Helping you become all that you are capable of becoming!



Handling Compulsive & Addictive Behaviors

Chapter 12: Handling Binging, Compulsive and Addictive Behaviors

Section 3: SEA's Tools for Recovery Lifestyle 
Self-Esteem Seekers Anonymous -

The SEA's Program of Recovery
By James J. Messina, Ph.D.

Handling Binging, Compulsive and Addictive Behaviors


What are binging behaviors?

Binging behaviors are:

Non‑controlled excessive behaviors of indulgence in a variety of activities such as:

  • eating
  • drinking
  • drugs
  • sex
  • chocolate
  • shopping, etc.

Binges are:

Intensive short episodes of overuse and overconsumption of:

  • food
  • alcohol
  • drugs, etc.


What are compulsive behaviors?

Compulsive behaviors are:

  • Driven behaviors which are often influenced by subconscious desires and motives.
  • Strong, uncontrollable, hard to tame actions and behaviors which have a predictable pattern.
  • Often habits learned over one's lifetime which are difficult to break.


Are binging behaviors compulsive?

Binging behaviors are compulsive in:

  • style
  • intensity
  • habituation
  • history
  • motivation
  • difficulty to control and remediate.

When are binging and compulsive behaviors a problem?

Binging and compulsive behaviors are a problem when they:

  • Interfere with your recovery which includes trying to control consumption of a target element such as food, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, etc.
  • Are done in secrecy or are hidden because you don't want to admit they are a problem and don't want to remediate them.
  • Are denied by you and swept under the covers.
  • Are allowed to have an all‑pervasive influence in the course of the lifestyle you choose.

What is an addiction?

An addiction is:

  • A set of behaviors which has become so habitual and all‑pervasive in your life that the behaviors have control over you rather than you over them.
  • A habit which is so powerful that it influences the course of your life.
  • A lifestyle choice, be it good or bad, which determines the outcome of your health and welfare.
  • A set of behaviors which have become so necessary to you that it determines the meaning and purpose for your life.

Can there be healthy addictions?

It is possible for you to develop healthy addictions or compulsions such as the addiction or compulsion to:

  • Exercise.
  • Eat right and eat balanced meals.
  • Maintain your health.
  • Monitor your lifestyle to be sure it is in balance with your recovery.
  • Reduce stress in your life.
  • Live a recovered lifestyle.

What are the steps you can take to stop binging or to control a compulsive behavior or to change a negative addiction?

In order to change an unwanted behavior you must follow the steps outlined below:


Step 1: You must make an honest assessment of your life style and behaviors and admit to yourself what behaviors you currently practice which are:

Binge behaviors:

Compulsive behaviors:


  • Healthy
  • Unhealthy


  • Healthy
  • Unhealthy

Step 2: You must be willing, on your own, to want to change the unhealthy binge, compulsive, habitual and addictive behaviors. Unless you want to change the behaviors for your own sake rather than to please someone else, you will lack the strength of motivation and conviction to follow through with the decision and behaviors needed to change.


Step 3: You must be willing to admit to yourself that to change any habit or old behavior is a difficult task and you must be willing to set realistic goals for yourself.


Step 4: Once you identify the target behaviors to be changed, monitor yourself for the next month and keep a daily log of your behaviors. Each night put the log in your journal and answer the following questions for each occurrence of the target behaviors:

  • How often did you engage in the target (binge, compulsive, habit, addiction) behavior today?
  • What did you do? What were the dimensions and size of the behavior? How much time was spent on the behavior?
  • Were there other people around or were you hiding?
  • What was your emotional tone while you engaged in the behavior?
  • Was there any significant event or cue preceding your engaging in this behavior?
  • Where do you commonly engage in this behavior?
  • How do you feel after you have completed this behavior?

Step 5: After you spend a month of daily logging in these target behaviors, look for a pattern present in the behaviors and determine:

  • Location of behaviors, e.g., usually in home, kitchen, bar, work site, restaurant, etc.
  • Time of day, e.g., usually in morning, evening, at lunch, after work, etc.
  • Day of week, or month, e.g., on Fridays only, on pay days only, everyday, weekends only, etc.
  • Length of time engaged in behavior, e.g., usually thirty minutes or less, six hours or more, etc.
  • Emotional tone preceding engaging in the behavior, e.g., usually anxious, depressed, happy, stressed, etc.
  • Emotional tone after engaging in the behavior, e.g., usually guilt, remorse, fear, depression, anger, disappointment, etc.
  • Social environment where engaging in behavior, e.g., hiding, alone, with a specific person every time, in a social setting, etc.

Step 6: After you review the log and look for patterns, perform a behavior chain analysis on selected events to see if the patterns you identified in Step 5 can be further clarified or expanded upon.


Step 7: Now that your log, pattern analysis, and behavior chains are completed, determine which of these next corrective actions need to be taken:

  • What needs to be restructured at home, at work and in the community to reduce the ease with which you engage in these behaviors? How can you make it more difficult for yourself to engage in these behaviors? How can you block yourself from freely engaging in these behaviors?
  • What alterations need to be made in your daily, weekly and monthly schedule in order to reduce the opportunities for these target behaviors to occur?
  • What self‑monitoring or social support systems do you need to establish to help control or stop thinking about engaging in these behaviors?
  • What are some rational steps you can take to alter or control the impact of the emotional cues which typically lead to these behaviors? What thought‑stopping techniques do you need to use to avoid thinking about the behaviors?
  • What do you need to do to continuously remind yourself of your humanity in attempting to change habitual ways of acting so that you are not hard on yourself if you "fall off the wagon?''
  • What action plan can you set up to ensure you'll "jump back on the wagon'' after every failure?

Step 8: After answering the Step 7 issues, you are now ready to develop a plan of action to extinguish the target behavior(s). Set a realistic time frame. Be sure you have in place a support system to help you. Be sure you have ongoing review and re‑evaluation steps included in your plan.


Step 9: Implement your plan of action and monitor the results.


Step 10: If you are still unsuccessful, go back to Step 1 and begin again.