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What are Non-Substance Use Addictions?

What do you think of when you hear the word "addiction"? Surely, the first images that pop into your mind are of alcohol and drugs. But, in reality, there are many different types of addictions that plague people’s lives today. A non-substance use addiction may be described as “irresistible, repetitive, and harmful behavior.” Gambling, eating, and the Internet are all major non-substance use addictions. These addictions affect people of all ages.  Cravings, willingness to commit illegal acts, and increased interpersonal problems are just some examples of how non-substance use addictions affect people’s lives.

Treatment for non-substance use addictions is just as necessary as treatment for substance use addictions. If an individual has multiple addictions, it is important to address all of them in treatment. Treatment is seen to improve when all co-occurring addictions are treated because relapse in one pathological addiction is likely to trigger the recurrence of other addiction behaviors.

Gambling and Internet addiction are two of the most popular non-substance use addictions today. The combination of anonymity and easy access creates a lethal concoction when these behaviors become out-of-control.



Imagine a fluorescent-lit casino, decks of cards being quickly shuffled, and the sound of poker chips clapping together. This is what people typically see and hear when they think of gambling, right? The truth is most gambling is done on the Internet. Gambling is usually a fun, recreational activity, but when it becomes a tantalizing, pathological behavior the addict suffers severe consequences.

In the past, friends and family were easily made aware if someone they cared about was suffering from a gambling addiction. Now, the ease of gambling online creates many problems when one requires treatment for this addiction. The addict can hide behind his or her computer for hours at a time while bank accounts slowly leak. This can lead to many financial and interpersonal problems. Debt and bankruptcy are two common side effects of pathological gambling. The addict may resort to crime to pay off debt, preserve appearance, and make more money in order to continue to gamble.

What can we do when we recognize pathological gambling? Unfortunately, most gamblers do not seek treatment. When treatment is sought, behavioral interventions seem to work best. Self-exclusion and funds-management strategies help to maintain the individual’s abstinence from gambling. Gambler’s Anonymous (GA) is also a form of treatment in which the individual joins a self-help group for compulsive gamblers.


Internet addiction may come in many forms, including social media or gaming addictions. Individuals spend most hours sitting in front of their screens, completely encapsulated and mostly unaware of what is going on around them. Internet addiction affects many domains of one’s life. Similar to gambling addictions, interpersonal affairs decrease and worsen when one is addicted to the Internet. The lack of social interaction is hazardous to one’s social life and self-esteem. Depression, anxiety, and aggression are seen in individuals who spend unhealthy amounts of time on the Internet. Impulse-control is also low. Work, school, and the ability to take care of oneself are all realms that are drastically affected. Adolescents, in particular, are afflicted by Internet addictions due to the necessity of feeling like they must “keep up” with the latest social media trends or continue to play online games to beat the next level.

Treatment for Internet addiction includes seeking therapy or counseling. Mental health professionals can help build up effective and appropriate coping skills to manage one’s feelings when they spend time on the Internet. Although for other addictions, self-help support groups online may be effective, it is essential when dealing with addictions to the Internet to consult people face-to-face about the problem.


Ashley, L. L., & Boehlke, K. K. (2012). Pathological gambling: A general overview. Journal Of Psychoactive Drugs, 44(1), 27-37. doi:10.1080/02791072.2012.662078

Lim, J., Gwak, A. R., Park, S. M., Kwon, J., Lee, J., Jung, H. Y., & ... Choi, J. (2015). Are adolescents with Internet addiction prone to aggressive behavior? The mediating effect of clinical comorbidities on the predictability of aggression in adolescents with Internet addiction. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking, 18(5), 260-267. doi:10.1089/cyber.2014.0568

Martin, P. R., & Petry, N. M. (2005). Are Non-substance-related Addictions Really Addictions?. The American Journal On Addictions, 14(1), 1-7. doi:10.1080/10550490590899808

Potenza, M. N. (2009). Non-substance and substance addictions. Addiction, 104(6), 1016-1017. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2009.02619.x

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