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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Can a Behavior be an Addiction?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 28th 2013

Can a Behavior be an Addiction?People become addicted to substances. People who abuse substances become addicted to such things as heroin, cocaine, crack, alcohol and others. The reason this happens is that the drug brings about changes in the brain that cause a physical addiction. As a result, it becomes extremely painful to stop using the drug. When users attempt to stop using on their own and without medical help, they experience serious withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, can a person become addicted to a behavior? After all, we speak of addiction to such behaviors as gambling, the Internet, and video games. This a controversial issue.

There is a lot of concern about children and their use of the Internet, so much so that parents and educators worry that kids are not learning to socialize.

Many parents are starting to enroll their children in classes for social skills because they believe Internet and video game addictions (screen additions) cause them to lack the communication and social skills necessary to function in school. Kimberly O'Brien, a child psychologist with Quirky Kid Clinic, says parents are concerned about the amount of time their kids are spending on the computer, electronic games and TV.

O'Brien says children's social skills need more work today due to the amount of screen time they spend on their Wii, PSP, X-Box and on the Internet, to name a few. Thankfully, children are so easily adaptable they can be weaned off of such electronics, according to an article on the Daily Telegraph. O'Brien says their clinic has a program for communication and social skills that teaches children how to interact with others by joining groups and learning such basic skills as taking turns.

However, are these children truly addicted as with chemical addictions? Certainly, the constant and repeated use of the Internet has a quality about it that is compulsive. The pattern of behaviors associated with these compulsions is very similar to that which addicts follow. It begins with the individual experiencing pleasure associated with a behavior. For instance, someone surfs the Internet to escape the reality of life and feels momentarily better for doing so. Because of the initial pleasure, he may seek out that behavior again and again. This pattern of using the Internet and feeling pleasure can become frequent just as drinking is for someone abusing alcohol.

Just as with chemical addictions, there can be withdrawal symptoms connected with putting an end to a behavioral addiction. An experiment was done in which those identified as addicted to the Internet had their usage interrupted after 15 minutes. When given post tests, it was revealed that the subjects experienced increases in anxiety and depression. The researchers caution that it is too soon to draw any conclusions and more research is needed. It seems to this writer that this is pretty good evidence that there is such a things as behavioral addiction. what is your opinion and do you have a child who is addicted to the Internet and games?

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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