Beyond Drugs and Alcohol: Understanding Non-Substance Addictions


People often have the belief that addiction simply involves drugs and alcohol. They may think of homeless people taking heroin or another powerful and harmful substance when someone mentions addiction. This is far from the full story of addiction.

While many do become addicted to substances, even more people develop non-substance addictions, which can be just as mentally, physically, socially and spiritually harmful as drugs and alcohol. In this article from PRAJNA BAli, we dive into the most common non-substance addictions, and advise you on how you can overcome yours.

Types of Non-Substance Addictions

This section is a non-exhaustive list of some of the non-substance addictions that people often develop. There are far more addictions that are not contained within this list.

Exercise Addiction

Exercise addiction, also known as “Excessive Exercise Syndrome” or “Exercise Dependency Syndrome” is a psychological disorder characterized by extreme obsessive-compulsive behavior towards physical activity. While some may think of exercise addiction as simply enjoying working out too much, it can actually be a serious mental health disorder.

It is characterized by an excessive drive to exercise, often at the expense of other activities and important life obligations, such as relationships and work. Exercise addiction is associated with a feeling of guilt or anxiety when not exercising, leading people to prioritize physical activity over everything else.

People with exercise addiction may overexert their bodies by engaging in high-intensity activities and often times engage in extreme dieting. This can make them prone to injuries, fatigue, and other health issues caused by overtraining. Exercise addiction is usually accompanied with a distorted body image, where individuals strive for an unrealistic physique or weight.

Although exercise addiction is not classified as a diagnosable mental disorder, it can be just as damaging to someone’s health and well-being as other forms of addiction. Treatment typically includes cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, and creating a healthy relationship with exercise through moderation and balance.

Technology/Social Media Addiction

Technology addiction, also known as “Internet Addiction Disorder” or “Digital Dependency Syndrome” is a psychological disorder characterized by an uncontrollable obsession with using technology and engaging in online activities. Technology addiction can include overusing social networks, text messaging, gaming, streaming video services, and other forms of digital media. It is becoming increasingly common as technology becomes a larger part of our everyday lives and can be just as damaging to someone’s overall health and well-being as any other type of addiction.

People with technology addiction often feel an overwhelming urge to constantly check their phones, computers, or other devices for updates and notifications. They may also experience feelings of guilt or anxiety if they are not able to engage in online activities. Technology addiction has been linked to depression, isolation, lowered self-esteem, and other mental health issues.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are psychological disorders characterized by an unhealthy obsession with food and weight. Eating disorders can range from anorexia and bulimia to binge eating disorder, food addiction, and other forms of disordered eating. Common signs and symptoms include self-starvation or overeating, body image distortion, anxiety around food, and using exercise as a form of punishment.

Eating disorders not only affect one’s physical health but can also wreak havoc on one’s mental and emotional well-being. People suffering from an eating disorder may feel ashamed of their habits or overwhelmed by the urge to control their food intake. Eating disorders are often linked to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and other mental health issues.

Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is a psychological disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to gamble and take risks. People with gambling addiction may feel the need to participate in activities like betting, lotteries, sports betting, and other forms of gambling on a regular basis. Gambling addiction can be just as damaging to someone’s health and well-being as any other type of addiction.

People with gambling addiction often feel an overwhelming urge to engage in risky behaviors and may become desperate for money to fuel their habit. Gambling addiction has been linked to depression, anxiety, financial hardship, and other mental health issues.

Sex Addiction

Sex addiction is a psychological disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to engage in sexual activities. People with sex addiction often feel compelled to act out sexually, regardless of the consequences. Sex addiction has been linked to depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and other mental health issues.

Causes and Risk Factors

There are a number of different risk factors for both substance and non-substance addictions. Often, people who have problems with addiction have more than one of these risk factors.

Genetic Factors

Research has shown that genetics may play a role in the development of non-substance addictions. A person’s genetic makeup can affect their brain chemistry and structure, which can lead to an increased susceptibility to addiction. There are certain traits and behaviors that can be passed down from generation to generation, making it more likely that an individual will develop a non-substance addiction. For example, studies have shown that people with family members who have gambling addictions are more prone to developing a gambling addiction themselves.

Environmental Factors

The environment in which a person grows up can also be a major factor when it comes to developing non-substance addictions. If a person is regularly exposed to negative or chaotic environments, it can lead to heightened levels of stress and risk-taking behavior. Additionally, certain environmental factors such as poverty, exposure to trauma, and lack of access to resources can increase the chances that an individual will develop an addiction.

Psychological Factors

Psychological factors can also play a role in the development of non-substance addictions. People who are prone to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues may be more likely to turn to addictive behaviors as a way to cope with their distress. Additionally, individuals who have difficulty regulating emotions or managing stress can often find themselves turning to destructive behaviors in order to cope.

Social Factors

Social factors can also be a contributing factor when it comes to developing non-substance addictions. Individuals who lack social support or connection may turn to addictive behavior as a way of connecting with other people and finding acceptance. Additionally, peer pressure and the influence of friends and family members can also increase an individual’s risk of developing an addiction.

Underlying Triggers and Emotional Drivers Behind Non-Substance Addictions

Non-substance addictions can be driven by a variety of underlying triggers and emotional drivers. 


Oftentimes, people develop unhealthy habits or behaviors as a means to cope with unresolved trauma from the past, such as physical or emotional abuse, neglect, poverty, or exposure to family dysfunction. In these cases, addiction can take root as a way of numbing out harmful memories and feelings, or providing a sense of control.

Chronic Stress and Anxiety

People who suffer from chronic stress or anxiety may also be more vulnerable to non-substance addictions. This can be because they are seeking comfort in familiar behaviors, hoping to experience some temporary relief from the discomfort they feel on an ongoing basis. It is not uncommon for people to use the “high” that comes from engaging in a particular activity as an escape from their troubles and stressors.

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can also be at the root of non-substance addictions. When people don’t feel adequate or capable, they may turn to compulsive behaviors such as overspending, hoarding, or gambling in order to feel validated. They may also use external rewards such as praise or recognition – which can become an unhealthy obsession if left unchecked.

Lack of Purpose in Life

For some people, non-substance addictions can be linked to unfulfilled desires and a lack of purpose in life. If they feel that they are not living up to their potential, or that they don’t have direction in life, it can drive them to engage in obsessive activities as a means of self-gratification. This type of addiction may also be rooted in perfectionism – seeking validation through external measures of success or approval.

Signs and Symptoms

If you believe that a loved one is suffering from a non-substance addiction, take a look at these signs and symptoms. This list may also be helpful for you if you believe that you have an addiction problem. If after reading this list you are still unsure of whether you have a problem, contact PRAJNA Bali. Our team will be happy to discuss with you whether you have a non-substance addiction.

Behavioral Indicators

When it comes to identifying potential signs and symptoms of non-substance addictions, there are certain behavioral indicators that can often point towards a possible addiction. These could include an increase in the amount of time spent engaging in the activity or hobby, neglecting other activities or responsibilities to make time for the activity, increasing the intensity or risk of the activity, and irrational or compulsive behaviors related to the addiction. In some cases, individuals may become defensive or secretive when asked about their involvement in a certain activity.

Cognitive Indicators

In addition to behavioral indicators, there are also cognitive signs that can indicate an addiction is present. These could include difficulty concentrating on anything other than the activity or hobby, difficulty remembering important information related to life demands and responsibilities, preoccupation with the activity or obsession to “get it right”, and feeling out of control when attempting to stop the activity. It is also common for individuals suffering from non-substance addictions to experience cognitive distortions such as “all-or-nothing” thinking, catastrophizing, and filtering out positive experiences.

Emotional Indicators

Individuals struggling with a non-substance addiction may experience emotions related to their addiction that are difficult to manage or control. These could include feelings of guilt or shame surrounding the activity, increased irritability and anxiety when attempting to abstain from the activity, and a persistent feeling of emptiness or dissatisfaction. It is common for individuals with non-substance addictions to experience extreme highs and lows associated with their activities.

Physical Indicators

Physical indicators can also provide clues as to whether an individual is struggling with a non-substance addiction. These symptoms may include physical exhaustion from too much activity, changes in appetite and weight, sleep disturbances, headaches, nausea, or muscle tension. In some cases, individuals may also experience an increase in health problems related to their addiction such as injuries associated with extreme sports or repetitive stress disorders caused by excessive gaming.

Effects on Mental Health and Wellbeing

Non-substance addictions can have a disastrous effect on mental health and wellbeing. And as with substance addiction, non-substance addiction can cause a feedback loop where those who are addicted feel emotional suffering due to the consequences of their addictive behavior, then engage with this addictive behavior more to attempt to numb how they feel.

Non-Substance Addictions and Depression

People struggling with non-substance addictions often feel depressed. This may be due to the fact that these addictive behaviors can lead to feelings of guilt, shame and a sense of helplessness. People who are addicted to activities such as gambling, shopping or sex may feel overwhelmed by their addiction and may lack motivation. This can lead to low-self esteem, feelings of worthlessness and depression.

Non-Substance Addictions and Anxiety

Non-substance addictions can also lead to anxiety. People struggling with these types of addictions often experience high levels of stress. They may be consumed by the need to engage in the activity and may become overwhelmed with worry about when they will next be able to do it. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, restlessness and general unease.

Non-Substance Addictions and Stress

The impact of non-substance addictions on stress levels can be profound. People who are addicted to activities such as shopping, gambling or sex may find that the need for their addiction takes over, leaving them feeling overwhelmed and out of control. This can lead to high levels of stress which, if not addressed properly, can spiral into a mental health crisis.

Non-Substance Addictions and Other Mental Health Disorders

Non-substance addictions can also be linked to other mental health disorders. People struggling with these types of addictions may find that they become increasingly isolated, and may struggle to cope with day to day life. This can lead to a range of issues such as low self esteem, mood swings, and even suicidal ideation.

Treatment and Recovery

The PRAJNA Bali approach to treating non-substance addictions is like no other. With an emphasis on understanding the physical, mental and emotional aspects that lead to addiction, we are able to create a holistic treatment plan tailored to the individual’s needs.  Our treatment is designed to help individuals address the underlying causes of their addiction and develop a deeper understanding of themselves, so they can make lasting changes in their life.

Our approach to treatment includes a range of therapeutic and counseling options, including individual and group therapy sessions, mindfulness practices and self-care techniques. PRAJNA Bali’s team of professionals is dedicated to providing compassionate and effective care, so that you can find lasting freedom from addiction.

At PRAJNA Bali, we understand that addiction affects people from all walks of life. That’s why we strive to create a supportive, judgment-free atmosphere, where each person can feel comfortable working towards their goals. Our team is committed to helping individuals create positive and healthy changes in their lives, and rebuild their relationships with themselves and others.


Addiction extends far beyond drugs and alcohol. There are a massive number of behaviors that people can become addicted to. When people become addicted to these behaviors, they can cause just as much suffering, inner turmoil and outer degradation.

Fortunately, help is available for all addictions. Many of our staff at PRAJNA Bali have first-hand experience with addiction, and know the shame, guilt and despair that can come with behavioral addictions. And we also know what it takes to break out of the cycle of these addictions.

If you would like to know more, please contact us today.