Addiction is more than the consumption of harmful substances in excess; a person can be addicted to an activity or a behavior. Process addiction is a disorder described as an addiction to activities that provide a feeling of pleasure. Process addiction may yield the same or similar pleasure from an activity as a person addicted to a substance would feel.
Statistically speaking, process addictions are not given as much attention as substance abuse. Though process addictions can be just as harmful as substance abuse, many process addictions are not medically recognized.
Signs and Symptoms of Process Addictions
The specific signs and symptoms of process addictions will vary according to the specific addiction in question. Some general signs of process addictions include loss of control, lessened interest in other activities, compulsive behavior, obsession with certain activities, and lying regarding their participation in the specific activity. Additional symptoms include withdrawal when not engaging in certain activities, heightened excitement, and a sense of euphoria when participating in an activity. A person suffering from a process addiction may dedicate an inordinate amount of time to a particular activity, to the exclusion of other commitments in life.
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Process Addictions and Substance Abuse: The Connection
Process addiction is also referred to as behavioral addiction. Though many of the activities exhibited by a person with a process addiction has may seem harmless, the time and attention dedicated to the behavior is where the problem lies. Process addictions are sometimes harder to recognize than substance addictions, because the problematic behaviors may appear to be related to a hobby rather than an addiction.
Though the actual addiction varies, substance abuse and process addiction have similar characteristics. Some addictions stem from emotional trauma, and some addictions develop out of an attempt to relieve stress or distract from other issues in a person’s life. There is, however, no single cause for addiction; many factors contribute to its formation.
Though substance abuse and process addiction have different specific symptoms, studies have determined some of the precursors of a behavioral or process addiction are depression, substance abuse, social anxiety, or withdrawal. Both substance abuse and process addictions indirectly affect the neurotransmitter systems of the brain.
In some cases, people use process addictions to replace substance abuse or addiction. When a person is addicted to a substance, it becomes the focus of their life. When that person makes the decision to quit, they may pick up another habit and become just as addicted to this new behavior; it’s just a different type of addiction. To avoid replacing one addiction for another, addiction treatment focuses on the root causes of the addictive behavior. The underlying issues are addressed rather than just the addictive behaviors.
The relationship between substance abuse and process addiction is detailed in a study by the St. Louis Epidemiologic Catchment Area. People suffering from a substance dependency are at a greater risk of participating in process addictions. Substance abusers were at a 2.9 times higher risk for gambling addiction than those without substance dependency.
According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2014, an estimated 7.9 adults in the United States were dealing with co-occurring disorders, a substance use disorder in conjunction with another mental health disorder at the same time. It’s important to treat both disorders simultaneously in order to effectively recover from each issue. For example, if a person is suffering from sex addiction and cocaine addiction, this person will be treated for both disorders in the same treatment program at the same time.
Types of Process Addictions
A person can develop a process addiction to many different activities. Often, these are normal healthy, activities; however, the process addiction involves dedicating an excessive amount of time to them. Other areas of a person’s life, including their career, family, social life, health, and finances, suffer as a result of the time and energy committed to the behavior. The most common types of process addictions are detailed below.
Sex addiction is considered reckless and excessive sexual behavior without consideration of consequences. Sex addiction can cause emotional and physical damage to oneself and others involved, and it could expose a person to contracting one or several sexually transmitted diseases or engaging in illegal sexual acts with others. Sex addiction often has an extreme detrimental effect on one’s health and relationships.
The Internet has given people all over the globe the ability to access information and other people in seconds. Internet addiction involves excessive time spent online and anxiety when without access to the Internet. Oftentimes, those suffering from Internet addiction prefer online interactions to real-life conversations. Some psychologists do not see Internet addiction as a true process addiction, but if a person’s online use is extreme, to the point that it becomes the priority in life, there is definite potential for addiction.
Gambling addiction is a disorder that causes a person to have uncontrollable urges to gamble despite the risk involved. Studies have proven gambling stimulates the brain’s reward system similarly to how alcohol does. The excitement and rush experienced when winning can be addictive to a person, causing them to continually bet money or items in hope of feeling that rush once again. A person can easily spend all their savings, accumulate massive amounts of debt, or even steal from others to satisfy their urges.
According to Psychiatric Times, about one in 20 adults suffer from compulsive buying or shopping addiction. Those suffering from the disorder will often become obsessive about purchasing an item, but once attained, they may no longer be interested in it. Instead, their focus shifts to buying the next item. The disorder has more to do with the rush experienced when purchasing an item versus the value or satisfaction the item brings once in the person’s possession.
Like other activities associated with process addictions, eating can bring a sense of comfort or joy. For those suffering from food addiction, food is often used to soothe anxiety, stress, or other uncomfortable emotions. Generally, those suffering from food addiction eat past the point of feeling full, often to the point of feeling ill. In addition, food may become the focus of the person’s life, and days may be structured around how to get certain food items. Those suffering from food addiction may also eat in private so they are not judged by the amount they eat.
Binge eating, which often occurs with food addiction, is harmful to a person’s body and overall health, leading to problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart problems, and even death.
How to Get Help for Process Addictions
As with any addiction, the first step to recovery is coming to terms with the present problem. Once a person is able to recognize their addictive behavior, they can begin to take necessary steps to end their addiction. Process addiction will not result in the same physical withdrawals as substance abuse, but it is still possible to struggle with the idea of letting go of certain behaviors that were once so important.
While “detox” doesn’t occur in the traditional sense with process addictions, many people enroll in residential treatment for the oversight provided. It can be particularly difficult to abstain from the addictive behaviors during the first few weeks of treatment, and people are likely to relapse if they are unsupervised. In a residential treatment program, people have professional oversight that limits their access to the problematic behaviors. In addition, they receive around-the-clock support to help them abstain from the behaviors.
The bulk of the addiction treatment program will involve therapy, both on an individual and group basis. In therapy, clients will identify and address the issues that led to the compulsive behavior. Process addictions are rarely just about the thrill of the behavior; they are often used to distract from or soothe other uncomfortable emotions or issues in a person’s present life or past. Clients will devise coping mechanisms to employ when triggers to participate in the behavior inevitably rise again in the future.
Complementary therapies, such as meditation, art therapy, equine-assisted therapy, exercise and fitness regimes, and yoga, may be employed in certain addiction treatment programs. The key is that programs should be tailored to the needs of the individual in treatment and adjusted as the person progresses. With proper help, process addictions can be effectively managed on a long-term basis, allowing people to live healthy, balanced lives.