People deep in the throes of an ill mood might be told to get up, get out and do something. Sitting alone in the dark might make a foul mood even worse, while exercising, meeting new people or playing a game might help the dark mood to lift. In general, doing something is considered preferable to doing nothing at all. However, there are times in which people become hooked on actions. Specifically, there are times in which people develop very persistent cases of addictions, and the target of their obsession is a behavior that most people would consider healthy or even normal.
Behavioral experts suggest that people can develop unhealthy attachments to any type of behavior that produces joy and not pain. For adults, common targets for addictions include:
- Falling in love
- Keeping the home clean
People who engage in these activities might be rewarded by the outside world for their participation. Each time they head to work, they might receive praise for their dedication from happy coworkers. Each time they finish a run, they might feel a little boost of endorphins. The sparkling countertops in their homes might inspire envy from friends and neighbors, who are willing to share their compliments publicly. Each time a positive outcome like this takes place, the brain emits a signal of pleasure. It’s a bit like a bookmark, reminding the cells of the good that once came out of the action. In time, people can become chemically addicted to those bookmarks, and their behaviors may take a turn for the worse.
More Than Time
When discussing a behavioral addiction like this, it’s common for experts to discuss how long the person spends engaged in the behavior each day. In an article regarding an exercise addiction, in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, experts posit another view. Here, they suggest that the feelings that drive the behavior, and the feelings the behavior bring about, are more important in terms of addiction. Some people can spend hours each day in the pursuit of something and not be of concern to addiction experts at all. It’s the dangerous feelings that merit alarm.
People with addictions to behaviors don’t engage in these acts because they enjoy them. In fact, they may not enjoy them at all.
People with exercise addictions, for example, might run on broken bones or lift weights when their muscles scream in agony. People with work addictions may never take a vacation, and they’re always worried about the tasks they may have left undone. Those with love addictions may always be looking for the next partner, never enjoying the one they have. Similarly, addictions like this also tend to cause people difficulty when they attempt to curb their behaviors. They may feel ill or unable to cope unless these actions are a part of their life, and they may be unable to control their return to the activities. They may not love what they do, but they may be unable to stop.
People with positive addictions like this can develop them in response to all sorts of triggers, including:
In addition, some people develop addictions like this in response to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 2 percent of the American population will have this disorder at some point in life, and it’s characterized by compulsive acts that might be considered positive addictions. People with OCD might be compelled to clean their homes endlessly, for example, or they might organize the files at work over and over again. On the surface, they’re doing something helpful. Deep down, it’s harmful.
Help Is Possible
People with addictions like this may find it hard to control their behaviors without help, but a therapy program can work wonders. Intensive programs may help people to examine the source of their behaviors, and learn how to handle those triggers without engaging in endless repetitions of the same activity. In time, with hard work, these people may learn how to handle their triggers without harming themselves in the process. The results can be remarkable. For example, in a study in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers found that 73 percent of people who got help for a shopping addiction were in remission a year later. They had decreased the amount they spent, and their debt loads went down. They still shopped, of course, as they needed to do this activity to keep the household stocked with food and other necessities, but their behavior was under control.