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AQA A-Level Psychology Topics - Addictive Behaviour

AQA A-Level Psychology Topics - Addictive Behaviour

AQA A-Level Psychology Topics: Psychology in Action – Addictive Behaviour

AQA A-Level Psychology Topics: Addictive Behaviour

Another post in our series of blogs on Psychology A-level topics, today we consider psychology in action, specifically addictive behaviour.

Addiction can occur in many forms. Often, it is assumed that physical dependence characterized by withdrawal symptoms is required in order for someone to be diagnosed with an addiction disorder, but the fact is that behavioural addiction can occur with all the negative consequences in a person’s life minus the physical issues faced by people who compulsively engage in drug and alcohol abuse. It is the compulsive nature of the behaviour that is often indicative of a behavioural addiction, or process addiction, in an individual.

The compulsion to continually engage in an activity or behaviour despite the negative impact on the person’s ability to remain mentally and/or physically healthy and functional in the home and community defines behavioural addiction. The person may find the behaviour rewarding psychologically or get a “high” while engaged in the activity but may later feel guilt, remorse, or even overwhelmed by the consequences of that continued choice.

Unfortunately, as is common for all who struggle with addiction, people living with behavioural addictions are unable to stop engaging in the behaviour for any length of time without treatment and intervention.

Though almost everyone engages in all of the following – shopping, gambling, and certainly eating and exercise – to a certain degree and may even enjoy the behaviour very much, it is not termed an addiction until the following is true:

·         The person struggles with mental health or physical health issues as a consequence of the behaviour and/or the inability to stop.

·         The person has difficulties in significant relationships at home and, in some cases, at work because the behaviour is so disruptive.

·         The person experiences other negative consequences that are directly caused by continued, extreme, or chronic engagement in the behaviour. For example, a person with a gambling addiction may gamble away the house, lose a job, and be forced into bankruptcy due to the extreme nature of the gambling.

·         The person is unable to stop engaging in the behaviour despite these consequences.


Most people engage in hundreds of different behaviours throughout the day, each one with its own set of consequences. In general, people make choices about which behaviour to engage in next relatively thoughtfully and with the intent to improve their experience.

For example, if you are hungry, you may choose to get a healthy snack that will not only satisfy your hunger but also give you energy to continue your day. However, someone who is living with a food addiction may choose to eat even when not hungry and may binge eat unhealthy foods in large amounts. Though this is an unhealthy choice, many people can and will overeat, or eat when they aren’t hungry, and do not struggle with a food addiction. When the behaviour becomes impulsive in nature and begins to contribute to the development of a range of physical and mental health problems and the person is unable to stop, it is termed an addiction.

Does this mean that you can be addicted to any behaviour?

It is a question that fuels an ongoing debate. Many do not feel that characterizingbehaviour as an “addiction” is correct; they believe that a little self-control is all that is needed.

Unfortunately, the fact is that if a little self-control were the only issue, then people struggling with behavioural addictions would certainly stop engaging in their behaviour of choice long before it harmed their physical health, ended primary relationships, and caused a host of financial, legal, and mental health problems.

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