The extension of the definition of dependence leads to the consideration of some impulsive disorders as a form of dependence disorder. This pathological condition is characterized by the repetitive occurrence of impulsive and uncontrolled behaviors. Other clinical characteristics are failure to resist an impulse, drive or temptation to perform some act harmful to oneself and/or others, an increasing sense of tension or excitement before acting out, and a sense of pleasure, gratification or release at the time of the behavior or shortly thereafter. Behavioral dependences most often described are pathological gambling, kleptomania, trichotillomania and compulsive buying.
Studies using a specific assessment scale, the South Oaks Gambling Screen, distinguished problem gambling from pathological gambling. Social gamblers spend 5% of their money and pathological gamblers 14 to 45%. Prevalence of ‘problem gambling’ is 4% and pathological gambling 2%. Several studies have suggested that the incidence of pathological gambling is eight to ten times greater in alcohol-dependent patients than in the general population.
No systematic study has assessed the prevalence of kleptomania. Data come from case reports. Among subjects arrested after a theft, prevalence of kleptomania varied between 0 and 24%. Trichotillomania prevalence rate is 0.6% among students. Studies using less restrictive diagnostic criteria found a prevalence rate of 3.4% in women and 1.5% in men. The disorder is often unrecognized; 40% of the cases are not diagnosed and 58% of the patients have never been treated.
Prevalence studies of compulsive buying found a rate between 1 and 6% in the general population. Compulsive buying is significantly more frequent among women (90% of the cases). Study of family history of compulsive buyers showed a high frequency of alcohol-dependence disorder (20%) and depression (18%). In all cases of behavioral dependence disorders, a high level of impulsivity and sensation-seeking could determine an increased risk.