffered due to your behaviour?
  • Do you feel out of control?
  • Did you ever engage in it longer than you had planned?
  • Have you ever engaged in it to escape worry or stress?
  • Has it caused you to have difficulty sleeping?
  • Do you spend less time with family or friends because of it?
  • Has it caused difficulty in relationships?
  • Do you get upset at yourself for engaging in it?
  • Do you feel guilty or ashamed about it?

(Five or more ‘yes’ answers may mean the person has an addiction to a specific behaviour.)

Tips for change:

  • List all the good things about the behaviour. Then list all the less good things about it. What do you notice about the two lists? How do you feel about what you notice? What actions can you take to promote change?
  • Think about the last time it occurred. What happened just before? Does a specific emotion/thought make you want to engage in it more than other thoughts/emotions do? What alternative behaviours would serve you better when you have these thoughts/emotions?
  • What are the usual consequences this kind of behaviour? Do you feel relief or embarrassment? How did others react?  What happened afterwards?  Thinking ahead to the probable consequences may lessen the urge.
  • ‘Surf the urge’ – remember that they come and go. Urges gradually decrease over time if not given in to.
  • Be aware of not setting yourself up for a high-risk situation. For example, buy only one bottle of your favourite wine to keep in the house or leave the credit card at home when you go shopping.

 (this article is based on information from ‘Mindfood’ Dec 2010)

Art work by Jennifer Bedford, go to –


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