What are the Differences Between Chemical Addiction and Behavioral Addiction?


What are the Differences Between Chemical Addiction and Behavioral Addiction?

Although there are many different types of addiction, they can be sorted into two categories: behavioral or chemical. Regardless of what drives the addiction, there are some common elements, including changes in how the brain’s reward system functions, cravings for the substance or behavior, loss of interest in other activities, and not being able to stop the behavior or using the substance.

Related: What Causes Addiction?

What is a Chemical Addiction?

When most people think of addiction, they think of abuse of, or dependence on, substances like alcohol or drugs. Common substances to be addicted to are alcohol, opioids (illicit and prescription), cannabis, nicotine, amphetamines, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Addiction to substances like these constitutes a chemical addiction, and symptoms of addiction can range from mild to severe, including:

  • Intense cravings that interfere with your ability to think about other things.
  • Increased tolerance – you need more of the substance to experience the same level of pleasure.
  • Emotional discomfort, characterized by uneasiness or panic, if you are unable to access or use the substance.
  • Risk-taking behaviors like driving while under the influence.
  • Difficulty managing responsibilities at home, work, or school.
  • Conflict in relationships due to substance use.
  • Loss of interest in activities.
  • Not being able to stop using the substance or experiencing withdrawal after stopping

What is a Behavioral Addiction?

Behavioral addictions are not as clearly defined as chemical addictions. Mental health professionals have struggled with what types of behavior can lead to an addiction and defining at what point the behavior becomes addictive. Although, there are only two types of behavioral addictions officially recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – gambling and internet gaming disorder – other behaviors like shopping, exercise, food, sex, and social media are some that individuals might seek treatment for. General symptoms of behavioral addiction include:

  • A disproportionate amount of time spent on the behavior.
  • Desire to engage in the behavior, despite negative consequences.
  • Behavior is used to cope or avoid negative emotions.
  • Lying about the behavior or the time spent engaging in the behavior.
  • Trouble stopping the behavior or experiencing emotional discomfort when trying to stop the behavior.
  • Compulsion to continue the behavior even when there are negative consequences.

Advanced Addiction Treatment

Wellbridge Addiction Treatment Center’s patient-centered approach using scientifically-validated treatment methods puts us at the forefront of addiction treatment and recovery. Learn more here.