Any type of compulsive behavior, not related to substances, that interferes with daily functioning and causes negative ramifications in social, occupational, and family life is considered a process addiction, often abbreviated as PA. There are many types of process addictions, including:

    • Eating addiction
    • Gambling addiction
    • Sexual and love addiction
    • Internet addiction
    • Addiction to exercise
    • Spending addiction
    • Work addiction

Process addictions differ from drug and alcohol addictions in that they are behavioral addictions as opposed to chemical addictions. They are still addictions, however, and cause many of the same changes to the brain that substance addictions do. As a result, they can have some of the same devastating consequences when left untreated. Process addictions are often overlooked and misunderstood. Guilt and shame may cause people to hide their process addictions and therefore withdraw from loved ones also. Process addictions can co-occur with other mental health disorders as well as substance abuse, which can further complicate matters. Research published in <em><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3134413/" target="_blank">Evaluation and the Health Professions</a> </em>estimates that as many as 47 percent of American adults suffer from some form of addiction or dependency within a one-year period, with many individuals suffering from multiple addictions simultaneously.Process addictions differ from drug and alcohol addictions in that they are behavioral addictions as opposed to chemical addictions. They are still addictions, however, and cause many of the same changes to the brain that substance addictions do. As a result, they can have some of the same devastating consequences when left untreated.

Process addictions are often overlooked and misunderstood. Guilt and shame may cause people to hide their process addictions and therefore withdraw from loved ones also. Process addictions can co-occur with other mental health disorders as well as substance abuse, which can further complicate matters. Research published in Evaluation and the Health Professions estimates that as many as 47 percent of American adults suffer from some form of addiction or dependency within a one-year period, with many individuals suffering from multiple addictions simultaneously.

Symptoms of specific process addictions

A process addiction is when someone has lost control over their ability to stop a certain behavior that is repetitive, and therefore the behavior interferes with their daily life. Specific symptoms for the most common process addictions include:

This addiction is often put into the eating disorder category and called binge eating. It involves eating compulsively even when not hungry, binging without purging, and hiding eating. The individual may or may not be overweight.
Symptoms include lifestyle changes to accommodate the need to gamble, fluctuations in mood related to gambling, debt or financial issues related to gambling, and constantly thinking and talking about gambling.
The individual may participate in sex in order to relieve stress or alter mood, have an inability to control sexual fantasies and compulsions, have excessive thoughts about sexual activity and/or a person of romantic interest, and participate in risky sexual behavior and inappropriate touching.
Symptoms include use of the Internet to positively alter mood and excessive time spent online to the detriment of outside relationships.
This addiction is common in athletes. Symptoms include continuing to exercise even after injuries, depression when not exercising, and training that interferes with regular life functions.
The individual excessively spends money as a way to feel good, obsesses about future spending sprees, and has debt or financial issues related to spending.
The individual has an inability to separate work from the rest of life to the detriment of their social and personal life.

Any behavior in which the person spends most of their time thinking about, seeking out, or engaging in the behavior is considered a process addiction.

  • Addiction and the brain

    The science of addiction has advanced over the years. While addictions used to be considered moral failings or the results of a lack of willpower, it is now understood that chemical changes actually occur in the brains of addicted individuals. Addiction is considered a brain disease since scientists understand that it changes the way the brain works, and these changes can be long-term.

    When something makes you “feel good,” the reward center of the brain is activated, flooding your system with neurotransmitters like dopamine. This natural “high” can be caused by any number of activities, and the natural instinct is to replicate something that makes you feel this way.

    Much like with substance abuse where drugs or alcohol stimulate these pleasure centers in the brain, process addictions cause the same chemicals to be released. An addict will repeat these behaviors over and over again to sustain this euphoria with no regard to the consequences. This can have damaging consequences that are not only lifestyle-related (e.g., gambling debts); they can also cause long-term damage to the brain.

    Flooding your system with the brain’s chemical messengers or neurotransmitters repeatedly can actually cause the reward or pleasure center in your brain to not function normally. Addicts will require more and more of whatever causes their “high” in order maintain the same euphoric effects. It may become harder and harder to achieve this, which can lead to lower lows, depression, and even substance abuse and dependency as the individual attempts to self-medicate.

    Per the Professional Counselor Journal, process addiction and substance abuse often co-occur with rates as high as:

    • Sexual and love addiction: 40 percent
    • Eating addiction: 25 percent
    • Gambling addiction: between 20 and 30 percent
    • Exercise addiction: 15 percent
    • Internet addiction: 10 percent

    It is very common, therefore, for process addicts to have more than one addiction or disorder at a time.

  • What crosses a process addiction?

    There is no singular event or root cause that leads to a process addiction, rather a combination of factors are at play including biological, genetic, social, and environmental factors. There are certain risk factors that may predispose someone to develop an addiction while others do not. These risk factors include a poor home life and childhood trauma, social pressures, stress, and genetic factors. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that genetic factors may account for as much as 40 to 60 percent of someone’s vulnerability to developing an addiction.

    Certain behavioral tendencies like being a perfectionist or having anxiety may increase the likelihood of turning to addiction also. Social and emotional stressors may lead to someone turning to addictive behavior to relieve stress, escape a situation, or even to appease friends who encourage them to engage in the behavior.

    Co-occurring disorders can increase the potential of developing an addiction as well. It can be difficult to ascertain which comes first, the addiction or the mental health disorder, and often the interaction of the two can amplify already difficult symptoms. Many suffering from a process addiction also suffer from multiple addictions at the same time.

When does a process addict need help?

process addiction treatmentIf you are, or someone you love is, suffering from a process addiction, help is not only available but also a necessary part of the recovery process. Left untreated, process addictions can have dangerous social, economic, personal, and even physical consequences.

Process addiction can affect all manner of people, regardless of age, gender, or race. According to the Professional Counselor Journal, 3 percent of Americans suffer from a sexual addiction while 2 percent of Americans suffer from each of these addictions: gambling addiction, exercise addiction, eating addiction, and Internet addiction.

Like other forms of addiction, including chemical addictions, process addictions are often treated with psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that works to help people identify and manage the social, emotional, and environmental triggers that may have led them down the path to addiction. CBT helps to change the negative thought and behavioral patterns associated with these addictive actions. Integrated treatment is also necessary for someone suffering from co-occurring disorders since multiple addictions or disorders are likely complexly intertwined and require simultaneous and progressive treatment.

Here at The Recovery Village, our professional staff is highly trained, compassionate, and understanding. Call today for a comprehensive evaluation to help determine which of our many different treatment programs and options is right for you or your loved one.

Process Addiction Treatment was last modified: November 1st, 2016 by The Recovery Village