Types of Teen Behavioral Addiction

Typically, when someone speaks of addiction, most people think of drugs or alcohol addictions. In fact, that’s exactly how the mental health field has been categorizing addiction for the last 20 years, as seen the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the manual clinicians use to diagnose and understand the symptoms of their clients.

Teen Behavioral Addiction

However, in May 2013, the American Psychological Association published a new edition of DSM. This fifth edition includes a non-substance addiction diagnosis, for gambling, but also for any behavior that an individual has lost power over. Previously, gambling or other addictions were categorized under Impulse Control Disorders. However, the recent version of the DSM now places non-substance addictions under a catchall category called “teen Behavioral Addiction, Not Otherwise Specified (NOS)”.


Despite the recent recognition in the new DSM, behavioral addictions are still seen by some clinicians as not constituting as a traditional addiction. This continues to be an issue of controversy within the mental health field. Nonetheless, below is a list of various types of behavioral addictions along with a description.



Research indicates that 1.4% to 17.9% of adolescents around the world are addicted to the Internet. However, teen internet addictions are not as prevalent in the United States as they are in other countries. Typical signs that an adolescent has an Internet addiction include difficulty completing daily tasks, academic performance declining, losing track of time on the Internet, isolation from friends and family, and experiencing euphoria with Internet use.



When teens lose their ability to limit their playing and spending habits, an addiction might be setting in. According to YouthGambling.com, 4-7% of teens exhibit gambling addiction behavior, which include enjoying the rush of gambling; using the earnings of a win to stay in the game, versus walking away, and relies on loans from friends and families; doing anything to stay in the game and continue to gamble; focusing on winning big and will continue to play despite continued losses; and playing online, maxing out credit cards, if necessary, to continue to play.


An addiction with sex includes compulsive behavior where there is a loss of control. An adolescent spends large amounts of time engaging in sexual-related activity to the point where he or she is neglecting social, academic, or familial responsibilities. An addiction to sex includes obsessive thoughts about sex that disrupt functioning at school, home or at the work place; an inability to refrain from viewing pornography or engaging in sexual behavior; and avoiding time with friends or other typical teen activities to instead spend time on the computer or have sexual encounters.



This kind of addiction is known as omniomania. Sadly, of all the addictions, it is the most reinforced by the media, advertising, billboards, and consumerism in general. About 6% of the U.S. population has a shopping addiction, which usually begins in late adolescence. A shopping addiction becomes the main way a person might be coping with stress to the point when it becomes excessive, severely affecting finances, relationships, and functioning.


The reason for the recent change in the DSM stems from a new definition of addiction. The DSM explains that the activation of the brain’s reward system is the key to drug abuse problems. It’s true that behavioral addictions follow a cycle that is similar to an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Although drugs and alcohol can have a physical and psychological addiction, it is possible to develop an addiction to other behaviors. And any activity that become the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities. According to the American Psychological Association, there is evidence that points to behaviors, such as gambling.  It has the same high, or rush in the brain that is similar to the use of drugs. In that way, addictions can resemble the physiological symptoms that the use of drugs and alcohol might create.


There are various treatment methods for a teen behavioral addiction that are similar to treating an alcohol or drug addiction. There are also rehabilitative centers that focus strictly on behavioral addictions. Truly, one can have an addiction to anything. If the psychological cycle of highs and lows exist, an addiction might be present which can lead to detrimental consequences. For this reason, seeking assistance from a mental health professional can help break the cycle and facilitate recovery, regardless of the addiction type.