Published by Ashley Davidson BA, MA, RP (Q)

Hello everyone I am Ashley Davidson I have just joined the team at Energy Tap, and I am looking forward to working with all of you. I have a wealth of experience and knowledge in behavioural addictions. We all have them, and tackling the ones that get in our way and impact others can be really challenging.

Below I am sharing some of the knowledge I have gained over the years.

There are few things more calming than a Sunday morning visit with my mum and our fluffy shih-poo Teddy, I enjoy our chats over a steaming earl grey tea.

Her trick to brewing delicious tea is to take the water off the stove before it boils and the steam pressure causes the kettle to whistle. As we discussed this last weekend, I came to realize, boiling tea is not so different than dealing with addictions.

Reality puts all kinds of pressure on us every day, and the heat was turned up with the pandemic. From time to time, we let off a little steam through behaviours like video gaming, gambling, shopping, or watching pornography. Many of us then consciously or unconsciously let our behaviours get out of control, and when the kettle starts to whistle, we realize these behaviours have become problems, maybe even addictions, that are affecting our lives physically, emotionally, financially, professionally, and spiritually.

 By understanding the signs and knowing when to ask for help before the behaviours are boiling over, we can start to enjoy the tea in other ways!



Gambling, Gaming and Internet Use, Overspending, Emotional Eating, and Hypersexuality are all recognized as behavioural addictions. Other behaviours, such as excessively working, exercising, or getting a significant number of tattoos, are increasingly being recognized for their addictive traits.  We all have “vices” that can at times be problematic or habitual. And once behaviours become habits, they are hard to break and take time, commitment, acceptance, energy, and support!

Gambling is risking something of value (money, property) on a chance event where the outcome is irreversible. Individuals commonly utilize in-person or online slots, table games, sports gambling, and lottery or scratch tickets to name a few! Problem gamblers will oftentimes report an early big win, chasing their eventual losses, followed by an inability to control the behaviour and their thoughts (preoccupation). Approximately 2-3% of Ontarians report a moderate to severe issue with gambling, that’s over 300,000 people!

Gaming & Internet Use – Behaviour taking the place over other activities and responsibilities, to the point of negative impact. Excessively hooked into a virtual platform like social media, first person shooter, role-playing games (RPG), or puzzles although it is impeding upon their relationships, self-care, and responsibilities. Individuals will oftentimes use devices to escape from their reality or mental health challenges (anxiety and depression). We may get lost in “doom scrolling”, comparing ourselves to others, or obsessing over the news, which can all worsen our mental health.

Overspending- Shopping (i.e., high end boutiques to thrift/bargain hunting), collecting, and hoarding challenges. Now, many people assume that females have higher rates of overspending. However, research shows this is a MYTH – problems are equal between genders women identify more with the term “shopaholic” or “shopping addiction”; whereas men identify more as “collectors” (i.e., sports memorabilia, tools).

Hypersexuality– Overusing pornography, excessive masturbation, paraphilic interests, escort services, and chronic infidelity. During my 7+ years in the field I have seen an increasing number of adolescents and adults struggling with this behavioural issue. It is really important to note that sexual behaviour is a NORMAL and healthy part of life for many people. Hypersexuality concerns arrive once the behaviour has become problematic within a person’s thought process, creating significant distress or a risk of harming themselves or others (Minor et al., 2019).

It is so important to avoid diagnosing ourselves and the ones we love, and instead seek support for appropriate screening and intervention planning. Please keep in mind that most of these behavioural categories are common leisure activities, and only a small percentage of individuals identify with moderate to severe challenges. Mind you, I believe many of these issues are underreported as people do not know where to turn to for support OR because as a society we are desensitized and accept these as “normal”, people don’t always recognize when it’s become addictive!

Signs & Symptoms

It is important to look out for signs, be mindful of physical, emotional, financial, and time cues.

Gambling/ Overspending– missing money, unexplained debt, requesting bailouts, hiding the behaviour or receipts, lack of transparency with finances.

Gaming/ Internet – inability to disconnect from devices, pre-occupied with signing back online, difficulty cutting down time spent online autonomously, loss of interest with reality or old hobbies, jeopardized relationships, sleep deprivation, poor diet and self-care.

Hypersexuality – experiencing trauma in childhood or adolescence, inability to manage stress, seeking instant gratification, boredom, loneliness.  

But Wait! Aren’t these behaviours “the lesser of the evil?”, “How can these be addictive; I’m not ingesting anything!”

Growing evidence suggests that behavioural addictions do resemble substance addictions in many areas, including “phenomenology, tolerance, comorbidity, overlapping genetic contribution, neurobiological mechanisms, and response to treatment” (Minor et al., 2019).

Behavioural addictions are also important to monitor as individuals with mental health or prior substance use challenges can be at risk. We call this substitution or cross-addiction (replacing one for another). Examples can include replacing sugar for alcohol or gambling with gaming.

Why Can’t They Just Stop!  

Science and research show us that behavioural addictions neurologically mirror substance use disorders. Meaning individuals create pathways in the brain for the once welcomed activity. Once we create and clear a pathway, it is difficult to choose a different pathway instead of the one we commonly see and travel on.

Picture this, you have been drinking coffee for five years and one day someone says you need to stop all caffeine intake indefinitely. Some brains will say “That’s fine, I didn’t like coffee that much anyways – not a problem!” Other brains will say “WAIT A MINUTE! I love coffee, how will I be alert and engaged in the morning”!

This second brain, who in this example is the one experiencing a behavioural addiction, may really struggle for the first few days while caffeine free, which highlights that tolerance for coffee and dependency exist. Without your morning coffee you may notice feeling irritable, anxious, low energy, and sadness.

Back to the idea of a pathway, if you think of a forest- we are likely to keep taking the pathway that is best cleared. Over time if we stop using the pathway what happens? Vegetation grows, sticks and branches cover it, and it becomes inaccessible – in our brains this means the pathway becomes dormant – however it can reopen should the pathway become cleared (i.e., relapse occurs).


There are various forms of treatment available for people experiencing behavioural addictions, including:

·      Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

·      Individual counselling or therapy

·      Psychotherapy Groups

·      Residential or outpatient treatment programs

·      Self Help Programs- Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous,

Gamblers Anonymous, Gam-Anon (family support), Gamequitters

·      Medication or natural supplements

·      A proper assessment and diagnosis by a psychiatrist, psychologist, etc.

*Noting that when receiving an assessment there should be a period of abstinence from the behaviour to avoid misdiagnosis (I.e., when a person is actively gambling sometimes their symptoms can look like something else, such as bipolar disorder or a manic episode; or when excessively gaming symptoms can look like ADHD).

 In closing, we all have “vices” that can be problematic and many of us need support to better manage. In my experience thus far, I have seen many individuals live with these behaviours until a major crisis hits and these behaviours take over as serious addictions. You do not need to be at rock bottom before you seek help. Reach out now, no matter how small the challenge seems.  To take you back to my opening analogy, by understanding the signs, and knowing when to ask for help before the behaviours are boiling over, we can all enjoy delicious tea!


Gambling – what occurs in the brain (2:19 minutes)

Hypersexuality – Patrick Carnes- Leading expert on hypersexuality challenges (1 hour 46)

Gaming Addiction: Cam Adair- lived experience/ professional speaker (55 minutes)

OverpsendingOverspending – Dr. April Benson “To buy or not to buy” (1 hour 3)


Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous

Game Quitters

Gamblers Anonymous


Grant, J. E., Potenza, M. N., Weinstein, A., & Gorelick, D. A. (2010). Introduction to behavioral addictions. The American journal of drug and alcohol abuse36(5), 233–241. https://doi.org/10.3109/00952990.2010.491884


Miner, M. H., Dickenson, J., & Coleman, E. (2019). Effects of Emotions on Sexual Behavior in Men with and without Hypersexuality. Sexual addiction & compulsivity26(1-2), 24–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/10720162.2018.1564408

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