Process Addictions

Jump to a section
Table of contents
Expand list

Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction


A common misconception regarding addiction is that one must experience physical withdrawal symptoms to be diagnosed as an addict. However, addictive behavior can exist within a person that has never tried any substances. Their impulses and negative consequences are still prevalent without the physical issues that drug and alcohol addiction bring. This type of addiction are called process addictions or behavioral addictions. 

Someone struggling with process addiction feels the compulsion to continue an activity despite the harm or negative outcome that arises from it. The mental and physical impact this addiction has on someone, and their ability to contribute to their community, is indicative of the hold it has. 

The Most Common Process Addictions 

Process addiction is defined by the negative impact it has on a person’s life and by the person’s reasoning for continuing the activity. Often, when someone suffers from behavior addiction, they feel some sort of psychological reward or adrenaline ‘high.’ This feeling clouds their sense of judgment, and all negative consequences seem worth the risk of having that feeling one more time. 

The compulsive behavior associated with process addiction can occur with nearly any activity. It is not so much what the activity is, and depends more on the person’s response toward the activity. That said, there are some process addictions that are more well-known than others. 

Some of the common process addictions are: 

  • Shopping addiction 
  • Gambling addiction 
  • Food addiction 
  • Exercise addiction 
  • Sex and love addiction 
  • Gaming addiction 

Process addiction can be present without any other past drug or alcohol addiction, and happens more than one might think. However, it’s not unheard of for someone to have a process addiction that co-occurs with substance abuse. In many circumstances, if the person doesn’t seek help for their process addiction, they may end up with drug addiction. The person often does this in an attempt to find some sort of happiness in their life after losing everything because of their process addiction. 

The Line Between “Normal” and Addiction

The question of whether or not an activity or behavior can become harmful and negatively impact a person’s basic functionality the same way drugs and alcohol can is still up for debate. Researchers know that these behaviors can cause just as many damages to the person’s life and continue to do so without the ability to stop until successfully treated. 

The above-stated activities are ones that people engage in almost every day, especially food and love. It is one thing to enjoy these activities and has a passion for them. Maybe you have an extreme passion for cooking and find yourself cooking new recipes every day. This type of behavior isn’t necessarily addictive. 

The following signs, however, is where the line gets drawn between healthy passion and addiction: 

  • The person suffers physically or mentally as a result of the inability to stop engaging in the exercise.
  • The behavior becomes so disruptive that it interferes with personal and even work relationships. 
  • Negative consequences ensue, but the person still cannot stop engaging in the exercise. Maybe their gambling addiction has caused them to lose their job, houses and even file for bankruptcy, but they still continue to do it. 
  • Regardless of how bad things get, they cannot stop the activity or behavior. 

Those that struggle with process addiction have similar personality traits to those that struggle with substance addiction. The addiction is very real to them, and telling them to have a little “self-control” is like telling someone with anxiety to just “calm down.” Not only does it not work for the person, but it is also highly ineffective. Such rhetoric may oftentimes be even more damaging to them mentally. 

If they could stop on their own, they would. No one wants to lose their home, primary relationship, or their physical and mental health over a behavior. 

What Causes the Addiction?

Much like substance abuse cases, those with process addiction often can’t pinpoint one specific cause for their addiction. It is often a slew of different variables that lead to this disease. Some of the common causes for addiction include: 

  • Their biology or genetic make-up can make them predisposed.
  • Trauma from childhood or adulthood that leads to altered brain function and mental illness.
  • Acute stress issues that trigger a person, forcing them to use the behavior as a coping mechanism.
  • Growing up or living in an environment that enables or encourages the behavior. 

When Substance Abuse Is a Part of the Co-Occurring Disorder

As mentioned throughout this article, process addiction commonly co-occurs with another form of addiction. This is called a co-occurring disorder. Whether the process addiction came first or second isn’t necessarily important. That being said, most of the time, if there is a presence of a process addiction, the person often showed signs of this addiction before they began using and abusing drugs or alcohol. 

Sometimes the opposite is true. 

Sometimes, the person will use drugs or alcohol, and that feeling makes them want to gamble, shop, or have sex. In this case, the person’s process addiction is seemingly a by-product of their substance addiction. 

Regardless of which is true, the person will be encouraged to enroll in a treatment program that is specifically equipped to handle co-occurring disorders. The same recommendation is made for someone that has two or more substance addictions. Those with co-occurring disorders require specific care to ensure they get and remain clean from their multiple addictions. Not only that, but that they efficiently heal mentally and physically from their disorder. 

Co-occurring disorders can get a little complex, especially during the withdrawal stage. They will require a lot of familial support as well to ensure they have the continued courage and motivation to progress forward. 

When Help Is Necessary

The problem with process addiction is that it’s difficult to establish when healthy behavior disappears, and addiction starts. That is, it’s hard to establish this before the person’s life starts to deteriorate before their eyes. 

Ideally, a person would get help before their life starts to fall apart. This is where substance abuse and process addiction really differ. If someone uses substances, it is a lot easier to see or predict when the addiction will begin. As for process addiction, these activities are extremely common for everyone to engage in. Judging when someone is addicted becomes blurred, especially because the person will often deny their addiction until it is too late. 

A clear sign that a person needs help – other than losing their necessities in life – is realizing they have a chronic illness. The person often reaches a point when they mentally want to stop. They feel remorse, fear, guilt, or shame for their actions and feel even worse after engaging in the activity, but still, they cannot stop. 

Another key indicator that someone could benefit from treatment is if their loved ones and support system start bringing up that they might have a problem. 

Treatment For Process Addiction

Fortunately, most of the treatments and programs that are effective for substance abuse and drug and alcohol dependence are effective at treating process addiction. They might not experience withdrawal symptoms in the same way, but the rest of the treatment is nearly identical. 

Effective process addiction treatment often includes:

  • Diagnosis/Evaluation: 
    • First, the process addiction is diagnosed. Then, the doctor will see if co-occurring addiction is present and could be causing or magnifying their process addiction. 
  • Come Up With a Treatment Plan:
    • Based on the person’s diagnosis, a unique and effective treatment plan is created for them. 
  • Detox: 
    • During their detox, the person will likely experience insomnia, negative mental thoughts and feelings, headaches, anxiety, and other symptoms as a result of them no longer engaging in their addictive behaviors. During this time, professional support is necessary and available to help them get through this part of their recovery. 
  • Support:
    • Not only is professional support necessary and available, but family support is crucial as well. Regardless of what the person’s addiction led them to do in their personal life, it is paramount that they have that family support when they decide to follow through with their treatment. Knowing that they haven’t burned any bridges with their family will only help them recover from their addiction faster. 

Process Addiction Treatment at Avenues Recovery

One can now see that process addiction can be and is just as detrimental to a person’s life as any substance addiction. The withdrawal symptoms might be different, but the addiction can still read them to do things they wouldn’t normally do. 

It is crucial that anyone with process addiction gets the help they need and deserve before they do things that are possibly irreversible. At Avenues Recovery, you will find a plan made especially for you to find healing and embrace recovery. Our treatment programs are proven to successfully treating process addiction. Don’t hesitate to start asking questions. Call us now!  

Check your insurance

We received your insurance request!

We will get back to you shortly. While you wait... you may find our resource blog helpful. Take a look below: