Behavioral Addictions: Is It an Addiction or Just a Demanding Hobby?

Behavioral addictions are complex animals. Unlike drugs and alcohol, many common addictive behaviors are things you have to do as part of everyday life – sex, shopping, surfing the Internet, for example. Others, such as playing video games, are not compulsory, but are certainly not inherently harmful. There's nothing wrong with dedicating yourself to a pursuit you enjoy, but it can be tough to discern whether you have an addiction or are just passionate about a hobby. 

Hobbies: Voluntary Pursuits 
  • Ultimately, what differentiates a hobby from an addiction is that hobbies are voluntary. Of course, if you're passionate about your hobby, you may feel compelled to do it, and could even go through “withdrawal” when you have to take a break from your hobby. Hobbies, though, are fulfilling in their own right, not something you do to get a high or because you feel like you must do them to feel normal. Still not sure? Your favorite activity is probably a hobby if: 
  • Your time spent on the hobby is similar to that of other hobbyists. For example, if the average video game player spends 20 hours a week and you spend 25, you're probably not addicted. 
  • You enjoy the activity for its own sake. With an addiction, people tend to engage in the behavior to get relief from painful feelings or withdrawal. 
  • Your loved ones have not expressed concern that you are an addict. 
  • You are able to delay time on your hobby when you have something else to do. 
  •  Your hobby is not the only thing you spend your time doing. 

Addiction: Something You Have to Do 
Addictions are characterized by compulsive behavior. A person addicted to video games, for example, plays not because they like the game, but because they feel anxious and restless when they can't indulge their addiction.

Behavioral addictions are characterized by a cycle of euphoria followed by shame. Some other signs that you're an addict, not just a hobbyist, include: 
  • You get anxious or depressed when you can't indulge your addiction. 
  • You don't particularly enjoy the activity when you're doing it, or you feel guilt and regret when you're done. 
  • Your hobby harms you. For example, if you lose your job because you spend too much time playing video games, you probably have an addiction. 
  •  You spend much more time on your hobby than other hobbyists do.
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  • What if I go through cycles of hobbies -- doing nothing but that hobby for hours and hours and days on end, neglecting a lot of other stuff, up to the moment where eventually, I shake myself and do something else... and then this something else becomes my new obsession for a few days, to the detriment of anything else.

    Is that addiction? Just a slightly obsessive personality? I'm not sure about it...
  • Some might call it passion (they always say it's passion when it's productive). Doing counterproductive things or stuff that society norms as out of normal them means it's addiction. The line is pretty thin..
  • I really like the way you present this question, where do we draw the line. For example, I love tennis, am I addicted to it? I think that addiction is usually to something bad, but anything in excess can be considered bad as well, for all in life we need a balance. 
  • I find myself in the video games category. I have periods in the winter where I just sit and play world of warcraft after work. I do not enjoy going outside, do not enjoy partying or anything in the winter. Just sitting at home in my warm room and playing some video games. So yea, some could call it a mild addiction.
  • I think I would have liked to have heard a better definition of what constitutes the things we do for hobby. Video games are good, and I am sure coin collecting might be a hobby, but is sewing a hobby or working out a hobby? Or are these more of the things we do to give ourselves a better life?

    The reason I ask this is because I think there is a fine line in the meaning of what a hobby is. I like to sew, and I do it for leisure as well as do it because I have to do it. I do not always enjoy sewing things, it can be a chore. But I like nice clothes and cannot always afford new things, I have to repair what I have, take it in, re-hem whatever it needs.   Same thing with working out- I work out at least a minimum of 4 times a week. It is something I feel I should do to stay healthy, I will reschedule sessions on occasion for things like weather and other obligations, but usually that time slot remains a priority. I have to admit with working out especially I can feel anxious if I miss to many days. I have never lost a job because of it, but I have decided not to participate in certain job activities that conflict schedule wise. I do stress over certain aspects of working out because well... they are hard.  Does that make me addicted to working out or just health conscious?

  • Addiction is never a good thing. Becoming addicted to something is unhealthy for your mental health because it can actually change your mood if ever you can't get something you're addicted to. It could affect your attitude and personality, so it's dangerous to actually become addicted to something.

    Try to take breaks from something and to not get too attached to a certain hobby.
  • I think addiction and passion are very very different.  Passion would always bring something positive, while addiction tends to be self-destructing.  I think that's the main thing to check.  If a person is engaging in something so passionately, but is not really generating anything positive from that experience, then yes, it can be considered an addiction and needs to be corrected. Passion towards a hobby should bring the best in a person, not otherwise.
  • @sunnydaze. i think sewing and working out are hobbies...i think when we spend time doing things we like, they are hobbies. i don't think you are addicted to working out...probably just health conscious. maybe we overthink some things. :)  
  • @bellejoie Actually, your description is EXACTLY why I am on this site. I do the same thing, and —personally— I think you hit the nail on the head when you say...   "neglecting a lot of other stuff"  Example:  if I am in the zone working, or anything else I decide to obsess over at that particular time...   I will not do dishes...   bathe...   brush my teeth...   eat well...  work out or anything else that is considered to be a healthy, vital part of living!   
  • It's going to vary person to person. But I don't think it's unheard of at all that it counts as an addiction
  • @BrokenandBeautiful : Yup, exactly this! I use apps like HabitRPG to keep track of what I generally think I should be doing in a day, but this does not stop days from going by and leaving me with the queasy feeling of having done nothing -- and not having done any essential things! I got it a bit under control with having "absolute minimums". For instance: 150 minutes of exercise (moderate) a week, not negociable. And when I have at least one pillar, like this one, it's easier to carry out on a roll -- because whatever I'm binging has to stop to make way for at least some sport; and from then on, I write myself a schedule (yes, I fill out the next three hours in chunks) dictating myself a bunch of tasks that i WILL do from 17.00 to 17.15.

    That's the only way I found so far that really fights my inertia off. I'm hoping it will become an habit, otherwise, I might be screwed.
  • Thank you so much for sharing this and I know it's really helpful to read this and realize certain issues that go on with behavioral addiction. I know I'm guilty of it and struggled with it, especially the video games one or going to something that comforts me, I really hope I could get out of it because I have OCD and it really is bothering me.
  • Well, @bellejoie, I will take all the tips I can get, because I WILL overcome this!  We are not screwed! :) I refuse to believe that though, seriously.  One of my closest friends was able to overcome a meth addiction, so if God (who she credits) will do it for her...  I see no reason that He will not heal us!   Believing for a miracle, sista, but so appreciative of this site.  I have heard that the only way to stop a bad habit is to create a new one, so this site is giving me things to try (like what you mentioned above).  I have been doing something similar (making lists in the morning), but I just realized I need to put time limits on myself.  
  • @BrokenAndBeautiful : Well, I don't believe I'm screwed, or that anyone is. I don't believe in God, though I do believe that part of my problem is not having a strong goal/purpose - I have created different new habits, and they are nice and there's a complete list of new habits I'm proud and grateful to have incorporated into my life -- but I also strongly believe that these habits should somehow be oriented towards a greater goal, something very meaningful that you could spend your whole life doing, in a way. I am not sure I have committed any path for myself, and I think that it's still good to work on different aspects of myself to have some "bases" to grow upon... but I probably need more drive and self-confidence to truly throw myself into life instead of just being consumed by it.

    I'm happy to hear about your friend, too! I am sure you will figure out more and more where to get yourself to, this site really has plenty of good ideas and is good for discussion, too!
  • This is a good distinction that is made here, what is an addiction and what is a hobby. I prefer to see a hobby as something healthy while an addiction actually harms us and those around us. 
  • @bellejoie I have very much felt that way lately, too.  I have been working hard on daily lists, but I really should start writing some long-term goals down, too.  I have dreams, for sure, but I read a book one time that said if you do not write your goals down...   they will remain just that...  dreams.  Have you ever watched the 'Secret?' It is on Netflex.  I found it very inspiration.  I even have a vision/dream board now.  :) 
  • @brokenandbeautiful : I wish I had tangible goals or dreams to orient towards. Now, my goals are small (better myself -- my character as much as what I can do) but every step forward does boost my self-confidence. I'd like to do a master degree in literature one day, but since I have not narrowed anything down, I have no clue where to start, so to say. Have not seen (nor read) The Secret -- I don't think I fall within the target audience somehow. But a vision board sounds pretty cool!
  • I am now addicted to writing, so don't feel like you HAVE to read all of this @bellejoie. lol  Guess this is a sign that I need to finish those books!  lol!  

    When someone told me to watch the 'Secret' years ago, I was literally making this vision board with mansions, and stuff, like making fun of the documentary at the time.  However, the whole concept really started taking root, over time, and I eventually uncovered so many dreams!  It's really quit weird that I lost my university teaching job (after 20 yrs, and 11 yrs in my current position), because I remember working on my vision board about 6 months to a yr ago, and I simply COULD NOT put anything on there that represented me as a university professor any longer (TOTAL burnout!); however, I was forced to quit.  I would have NEVER resigned without having another position in place, otherwise. In my family, that is like having to come home at 16, and telling your parents you are pregnant.  Shameful. I have told everyone that I've moved home to care for my dad, well...  and to work on my dreams... writing books, motivational speaking and in the distance future...   filmmaking.  

    The documentary has all these professors and researchers teaching about it, so it is pretty much based on science (they teach it in the spiritual world, too, of course). After thinking about it for awhile, I realized that it is all really just an advanced version of the self-fulfilling prophecy...   Prob studied it in school, but here is a link in case you are interested in a refresher... 

    I have to go help my dad, but I will check back later, and try to include one of my favorite sites on perception with tons of examples to show how the self-fulfilling prophecy works...  Couple of examples below...   What do you see?  Depends on what you focus on, right.  :) So, the vision board is just a fun way to encourage you to focus on your dreams/goals.  

    I had an interesting thing happen to me just today, related to the 'Secret'...  someone told me that @dominica has an excellent blog, so I went there looking for more healing help. Guess what...   she is an ESTABLISHED writer and speaker; therefore, she is now a vital source to help launch my dreams. She has a specific link just for aspiring writers.  Those are the EXACT things that the 'Secret' says will happen once you create your vision board. Their theory is that it is not all about striving...  it's about seeing and/or believing.  I certainly have not arrived, but I have seen some weird things happen that seem to be in alignment with what the 'experts' say on the documentary.  Also, I have found that a lot of my dreams have fallen into place (discussion about writing down our goals), because it is enjoyable to think about/work on.  I don't see it as a job, but as my dreams.  Just realized I should put something on my Vision Board to symbolize the healthy/whole me...  without meds.  :) 

    Very cool that you want to go back to school.  Do you want to be a writer also? Maybe you are already a writer?    

    Sorry so long...   :'/  

  • Hahaha don't worry about the length, I read it all. I actually finished my literature bachelor degree just last year, with a focus on creative writing, and then I came to Europe to be with my boyfriend and to sort of... see if I could find some drive within myself instead of just going with the education flow. Also because I needed to rebuild myself in some ways -- I had done a semester in Rome before that sort of... was useless, and gave me a blow at the end, and when I came back, I was completely rusted in my methods and my dissertations were lousy for it. I was not used to getting bad grades, but for the first time I got something like around 61% on a paper and it sort of knocked my wind out of me and writing anything became very hard for me after that. I could not start. I could not finish. I could not trust myself. I was bad, very bad. I was unsure of where I wanted to head and in those conditions, I could not just keep at it and do a master's degree right away -- I want to do some interesting analysing and writing, but not because "it's the next thing on my list" or because "I don't know what else to do". I want to do it because I used to believe I could; and then, I want to do it when I find a subject that comes to life for me.

    So since then, I've worked at pushing myself to write -- starting a blog, doing the nanowrimo in November, selling writing services on fiverr (all in French, though, so nothing I can really share!) and slowly letting myself trust my gut again and feel the simple joy of writing at times, and the relief of having people appreciate my work at others.

    Basically, the last year at times I was miserable and driveless, but they say motivation is a muscle you train, and I found it to be true on different subjects. Having no job (outside of small jobs on the Internet, still waiting to find something more substantial there) really gave me too much free time, but at some point, I had to use that free time to counter the building self-loathing. And I did. I started doing stuff I always wanted to really get into but always pushed off because I was too busy before (learning to knit; learning Japanese; get in shape; etc).

    Sorry, that was long too... XD What did you teach, btw?
  • @brokenandbeautiful  thank you for your kindness! i am with you on Universe showing up with some pretty amazing synchronicities! we get to manifest a good bit of our reality, so it's important what we are thinking and doing...and believing.  we are all a work in progress and the journey can be enjoyable....well, the dark times are not all that enjoyable, but what we receive after the dark night is pretty amazing...light. awakeness. aliveness. 

    i'm so glad you are on your journey and paying attention....showing up!!  

    one day at a time..present living. 

    i love this community and am so grateful for you!
  • Thanks @dominica! I am grateful for you as well. You are so inspirational, and I know I can learn so much from you, too.  I really enjoyed your blog.  I am now one of your —over 7,000— followers on FB, too.  :)  Good stuff! 

    lol Thanks for reading it all, @bellejoie. I think I really need to start a blog, finish my books, etc, to get all of these words out!  lol!  Can not believe you are a writer, too!  That is so cool!  And...  all in French, plus traveling around the world...  so awesome!  So impressed that you are actually out there living and not in what I call the default mode (what we do without thinking/imitating parents/cultural norms, etc).  My first book is called  (for now) 'Hey Girl—Waiting is Sexy,' which is a book meant to inspire young people to learn how to be happy alone and/or to teach them that if they are not happy now...  they will not be happy once in a romantic relationship.  The point is to persuade them NOT to do things just because the culture does it, specifically— always have a romantic partner, go to college, marry because you are a certain age, have children because you are a certain age, etc.  In the field of communication (what I teach), we call these blind spots when we are making decisions in a robotic manner without thinking...   why am I doing this?  You are a smart girl, seriously. I have worked with 20 somethings over 20 years, and I can tell you...  you are not the norm (well not in the states anyway). Wish I had been that wise at your age, but I do believe it is never to late to be the change you want to see in the world. :) 

    By the way—higher ed is shifting, which is great, but we have a LONG way to go (again I can only speak for the states).  One thing I hated about teaching was grading!  One reason I hated it was because there is, of course, a direct correlation between time spent on assignment and the quality. So often, students do not have enough time to develop something that is of superior quality (when juggling multiple classes, school, etc), so I always emphasize the importance of not putting too much weight into the actual grade. I think one thing that led to my burnout was that—at times—it felt that all students cared about was their grade. This is understandable, of course, because the grade is important, but too often it created what we—in communication—call 'psychological noise,' which meant they were more likely to miss some potentially life-changing information. Remember, just because someone put a 61% on a paper does not mean #1. the paper deserved a 61%, and #2. that you are any less effective as a writer.  If you do not buy that...   then keep in mind that even the best of the best will have a bad day at the office.  :)  We must remember that...  perfectionism is not our friend!   

    For inspiration—Click Here   :) 
  • @brokenandbeautiful : Aaah, but the thing is how much I respect the professor who graded that paper and his rigour. I mean, he first taught us Methodology and, under his direction, I was sort of able to write my first good university-level text analysis. Though he actually had sharp enough an eye to notice that I had actually narrowed the kerning to get more words in! When I realized that, in this new course I took with him two years later, I had fallen below standard, it sort of hit home -- and it was the same with other courses, too. Basically I did not feel satisfied with my results. Plus, it's not like I thought I was defined by my grades this much -- if I had a lower grade but learned a lot, I felt fine, mostly. It's just measuring up to my own standards and the standards of smart people I deeply respected intellectually.

    I am not really travelling, I'm just living abroad, though. And many times I feel bummed that I'm not in uni anymore -- I find it hard to make friends and social contact, whereas in uni it was so darn easy! Also, my friends back home have different projects running, and I'm not sure how to get something cool made and shared yet, so I do feel pretty envious when I see their news. S'not too wise or inspirational!  But I do appreciate the perspective this gives me, I guess. I think that's a nice idea for a book you have there! I sure know that, even if I had no problem waiting for some things in life, I was too quick to fall into situations because I felt lacks in my life and I was starving for the feeling it gave me to get rid of them quick.

    Communication, huh? That's cool. So your writing would be in general non-fiction, if I'm not mistaken?
  • Yes, that makes total sense @bellejoie. Funny, I just realized that most of my email was an attempt to 'inspire you' and/or 'make you feel better.'  I guess that is something I will have to continually work on...  sometimes life will just suck, period.  Feeling bad is sometimes part of the necessary journey we are on, I guess. Seems like common sense, but I think —as humans— we tend to forget the fact that if we are to 'feel' happiness, we must also 'feel' the sadness.   As I mentioned in another post, however, I have drawn a lot of inspiration from a devotional called A Thousand Gifts.  Example: when making my list of things I am thankful for recently, I came up with this...  Current job loss (something normally seen as bad)—opened the door to do something I would never have had the courage to do—pursue my dream of starting another career—book-writing, motivational speaking and filmmaking.  Yes, I am trying to get you to do the same with your situation, which means I am still trying to 'inspire you' and/or make you 'feel better.'  I am a work in progress...  lol  

    Yes, my books are non-fiction; however, my second book is my memoir, which will eventually be turned into a film.  The film will be one of those 'based on a true story' type of films, so a little non-fiction, I guess. :)   
  • @BrokenandBeautiful : I think that trying to encourage and inspire people you meet is a nice thing. It's not that I really need my occasional bad feelings to be acknowledged, but true, we need a balance of both (they estimate the ratio of positive emotion to negative should be 3:1, and you can actually sort of test yours on this webpage). Don't worry though, I'm pretty much trained at this point for seeing the happiness in my own life and in specific situations. Had to for my own mental health! I've been also following the online class Science of Happiness on, they have pretty cool exercises for being more happy. I'm pretty much satisfied with the way my life is going right now, at least. Just need to go even further so that I can be even proud and make the difference I want to make.

    It's cool to see ambitious projects like that! :)
  • It largely depends on the activity in question. If it does no personal harm or to those around you, it could be considered a legitimate hobby or activity. However, if it has an adverse effect on finances, health and overall happiness, perhaps it's time to cease with that particular activity. Generally I think it's a good measure to try various hobbies for short periods to see if they are worthwhile.
  • If its something you want to do all the time it's a habit. If its something you HAVE to do its an addiction.
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