Early warning signs of four often overlooked addictions

Addictive behavior comes in many forms

We know about the more common addictions that affect people: alcohol, drugs like cocaine and heroin, nicotine, meth, and even gambling and pornography. However, there are some lesser known addictions that can have just as severeadverse implications on people’s lives. In fact, many individuals don’t even realize that the destructive behavior they observe is the result of an addiction, and therefore may not see that a person they love is heading down an insidious path toward self-harm until it’s too late.

"Although drug and alcohol addictions are among the most talked about, addictive behavior can also rear it's head in other areas.  Although not as dangerous as drug or alcohol addiction, these addictive behaviors can escalate and be destructive to the individual and their families," says Mike Karl COO of Summit Behavioral Health, NJ and MA addiction treatment centers.

What are some of these overlooked additions, and how can you spot them in yourself or in a loved one before they escalate and cause serious damage? Here are four of them, along with some early warning signs to watch out for.

1. Caffeine

Many of us have some form of caffeine dependency, and we’re reminded of that every time we’re forced to skip our morning cup o’ joe. Caffeine is a known stimulant;it gives us energy and elevates our mood so we can be happy and productive people. But when does the two-cup morning transition into a full-on addiction?

Sometimes, caffeine addicts will no longer be happy with coffee and will instead turn to drinking several energy drinks each day. Chronic insomnia is an initial indicator of caffeine addiction, since an addiction to consuming caffeine later in the day can keep you up at night. Stimulants like caffeine can also force lots of trips to the bathroom, as both the bladder and the bowels will be very active. Finally, when a caffeine addict goes without his or her fix, withdrawal symptoms can include severe headaches, exhaustion, achiness, nausea, and depression.

2. Exercise

This may initially seem like a good thing: we all need exercise, right? Yes, but when it becomes a compulsion, for whatever reason, it can cross the line to addiction. Some individuals become addicted to exercise because they crave the control it gives them over their own body. Others use it as a way to escape their problems or their responsibilities — and they’re often successful, since most people see the drive to exercise as a good thing. Finally, other people become hooked on the rush of serotonin and endorphins that comes from a high-intensity workout; they’re probably not the type to take drugs, but they’ll push their bodies to their limits in order to experience this more natural high.

As for warning signs, look for the person’s behavior to be completelyfocused around the exercise routine they’ve created. They miss social events or withdraw from their group of friends to work out, and skipping a day is never an option, even though most health professionals agree that a day or two off each week is beneficial. Many also become obsessed with their appearance, wanting to be thinner or more muscular, depending on what routines they have. Exercise addicts will also push through sickness and even injury to get their workout in; pain is never a deterrent or a reason to slow down.

3. Shopping

We joke about the phrase “retail therapy” — the idea of shopping as a mood enhancer or to make ourselves feel better. However, it becomes a shopping addiction when that once in awhile shopping spree turns into a very regular occurrence and provides a high, giddy feeling just from buying things. As with most addictions, the warning signs do escalate as it gets worse, but it initially starts with the person making purchases with no real purpose. There’s a certain compulsion about it; they just need to spend money and will often buy things they have no real use for.

As a shopping addiction gets worse, the person will start to spend beyond his or her financial means, and the idea of not being able to afford something is rarely a consideration. They often use credit cards, so the full impact of what they’re spending doesn’t truly hit them as it’s happening, though if the addict has no credit cards, he or she may resort to stealing money from loved ones. Shopping addicts will also shop alone many times, hide purchases to avoid being found out, and even try to return some things out of a sense of guilt. Some 12-step programs do exist to help people deal with a shopping addiction, though it’s also possible that a person’s shopping addiction is masking a more serious mental health issue, such as depression.

4. Social media

We love our smartphones; they connect us with the world, and no matter where we are, we’re never really alone. However, our ability to check our social media feeds anytime and anywhere — our Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and whatever other social networks we’re on — can sometimes turn into an addiction. Identifying social media addiction can be tricky, however, because many of us are guilty of at least one of these warning signs; however, when they start to compound, it may be a sign to step in and offer help.

A social media addict will check her or her phone quite literally every few minutes, even when there are other people around and even when he or she is at a social event. And the constant checking doesn’t stop at bedtime; an addict will even check his or her phone in the middle of the night. Severe FOMO, or fear of missing out, is also a sign, and an addict will become nervous when there’s no Wi-Fi or mobile signal. Oversharing details of one’s life is also a warning sign, and misunderstandings or sparring on social media can become real-life stressors. Finally, a social media addict will usually agree to stop looking at his or her phone so much, but will really struggle to actually engage with the real world.


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