Addictive behavior is any activity, substance, object, or behavior that has become the major focus of a person's life to the exclusion of other activities, or that has begun to harm the individual or others physically, mentally, or socially.
A person can become addicted, dependent, or compulsively obsessed with anything. Some researchers imply that there are similarities between physical addiction to various chemicals, such as alcohol and heroin, and psychological dependence to activities such as compulsive gambling, sex, work, running, shopping, or eating disorders.
Compulsive behaviors are rooted in a need to reduce tension caused by inner feelings a person wants to avoid or control. Compulsive behaviors are repetitive and seemingly purposeful and are often performed in a ritualistic manner.
These behaviors may involve sex, food, making excessive charitable contributions, caffeine, nicotine, gambling, spending, TV watching, Internet surfing, reading, cleaning, washing, drugs or alcohol. The key point is that the activity is not connected to the purpose it appears to be directed to, and is likely to be excessive. Examples could be a person who is afraid of bonding with a partner choosing to zone out with the TV, or a person who has never had enough love filling up on a gallon of ice cream.
It is thought that these behavior activities may produce beta-endorphins (see Neurobiological basis of addiction) in the brain, which makes the person feel "high." Some experts suggest that if a person continues to engage in the activity to achieve this feeling of well-being and euphoria, he/she may get into an addictive cycle.
In so doing, he/she becomes physically addicted to his/her own brain chemicals, thus leading to continuation of the behavior even though it may have negative health or social consequences. Others feel that these are just bad habits.
Addiction differs from compulsion in that it inevitably escalates. A web of deceit , cover-ups, and detachment from a sense of self escalate. Harmful consequences can be external, e.g. loss of job, car crashes – or internal , e.g.. detachment, depression, lack of ability to feel or concentrate. There may also be physical consequences such as illness, hypertension and memory loss.