Behavioral addictions are a group of mental health disorders that involve compulsions to repeat non-drug-related behaviors. This can include behaviors such as overeating, overspending, or compulsively watching porn. According to a clinical review in 2011 in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, behavioral addictions involve a pattern of engaging in persistent behaviors to obtain a short-term reward, despite the negative consequences.1
Behavioral addictions have a detrimental impact on your life and overall functioning because you feel like you cannot control the behavior—rather, the behavior controls your life. You cannot stop thinking about the behavior, and you feel a compulsion or an uncontrollable urge to perform the behavior. Not only does this have a negative impact on your physical and emotional health, it negatively affects your behavioral health as well.
As with any addiction, treatment plays an important role in recovery. Behavioral addiction support groups are an important part of the recovery process, because you can benefit from the advice and support of others. Some of these groups follow the 12-step approach to recovery, which gives participants the chance to improve their lives.
The most commonly sought avenues of behavioral addiction treatment involve either inpatient or outpatient recovery programs. In either setting, treatment addresses underlying issues through individual and group counseling and different forms of behavioral therapy. Once you complete one of these treatment programs, you participate in aftercare, which helps solidify the skills you learned in treatment and helps prevent relapse. Effective aftercare strategies often involve a combination of components, such as ongoing individual or group therapy and 12-step behavioral addiction support group participation.
Why Groups Help
While other behavioral addictions were not included in the DSM-V, many experts in the field of mental and behavioral health acknowledge that addiction is not restricted to substances.
According to a paper published in 2016 in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, 12-step groups are a useful form of help for people struggling with a wide range of addictions, especially when combined with other types of treatment.2 Each 12-step program, whether designed for people suffering from work addiction or those with eating disorders, is based on the same principles and rooted in the concept of peer support.
The first step in this type of program is admitting that your addiction has taken control of your life. Program participants also:
- Admit their wrongdoings.
- Work on their shortcomings.
- Use prayer or meditation to improve their situations.
Those who have been in recovery for a long time are encouraged to help others use these principles to gain control over their addiction and often become sponsors.
Most 12-step behavioral addiction support groups follow the same structure. Group members attend regular meetings so they can share their successes and shortcomings with one another. During these meetings, participants share only their first names, which helps new members feel more comfortable about joining the group. Anonymity also protects people from exploitation by other group members.
New members may introduce themselves to the group, but they are not required to do so. A chairperson typically brings the meeting to order and keeps participants on track so the meeting ends on time. Some 12-step groups begin each meeting by reciting the group’s guiding principles and end each meeting with a prayer or recitation.
Many people struggling with addiction use 12-step groups as a supplement to traditional forms of mental health treatment, such as individual or family therapy. But 12-step groups differ from these types of treatment in that they are not technically a form of treatment; rather, they are based on the idea of establishing a network of peer support to promote recovery. There’s no expert in a 12-step group, like a counselor or psychiatrist, which you might expect to find in individual or group therapy. Instead, 12-step groups offer and rely on peer support—the camaraderie and kinship of others who have walked in your shoes and who can provide advice and encouragement on your road to recovery.
Porn Addiction Groups
Despite common misbeliefs, porn addiction is a real and serious problem for many people. 12-step groups can help people in recovery from porn addiction by providing a safe, shame-free forum in which to share experiences and to stay abstinent from porn. Some of the more widespread porn addiction 12-step support groups include:
- Pornography Addicts Anonymous. This group provides a spiritually focused program of recovery following the traditional 12-step model to specifically prevent relapse. The group also helps members develop healthier relationships and a more stable sense of self-esteem.
- Sexaholics Anonymous. Sexaholics Anonymous has strict standards to which you are expected to adhere. The focus of this group is “to stop lusting and to become sexually sober” by using the 12-step principles and committing to not having sex with anyone beside your spouse. This group uses the term spouse to refer to the relationship that occurs due to marriage between a man and a woman.3 If you are unmarried, you are expected to commit to sexual abstinence.
- Sex Addicts Anonymous. The only requirement for this group is a desire to stop your addictive sexual behavior. Sex Addicts Anonymous relies upon the concept of the Three Circles to define healthy and unhealthy behaviors. The inner circle includes all behaviors you wish to refrain from, including viewing pornography. The middle circle involves more “slippery” behaviors that you feel might cause you to act out, and the third circle includes behaviors that are healthy and positive for your recovery.4
- Sexual Recovery Anonymous. While this group also focuses on avoiding sexual compulsion and committing to sexual sobriety, it has a more liberal focus than Sexaholics Anonymous, in that people from all walks of life are welcomed. The idea of sex only with a committed partner is promoted, but without the strict Judeo-Christian interpretation of what this might mean.
Gambling Addiction Groups
Gambling becomes an addiction when it is something you or a loved one cannot control and when it begins to affect a person’s financial, familial, social, recreational, educational, or occupational functioning.
People with a gambling addiction often think of themselves as morally weak or just no good.5 Instead of viewing yourself in this harsh, critical light, you might find it helpful to see yourself as someone suffering from a form of illness. Various 12-step support groups view gambling addiction as a progressive disease that cannot be cured but may be halted and managed with the proper support and education.
The primary 12-step support group for people suffering from gambling addiction is:
- Gamblers Anonymous. This group provides support for those who are compulsive gamblers who may gamble due to emotional insecurity or immaturity. Some compulsive gamblers feel that they do not fit in unless they are sitting at a poker table or spinning a roulette wheel. Others enjoy the rush produced by making bets. Some people also feel more important when they are gambling. Gamblers Anonymous meetings help members address these issues and move into recovery.
Gaming and Internet Addictions Groups
As with other types of behavioral addiction, gaming and internet addictions can be pervasive and cause significant impairment to your overall well-being and ability to function. These 12-step groups provide support and offer a sense of fellowship to people addicted to all types of games or the internet.
The 12-step support groups that can help guide you on the road to recovery from gaming and internet addiction include:
- On-Line Gamers Anonymous. The group focuses on healing and recovery for people affected by addiction to computer, video, console, or online game playing. Both online and face-to-face groups are offered.
- reSTART. For anyone suffering from an addiction to the internet or from excessive technology use (including the use of smartphones), this group offers hope and resources and includes non-theistic programs for those who do not connect to the concept of a higher power.
- Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous. Specifically designed to address the needs of people in recovery from a computer gaming addiction, this group offers both online and face-to-face meetings. The only requirement of this group is the desire to stop computer and video gaming.
Eating Disorder Groups
Eating disorders are a group of disorders characterized by abnormal or problematic eating habits. This can include disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge or compulsive overeating.
- Overeaters Anonymous. While many people associate Overeaters Anonymous with compulsive overeating, the group also includes a range of eating disorders and related issues, including under-eating, anorexia, bulimia, over-exercising, and binge eating. As with many other eating disorder support groups, you do not participate in weigh-ins, eat packaged meals, or pay dues. Groups are based on the principles of acceptance, understanding, communication, and empowerment to achieve a healthy relationship with food.
- Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous. Intended for people suffering from anorexia or bulimia, this 12-step group addresses the psychological, spiritual, and mental components of these disorders. You follow the 12 steps to free yourself from an unhealthy and even deadly obsession with body weight, body shape, and food.
- Eating Disorders Anonymous. The purpose of this group is to provide strength, hope, and shared experience to anyone suffering from an eating disorder. Like Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous, this group strives to help you achieve a healthier relationship with food and free yourself from focusing on body image and weight. However, this group is also open to people suffering from all types of eating disorders, including binge eating disorder or night eating syndrome.
Other Types of Groups
For almost any behavioral addiction, there’s a 12-step group.
For almost any behavioral addiction, there’s a 12-step group. In addition to the more common behavioral addictions listed above, 12-step groups also exist for lesser-known behavioral addictions, such as work addiction, shopping addiction, and even debt addiction. Some of these 12-step groups include:
- Spenders Anonymous. For anyone unable to control their spending, this 12-step group offers support as you regain control of your finances and helps you establish a better relationship with money. You learn better ways to manage your money and gain support as you recover from compulsive spending habits.
- Debtors Anonymous. Some people develop a habit of incurring increasing, unsecured debts, a pattern that can become just as addictive as any other type of behavioral addiction. This group provides a 12-step approach so you can stop incurring debt, share your experience, and connect with others in similar circumstances.
- Workaholics Anonymous. When work is no longer a means to an end but a form of escape from everyday life, people may develop a compulsion to work. Attending Workaholics Anonymous doesn’t mean you stop working, but you stop the desire to work compulsively by following the 12 steps of recovery and developing a healthier relationship with work.
- Co-Dependents Anonymous. Codependents might not be addicted to drugs or alcohol; instead, they suffer from an addiction to unhealthy interpersonal behaviors, such as putting the needs of others before their own to receive constant approval and reassurance that they are good enough. This 12-step group focuses on the development of healthy relationships and recovery from patterns that often stem from dysfunctional early family systems.
- Clutterers Anonymous. People who are unable to control the accumulation of possessions and dispose of or part with items may have an addiction to clutter. This 12-step group helps those who feel that their addiction to clutter hinders their attempts at living a healthy life and aims to provide spiritual, mental, and social support to promote inner change.
- Underearners Anonymous. Underearning does not just involve money—according to this 12-step group, an addiction to underearning behaviors also involves an inability to provide for your needs and an inability to acknowledge your capacities and competencies. The basic underlying principle behind underearning addiction is an addiction to underachieving, regardless of how much money you actually earn.
Don’t let your addictive behaviors control your life. Find a 12-step behavioral addiction support group that helps support a healthier way of life.
- Grant, J., Potenza, M., Weinstein, A. & Gorelick, D. (2010). Introduction to Behavioral Addictions. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36(5), 233–241.
- Mendola, A. & Gibson, R. (2016). Addiction, 12-Step Programs, and Evidentiary Standards for Ethically and Clinically Sound Treatment Recommendations: What Should Clinicians Do?. AMA Journal of Ethics, 18(6), 646–655.
- Sexaholics Anonymous. (2016). What is Sexaholics Anonymous?
- International Service Organization of SAA, Inc. (2016). Three Circles: Defining Sexual Sobriety in S.A.A.
- Gamblers Anonymous Ireland. (n.d.) Frequent Questions.