Otherwise known as impulse control disorders, behavioural addictions are addictions in which a person compulsively undertakes a certain action or behaviour on a repeated basis. The repetition of the action or behaviour takes place with a total disregard of negative consequences that may impact a person's well-being, health or financial situation. Unlike a drug or alcohol addiction, there is no particular substance that the person is addicted to. Instead, they are addicted to performing the behaviour and the reward system that takes place within their brain when they perform a certain action.

Just like a substance addiction however, addictive behaviour can take its toll on a person's life and become all-consuming to the afflicted person and to loved ones around them. If you or someone you love has a behavioural addiction, it is important to seek help and treatment as soon as possible. At Rehabs UK, we can help with behavioural addictions. If you have ever wondered what is an addictive behaviour, and how can you become addicted to a behaviour, this guide should have the answers you need.


The study of behavioural addiction is still relatively new, and while there isn't a specific list of behavioural addictions that are determined as such, there are many kinds of activities that can result in addiction. These range from fairly harmless activities such as shopping and cleaning, to those with dangerous financial and personal consequences (such as gambling and sex). In theory, it is actually possible for a person to become addicted to any type of activity, while other people may engage in a potentially addictive behaviour time and again, without actually becoming addicted to it. What causes a behaviour to become an addiction is the associated dysfunction of the brain's reward centre that is linked to the repetition of the behaviour. Any behaviour that a person finds impossible to stop, while being aware of its potential to cause psychological and physical harm, may be seen as an addiction.

The exact causes of behavioural addiction are not known, and the way an addiction affects a person can vary. In every person though, there are usually certain factors that contribute to and exacerbate the development of a behavioural addiction, including genetic, mental and environmental elements. Over time, the persistent engagement in the addictive behaviour causes the brain's reward system to change, so the person needs to continuously repeat the behaviour to get a release of dopamine. If the behaviour doesn't occur, then dopamine levels fall, so the behaviour needs to be engaged in again so that the brain's reward system can normalise itself.