Medically Reviewed

5 Most Common Behavioral Addictions

- 6 sections

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

When most people think of addiction, they think of habitual drug and alcohol abuse. However, there are common behavioral addictions that are just as rampant, if not more common than substance addiction. Similarly, behavioral addictions aren’t much less dangerous than substances, as the actions and thoughts of any kind of addiction can be destructive, manipulative, and ultimately harmful. 

Like substance abuse, people who suffer from behavioral addictions often require treatment to get better. Whether it is a substance, food, sex, gambling, or gaming, therapy is crucial for people to learn how to improve their lives. Here are 5 of the most common behavioral addictions. 


Social Media Addiction

We live in an inextricably interconnected digital world. Think about it: do you ever leave your house without your phone? Do you ever feel a sense of panic when you can’t find your phone? Most people carry their phones on them more often than not and smartphones carry immense information about our daily lives. Sure, they’re useful advancements, but some people get addicted to their phones – particularly social media apps. 

Social media isn’t just used as a social app – it’s used in marketing, businesses, fundraisers, fitness tracking, and so much more. As a result, we spend a lot of time on social media. For some, social media is extremely addicting and nearly impossible to give up. One study even found that the simple thought of not being able to check social media caused some people to break out in a cold sweat accompanied by nervousness and anxiety. In addition, researchers estimate that nearly 20% of people can’t go more than three hours without checking them without experiencing severe anxiety.[1]


Video Game Addiction

As little as 25 years ago, video games were only available at arcade machines. Now, pop into any home with a child or teenager, particularly boys, and you can expect to find some kind of gaming console in their home. Moreover, video games have become much more realistic over the years – featuring intriguing characters, complex storylines, and hyperrealistic graphics. However, parents face increasing problems with children and teens who spend a lot of their time gaming. In many cases, adolescents will sacrifice school work, family events, socializing with friends, and going outside to play video games. 

Experts estimate that up to 9% of gamers meet the suggested criteria for video game addiction.[2] You may wonder how this type of compulsive behavior is really harmful – but evidence shows that excessive gaming leads to behavioral problems, lying to loved ones, isolating from peers, and experiencing negative moods and feelings. Furthermore, these individuals spend most of their time gaming or thinking about gaming – so it encompasses their entire life. 


Food Addictions

Addiction to food, particularly binge-eating disorder, is a serious problem that affects 3.5% of American women and 2% of men, making it one of the most common behavioral addictions. This is about 3 times higher than the number of people affected by other disordered eating patterns, like bulimia and anorexia.[3] People who suffer from binge-eating disorder eat until they are uncomfortably full, hide the food that they eat due to feelings of shame, and feel as though they can’t control how much they are eating.

It’s easy to see why this is such a harmful addiction. Binge eating takes a serious toll on nearly every bodily system and is linked to health problems like type II diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, cancers, and more. Like substance addictions, many people with a food addiction eat to ease uncomfortable feelings – it’s a coping mechanism. However, the overall cause of eating disorders isn’t entirely known. 


Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is an impulse-control disorder that stops people from being able to control the desire to gamble even if it has provoked unwanted consequences. People may even continue to gamble when they are broke or know they are going to lose. This most common behavioral addiction is extremely similar to alcohol addiction in the way it affects a person’s life. As a result, many people who are gambling addicts also have mood disorders or substance use disorders. 

Like alcohol, gambling actually stimulates the brain’s reward system. It causes people to constantly chase their next win or “high.” Many people who experience this will attempt to hide their behaviors, drain their savings accounts, accumulate high debts, and even resort to risky or illegal behaviors in order to feed their gambling impulses.[4] In 2012, it was estimated that as many as 5.77 million people in the United States had a gambling disorder.


Sex Addiction

Finally, the last of the most common behavioral addictions is sex addiction. Although not formally classified as an addiction by the American Psychological Association, there are millions who experience this kind of addiction. In fact, it’s so prevalent that there are 12-Step groups called Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous that help treat people who experience this in a similar way that drug and alcohol addicts get sober.[5]

Statistics are fairly inconsistent when it comes to sex addiction because it can encompass many different types of sexual activities. However, the common factor is that a person with sex addiction will significantly change their life, activities, and hobbies in order to act out on their impulses. This can harm themselves, loved ones, and their overall quality of life. 


Should You Seek Help for Behavioral Addictions?

Behavioral addictions are a lot more common than you may think. Plus, there are many more types of behavioral addictions that aren’t on this list. If you think you are addicted to certain behavior and it is starting to cause negative effects on your health, relationships, and life in general, your best bet is to seek help. In most cases, this help involves therapy, counseling, and peer support – just like drug and alcohol addiction.