Compulsive Behaviours & Addictions


When we talk of addictive behaviour the subject often centres on drugs and alcohol. That’s understandable, given that the vast majority of people entering addiction recovery programmes are substance abusers. However, addiction goes far beyond things like heroin and cocaine. Addiction also includes compulsive behaviours.

A compulsive behaviour is one practiced by an individual persistently and with frequent repetition, often for no particular reason that seems obvious to others. Compulsive behaviours can include everything from excessive hand washing to never-ending housecleaning. Unfortunately, some compulsive behaviours can become addictive. Four of the most common examples are:

  • gambling

  • love and sex

  • Internet and gaming

  • co-dependency.

In order to understand how these compulsive behaviours lead to addiction, it is important to understand what goes on in the brain of an addict. It all comes down to the feelings of pleasure addictive behaviour generates.

When you and I do something that brings us pleasure, the actual feelings of pleasure are created by a release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for carrying electrical impulses to various parts of the brain. The more dopamine present, the more the individual experiences feelings of pleasure. In people who eventually become addicted to certain types of behaviours, those behaviours trigger the production of dopamine in the same way illicit drugs or alcohol do.

Before we move on to talking about the four behaviours listed above, we need to address what actually constitutes an addiction as opposed to just a compulsion. An addiction is clinically defined as any behaviour that is practiced compulsively despite clear knowledge that such behaviour will likely lead to undesirable consequences. This definition is the reason things like compulsive hand washing are not normally classified as addictions.


Gambling is something that goes on in nearly every country in the world. It takes the form of casino games, sports betting, home-based card games, and the like. Most of us can gamble responsibly from time to time without any risk of serious harm. However, for some people, the act of gambling becomes a real addiction.

Gambling addiction may start out as innocently as playing a couple of card games or betting on a race or two. If the individual loses enough money, he or she may decide to continue gambling in the hopes that they will win back what was lost. This cycle, if repeated often enough, can easily lead to addiction.

Love and Sex

The idea of being addicted to love and/or sex is foreign to many people. Nevertheless, remember, love and sex are both very pleasurable in the physical and emotional realms. It is not difficult to make that leap to addiction if behaviours in this arena are not controlled.

Unfortunately, love and sex addictions have noted a significant increase in direct relation to the amount of sexual material available online. Easy access to pornography, in the privacy of one’s home, only fuels the fire of sex addiction.

Internet and Gaming

The introduction of the Internet has been mostly good for modern society inasmuch as it allows for global communications at incredible speeds. However, unfortunately, the Internet has also become a vehicle for multiple new addictions. Some people are addicted to being online in general, while others experience a more specific addiction to social media, Internet gaming or other online activities.

Internet gaming is high on the list thanks to role-playing games that require near constant attention. We have heard stories about gaming addicts closing themselves in their rooms for weeks and months at a time. Gaming is definitely very addictive.


An addiction to co-dependency is especially troublesome because it requires the participation of others in order to be fostered. Too often friends and family members enable the co-dependent individual without knowing what it is they are doing. When co-dependency is eventually treated, it’s to see entire families receiving treatment simultaneously.

Treating Compulsive Behaviours

Now that you know a little bit more about behavioural addictions, you also need to know there is help available to overcome these issues. Just like addictions involving chemical substances, behavioural addictions can be conquered through psychotherapeutic treatments administered by trained professionals. Many of the clinics we work with have programmes set up specifically to deal with these types of addictions.

Treatment for compulsive behaviour begins with a psychological assessment aimed at determining the extent of the patient’s problem. That assessment is used to develop a treatment plan unique to the circumstances of that person. The treatment plan will likely include a variety of psychotherapeutic treatments designed to retrain the brain to think in different ways.

One of the more common treatments is something known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This therapy was originally developed to help those suffering from certain mental disorders. However, researchers quickly discovered it was very helpful as a treatment for addictive behaviour.

CBT is a goal oriented and time-limited therapy that does three important things:

  • identifies underlying issues that trigger compulsive behaviour

  • develops strategies to avoid compulsive behaviour

  • develops strategies to encourage healthy behaviour.

Other therapies used to treat behavioural addictions include things like 12-step participation and group support meetings. As long as patients are willing to commit themselves fully to recovery, the therapies generally have very good success rates. But remember, your commitment to getting and staying well is key to your long-term success.

Time to Get Well

We sincerely hope you understand that behavioural addictions are every bit as serious as chemical addictions. They can be just as harmful to your relationships, your finances, and your good health. Why risk ruining your life by continuing addictive behaviour that can never fully satisfy you?

There is help available. There is a way to break free from your behavioural addiction no matter what it is. Accessing that help begins by admitting you have a problem. Once you come to terms with that, the next step is to call our addiction helpline so we can arrange for professional treatment. Our addiction recovery specialists are available around the clock.