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Are These 7 Things Really as Addictive as Drugs?

When you think about the disease of addiction, images of illicit drugs or empty whisky bottles likely come to mind. But addiction isn’t limited to these substances. In fact, experts have determined that humans can become addicted to anything that has the potential to relieve stress or discomfort.

People are naturally drawn to activities that produce feelings of happiness or euphoria—especially if the gratification is immediate. Shortly after the “high” wears off, feelings of remorse and guilt come flooding in. In an attempt to escape the comedown, people grow dependent on the behaviors or substances that offer relief. Before you know it, you’re locked in the vicious cycle of addiction.

From food to video games, millions have developed dependencies outside of drugs and alcohol. Here’s a look at seven of those unique addictions and the dangers they pose.

1. Fast Food Addiction

Obesity has become an epidemic in the United States. It’s fairly common to hear stories on the evening news about overweight people permanently bedridden or the spike of health problems brought on by obesity. Turns out some of the blame can likely be placed on an addiction to fast foods.

The combination of salt, sugar and fat can create cravings and urges that are eerily similar to drug addiction. The primary problem is sugar, which the US National Library of Medicine says “can not only substitute to addictive drugs, like cocaine, but can even be more rewarding and attractive.”1

2. Love Addiction

Love is a tricky thing. One day it can be thrilling and completely uplifting. In the blink of an eye, however, love can be one of the most painful and wretched feelings you’ve ever encountered. Sometimes, the pull of love can be so strong that you’re willing to follow it to the point of personal ruin. Sounds a lot like addiction, huh?

According to research published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, the cycle of emotions brought on by love – the flip-flop between ecstasy and desperation or the longing and damaging actions taken in the name of love’s loss – clearly bear a resemblance to the emotions we associate with “conventional” addictions. In fact, the similarities are so striking that a number of scientists now firmly believe both love and drug addiction rely on similar—if not completely identical—psychological, chemical and neuroanatomical processes.2

3. Plastic Surgery Addiction

People obsessed with having a “perfect” body or looking like a certain celebrity take things to another level with plastic surgery. Unlike a chemical addiction to heroin or cocaine, plastic surgery addiction is a mental obsession that drives people to constantly alter their bodies.

Addiction to plastic surgery is brought on by underlying insecurities and the driving obsession to achieve a skewed perception of beauty. Most people can undergo one surgery and walk away satisfied. Men and women who compulsively go “under the knife” are obsessed with body modification. What’s more, there are precious few regulations in place to limit the number of plastic surgery procedures someone can have. These addicts could undergo 100 surgeries and it would never be enough … just like an addict can never get his or her hands on enough drugs.

4. Shopping Addiction

A shopping addiction is characterized by excessive time and money spent on shopping, lying about the activities and hiding purchases. Back in 2006, a Stanford University study3 found approximately 6% of Americans struggle with shopping addiction, but a subsequent 2008 study in the Journal of Consumer Research found the problem had grown to include 9% of the population.4

Shopping addicts experience a high or sense of euphoria from buying things. It’s similar to when an individual with a substance abuse problem uses his or her drug of choice.

Shopping addiction also brings on feelings of helplessness, emptiness, anger, depression and the dire need to establish a sense of control. When you’re addicted to shopping, you purchase frivolous things and feel exceptionally guilty about it later.

5. Internet Gaming

Addiction to online gaming is a relatively new diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous. Kimberly Young, Psy.D., clinical director of the Center for Internet Addiction says compulsive gaming absolutely meets the addiction criteria. In fact, Young has personally witnessed the severe withdrawal symptoms experienced by game addicts.

Unlike substance abuse, we don’t yet understand the biological aspect of video game addiction. “Research suggests gambling elevates dopamine, and gaming is in the same category,” says Young. “Even with alcohol, it’s not just physical. There’s a psychological component to the addiction, knowing ‘I can escape or feel good about my life.'”5

6. Exercise Addiction

For many people, the idea of being addicted to exercise sounds outrageous. The U.S. is currently fighting its own obesity battle, so exercising should be celebrated, right? Well, not so fast.

Pushing your body to perform rigorous exercise is one of the best ways to signal your brain’s release of endorphins—the same neurochemicals triggered by drugs and alcohol. The resulting endorphin boost makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. Why else would it be called a “runner’s high?”

Research from Brazil’s Universidade de Sao Paulo found that 10% of high-performance runners and 10% of body builders are addicted to exercise.6 These addicts generally work out for more than two hours a day and many opt out of work or school in order to exercise.

7. Compulsive Lying

Since chemical dependency is based on instant gratification and reward center properties, the act of compulsive lying falls squarely under the addiction umbrella.

Just like any other addiction, compulsive liars feel a sense of reward after telling half-truths or bona fide yarns. The pleasure gleaned from lying causes euphoric physiological changes in the brain and body, making the act dangerously appealing and extremely addictive. Once the compulsion and cravings kick in, lies are fabricated without provocation.

The ways in which addictive drugs and compulsive lies are able to alter neurotransmission demonstrates that the two have more in common than originally assumed.

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