Process Addiction

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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 who has never tried any substances. Their impulses and negative consequences are still prevalent without the physical issues that drug and alcohol addiction brings. These types of addictions are called process addictions or behavioral addictions. 

Someone struggling with process addiction feels the compulsion to continue an activity despite the resulting harm or negative outcome. Process addictions impact one’s mental and physical health, plus one’s ability to function in their home life and contribute to the community.

Process Addiction Definition

What is a process addiction? A process addiction is defined as the compulsion to engage in a behavior despite its negative consequences. When an individual suffers from behavior addiction, they feel a psychological reward or an adrenaline ‘high.’ This feeling clouds their sense of judgment, and all negative consequences seem worth the risk of experiencing that feeling one more time.

Process Addiction Examples

The compulsive behavior associated with process addiction can occur with nearly any activity. Process addiction is not defined by the actual activity, but depends more on the person’s response toward the activity. That said, some process addictions are more well-known than others. 

Common process addiction examples include: 

  • Shopping Addiction - Always planning their next purchase, shopping addicts consistently spend beyond their means and buy products they don’t actually need.
  • Gambling Addiction - Gambling addiction is characterized by repeated failed attempts to cut back or stop gambling, despite great financial loss and ruined relationships.
  • Food Addiction - Marked by compulsive overeating, food addiction is characterized by the loss of control over eating and spending an excessive amount of time thinking about and eating usually unhealthy foods.

binge eating

  • Exercise Addiction - A person suffering from exercise addiction engages in frequent and intense exercise sessions, finding it difficult to discontinue despite negative consequences, such as injuries.
  • Sex and Love Addiction - Compulsive sexual behavior can include risky behaviors, such as anonymous sex, increasing the risk of STDs. Porn addiction is another common form of sex addiction.
  • Gaming Addiction - Gaming addicts suffer from an unhealthy attachment to electronics and video games, finding it difficult to engage in everyday activities, such as school or work.
  • Social Media Addiction - Social media addicts constantly check, post, or respond to others across multiple social media forums, often neglecting in-person relationships and activities. 
  • Smartphone Addiction - Similar to social media and internet addictions, smartphone addiction is characterized by excessive phone use, often resulting in disrupted sleep patterns and loss of productivity.

Co-occurring Process Addictions

Process addiction can present without any drug or alcohol addiction history, 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. If an individual doesn’t seek help for their process addiction, they are at risk of developing a drug or alcohol addiction. Losing everything because of their process addiction may lead individuals to seek comfort and happiness through drugs or alcohol. Whether you’re struggling with one addiction or co-occurring addictions, Avenues Recovery is here to help with individual treatment plans and full support throughout the recovery process.

Process Addiction vs Substance Addiction

How do process addictions differ from substance use disorders? Process addictions center on a behavior or euphoric feeling that arises from a behavior. Individuals struggling with substance abuse are addicted to the actual drug or alcohol, not the action of using a substance. Unlike substance use disorders, process addictions are not usually associated with physical symptoms, such as hangovers, vomiting, and increased heart rate. Physical withdrawal symptoms when quitting a behavioral addiction are also less severe than the withdrawal symptoms experienced by people detoxing from drugs or alcohol.

Process addictions are similar to substance use disorders in several ways:

  1. Reduced ability to control or stop the addiction
  2. Increased tolerance resulting in increased frequency and intensity of the addictive behavior
  3. Neglect of home, school, and work responsibilities
  4. Legal consequences
  5. Impact on one’s mental health

Process addictions are real and can cause the same level of distress in one’s life as substance addiction.

young addict-1

The Line Between “Normal” and Addiction

Researchers understand that addictive behaviors can damage a person’s life and will continue to negatively impact one’s basic functionality 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 have 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, are where the line gets drawn between healthy passion and addiction: 

  • The person suffers physically or mentally due to the inability to stop engaging in the behavior.
  • 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 caused them to lose their job and houses and even file for bankruptcy, but they continue to gamble. 
  • Regardless of how bad things get, they cannot stop the activity or behavior. 

Those who struggle with process addiction have similar personality traits to those who 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 is it highly ineffective, but such rhetoric may 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.

Causes of Process Addiction

Much like substance abuse cases, those with process addiction usually can’t pinpoint one specific cause for their addiction. Often a slew of different variables lead to this disease. Common causes of process addiction include: 

  • Genetic make-up or biological predisposition.
  • Trauma from childhood or adulthood leads to altered brain function and mental illness.
  • Acute stress issues trigger a person 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 Part of the Co-occurring Disorder

As mentioned, 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, people show signs of a process addiction before beginning to use and abuse drugs or alcohol. 

The opposite can also be true. 

Sometimes, a person will use drugs or alcohol, and the high feeling drives them 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 addiction came first, Avenues Recovery encourages enrolling in a treatment program that is specifically equipped to handle co-occurring disorders. This is also recommended for someone with two or more substance addictions. Individuals with co-occurring disorders require specific treatment to ensure they get clean from their multiple addictions, heal mentally and physically, and attain sobriety. 

Co-occurring disorders are complex, especially during the withdrawal stage. Clients require a lot of familial and professional support to ensure they have the continued courage and motivation to progress forward.

boy addicted to video games-1

When Help Is Necessary

The problem with process addiction is that it’s difficult to establish when healthy behavior disappears and addiction starts. Often, a person’s life starts to deteriorate before they realize that they are addicted. 

Ideally, a person should seek help before their life starts to fall apart. This is where substance abuse and process addiction differ. If someone uses substances, it is a lot easier to predict when 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 cannot stop. 

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

Process Addiction Treatment

Fortunately, most of the treatments and programs that are effective for substance abuse and drug and alcohol dependence are effective for process addiction treatment as well. Clients 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:
    First, the process addiction is diagnosed. A medical professional will also check if co-occurring addiction is present and possibly causing or magnifying the process addiction. 
  • Creating a Treatment Plan:
    Based on the person’s diagnosis, a unique and effective treatment plan is created for them. Process addiction treatment often includes individual counseling, group therapy, and family therapy.
  • Detox:
    During detox,  clients will likely experience insomnia, negative thoughts and feelings, headaches, anxiety, and other symptoms as a result of no longer engaging in their addictive behaviors. During this time, professional support is necessary and available to help them get through this essential phase of 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 receive family support when they decide to seek treatment. Knowing that they haven’t burned bridges with their family will help them recover from their addiction faster.

Find Help for Process Addiction at Avenues Recovery

Process addiction is just as detrimental to a person’s life as substance addiction. Withdrawal symptoms might differ, but behavioral addiction still leads addicts to impulsive and reckless conduct. 

Anyone with process addiction must get the help they need and deserve before they do things that are possibly irreversible. At Avenues Recovery rehab facility, you will receive a treatment plan designed especially for you.  Our individualized treatment programs are well-proven to successfully treat both process addictions and substance use disorders. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Avenues Recovery with any questions. Find hope and courage as you embrace healing on your journey to recovery.

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