Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Rehabs UK Shed Light on “Silent Surge” in Behavioural Addictions

Rehabs UK Shed Light on “Silent Surge” in Behavioural Addictions

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The term “addiction” usually brings to mind alcohol, cocaine, and other intoxicating substances. But recovery support service, Rehabs UK, now reports on an expanding digital frontier that has seen demand for help with mobile phone, porn and social media addiction start to outstrip demand related to drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine.

In the UK, there are now more searches for information and support related to porn addiction each month than there are for cocaine, crack cocaine and meth combined.

Searches related to mobile phone addiction have risen dramatically in the last decade, with figures from Ahrefs noting a 500% increase for many queries between February 2016 and February 2024.

Rehabs UK say they are now receiving more interest in their porn addiction services than ever before, with around 90% more website visitors seeking information and support for this issue in the last year than for cocaine, the UK’s second most commonly used illegal drug.

Addiction

Monthly UK related searches

Porn

18,970

Cocaine

5,460

Phone/Mobile phone

5,090

Internet

4,150

Social media

2,660

Crack

2,000

Meth

1,520

Exercise

720

“The study of behavioural addiction is still relatively new, and while there isn’t a specific list of behavioural addictions that are determined as such, there are many kinds of activities that can result in addiction,” Rehabs UK founder, Lester Morse, said.

“These range from fairly harmless activities such as shopping and cleaning to those with dangerous financial and personal consequences, such as gambling and sex. In theory, it is actually possible for a person to become addicted to any type of activity.”

Rehabs UK says that people who are addicted to porn typically spend 11–12 hours a week viewing porn, though you can view far less and still be considered to have a problem if your habit impacts your daily life and activities. But what’s driving the surge in this and other screen-related issues, and why aren’t more people talking about it?

“Like any addiction, digital addictions are fuelled by stress, anxiety and a desire to escape from everyday reality in some way.” Morse goes on to say. “It is no huge surprise that in the midst of a cost of living crisis and wider mental health crisis, and with the legacy of lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic, we are seeing this big surge in the number of people living with behavioural addictions.

“The difference between these types of addictions and the substances people think of when they think of an addict, is that the impact is often better hidden. You aren’t physically incapacitated in the same way as someone with a substance issue, and you may be more likely to spend increasing amounts of time alone, at home, out of sight.”

While video game addiction and compulsive pornography consumption were officially recognised as a disorder by the World Health Organization in 2022, other digital addictions such as smart phone and internet addiction are not yet recognised in the same way, meaning help can be harder to find. 

If you or someone you know may be struggling with a digital behavioural addiction, Rehabs UK highlights warning signs to watch out for.

These include, among others:

  • Emotional symptoms: depression, dishonesty, inability to prioritise or keep to schedules, avoidance of work or real-world social life, mood swings, procrastination.
  • Physical symptoms: dry eyes and other vision problems, poor personal hygiene, poor nutrition, headaches, insomnia, carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Cognitive symptoms: difficulty focusing, memory problems, impaired decision-making skills, reduced attention span.

You can find out more about digital addictions on the Rehabs UK website, including specific causes, impacts of and treatments for internet addictionmobile phone addiction and porn addiction, among others.

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