All addictions have the same basic symptoms. Obsession, compulsion, loss of control, and continued use in the face of negative consequences are all hallmarks of addiction. People can develop addictions to substances, behaviors or activities. Some of these behaviors or activities may be normal, everyday occurrences such as eating or shopping, which can make it much harder to determine if there is a problem with addiction.

The model for addiction is changing. In the past, addiction simply referred to physical and psychological dependence on an addictive substance such as alcohol or drugs. Without physical dependence, there could not be a diagnosis of addiction. Further research has revealed that psychological dependence has much more to do with the equation than originally thought. Also, sugar has been shown to have a physically addictive effect, creating physical dependence as illustrated by the phenomenon of craving.

People may become physically and/or psychologically dependent on the following substances, behaviors or activities:

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamine
  • Marijuana
  • Shopping
  • Exercise
  • Overeating
  • Undereating
  • Work
  • Sex
  • Internet surfing

The reason that behaviors and activities can also become addictive is that they may create chemical changes in the brain that will cause craving. When someone engages in an enjoyable activity, chemicals are released in the brain which creates a feeling of euphoria. The person may then chase that feeling of euphoria, continually and repeatedly engaging in the behavior or activity searching for the high. Individuals often use certain behaviors as a way to cope with anxiety and depression as well, and they may overuse those behaviors or activities as a way to keep anxiety or depression at bay.

Looking at the list, you may wonder how an activity such as exercise, normally considered healthful, can become addictive. If you exercise to the point of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion or injury, experience extreme anxiety when you cannot exercise, or cannot function normally in the absence of exercise, you may be addicted to it. An activity or behavior becomes an addiction when it begins to produce negative consequences and you insist on continuing with the activity or behavior.

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