Are Behavioral Addictions “Real” Addictions?


Konkolÿ-Thege said it will also be important for future research to investigate whether it is the excessiveness itself or only the target of excessiveness that is transient. It may be that some people become excessively involved in a certain behavior to cope with a temporary crisis, and then cease the behavior once their situation improves, or it could be that they switch between various behavioral and substance addictions over time. That possibility is in line with the common observation in the substance addiction field that some people seem to “trade” one addiction for another.

Regardless of how behavioral addictions compare with substance addictions, they can undoubtedly have serious consequences in people’s lives and should be taken seriously. A 2014 review4 published in Current Pharmaceutical Design found that the adverse consequences of addiction to various types of sexual behaviors (such as excessive intercourse, masturbation and pornography use) are similar to those of other addictive disorders, which also often co-occur with sexual addiction.

“I would suggest that we need to start thinking about addiction more broadly as simply involving some kind of reward–if we do that, then it is easy to see how behaviors may be addictive,” says Hormes. With Facebook, for example, new posts and notifications are a type of reward that keeps people coming back for more, and this reward occurs on a variable interval schedule of reinforcement, which has been proven to be an especially powerful influence on habitual behavior–including gambling.

Though further studies should be conducted before formal treatment recommendations can be made, Hormes says her findings suggest that “we might be able to take existing treatment interventions targeting substance addiction and modify them to help those suffering from behavioral addictions.”

Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC, is a psychotherapist and freelancer writer based in Atlanta.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 2013; 5th ed. Washington, DC.
  2. Hormes JM, Kearns B, Timko CA. Craving Facebook? Behavioral addiction to online social networking and its association with emotion regulation deficits. Addiction; 2014; 109(12):2079-88.
  3. Konkolÿ-Thege B, Woodin EM, Hodgins DC, Williams RJ. Natural course of behavioral addictions: a 5-year longitudinal study. BMC Psychiatry; 2015; 15: 4.
  4. Karila L, Wéry A, Weinstein A, et al. Sexual addiction or hypersexual disorder: different terms for the same problem? A review of the literature. Current Pharmaceutical Design; 2014; 20(25):4012-20.