Continuous intake of certain substances that leads to physiological dependence is termed as 'addiction' and independent of the social, financial and health costs; the definition of addicts was earlier restricted to people who were helplessly dependent on substances such as nicotine, alcohol, heroin or other drugs. Recently however, medical researchers and psychologists have come round to the view that addiction need not be limited to substances but can also include activities. This kind of addiction is also called behavioral or process addiction.
Medical researchers believe that behavioral dependencies can be classified as addictions because these exhibit the same core components that identify chemical or substance abuse. These core identifiers are mood modifications, tolerance, withdrawal and relapse. Behavioral addictions bring on mood changes by creating an exhilarated feeling or a 'high'; the tolerance factor means that the amount of time spent in the indulgence has to continually increases in order to result in mood modification; the withdrawal syndrome refers to the extremely negative physical and emotional reactions displayed by the addict when the behavior is discontinued; and, finally, the relapse symptom indicates the addict's failure to reduce or stop indulging in the activity.
Research has now established that in a substance addiction, what the body gets addicted to is not the abused chemical as much as the neurochemistry that the addiction triggers. In fact, the actual triggers of addictive disease are the modifications created in the body's neurochemistry by the abused substance and this is true of behavioral addictions as well. The expanded definition of addiction is based on the observation that when the addict indulges in an addiction, the brain is basically seeking a 'reward' and this reward can be a chemical substance or an experience. The need to repeatedly go through the experience results in the person becoming trapped in compulsive behavior
Behavioral addiction includes indulgence in gambling, shopping, sex, internet, television or even food. All these activities are part of life and do not have any negative impact in the normal course. For example an occasional visit to a casino cannot cause any harm, except maybe the loss of some money; but if a person engages in casino or online gambling very often and does so at the cost of his regular work, then there is definitely cause for concern. When such a person is unable to desist from gambling, despite knowing fully well that the habit can ruin his life, he is a behavioral addict. Television can be another source of addiction, making a person a couch potato, to the neglect of all other routine activities. Very often such a person knows that his indulgence is misplaced, wants to quit, but is unable to do so; in some cases, the television addict is just flipping channels and not watching anything in particular, but cannot bring himself to switch off and leave. It is this utter helplessness that is most characteristic of behavioral addiction. Other activities such as work, shopping, eating and sex, which are all necessary for a healthy life, take on the characteristics of addiction if indulged in excessively and without control; terms such as 'workaholic' and 'shopaholic' in fact are used to indicate such addictions. All these addictions ruin not only personal health or finances, but also have very adverse impacts on family, social and professional life.
The latest entrant to join this club is cyber-addiction or addiction to the internet, which is now affecting people of all ages. The internet has opened up such a vast, apparently infinite, virtual world that people are getting lost in its maze. Apart from addictive games and competitions, cyber world can also satisfy most of the other addictions online, is it gambling, shopping, television, sex or even work. Internet addiction at home and at the workplace is fast becoming a source of worry for families and employers. In addition to impairing vision and posture, internet indulgence can result in isolation and isolated behavior and with the increased reach of technology; more number of people are affected by this addiction at the same time and in future.