Process addictions occur when a person becomes addicted to a specific type of behavior. Treatment focuses on reducing unhealthy behaviors and creating healthier coping behaviors.

Process addictions, also called behavioral addictions, occur when a person becomes addicted to a specific type of behavior. Some common process addictions include sex addiction, gambling addiction and internet addiction. Just as the symptoms of a process addiction are like those of a drug or alcohol addiction, behavioral addiction treatment is in many ways comparable to other addiction treatment. A person requiring process addiction treatment may be subject to the stigma that a behavioral addiction is an issue of willpower as no mind- or mood-altering substance is present. This type of thinking is dangerous and harmful to someone who is seeking treatment. Treatment for process addiction should be taken seriously as the consequences of a behavioral addiction are just as impairing as many substance use disorders. Treatment for process addiction will typically include therapy, medication management or some combination of the two.

Therapy for Process Addiction

Process addiction therapy may be necessary for a person to regain control over their life. Unlike substance use disorders, process addictions may be harder to stop as many of the behaviors are unable to be avoided entirely. For example, it’s unrealistic for a person seeking therapy for compulsive behavior, such as internet addiction, to commit to never using the internet again. Compulsive behavior therapy often focuses on creating healthy boundaries for addictive behaviors and identifying the reason the addiction developed.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the top approaches for treating mental and behavioral health concerns. CBT focuses on the connection between thoughts, feelings and actions. A CBT therapist works with clients to change thoughts and behaviors which in turn change perceptions. For someone with a process addiction, CBT may focus on the underlying causes of the addiction or changing the thoughts and actions surrounding the compulsive behavior.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) works to change negative thought patterns and unhealthy behaviors. A DBT therapist helps clients regulate emotions, reduce overall anxiety and distress, and utilize positive coping skills.  DBT for process addictions will focus on finding new healthier behaviors and increasing tolerance for distress associated with not engaging in the compulsive behavior.
  • Motivational Interviewing. Motivational interviewing (MI) is a therapeutic approach focused on addressing ambivalence towards change. An MI therapist can work with a client to increase awareness of the negative consequences of a behavior. Awareness then leads to action as intrinsic motivation increases. As someone with a process addiction becomes increasingly aware of how their behavior is negatively affecting their life, their desire and willingness to change will increase.

Medication for Process Addiction

There is no specific medication for process addictions. Depending on the underlying causes, medication may be used for treatment. For example, if a person has underlying depression, an anti-depressant medication may be prescribed. Naltrexone, a medication used to reduce drug cravings, has been used as a behavioral addiction medication with some success. Further research is needed to determine whether or not this is an effective treatment option.

Treating Process Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

When treating process addiction and co-occurring disorders, there are several levels of care available. For the most severe cases, inpatient treatment may be the best option. These programs typically last from 30 to 90 days. Other people may be better suited or prefer outpatient treatment. Usually, a person will attend group and individual therapy up to several times a week initially. As the person progresses, the frequency of sessions is adjusted.

Support Groups for Compulsive Behaviors

Support groups for emotional and behavioral disorders can be very effective. Most groups provide peer-to-peer support including sponsorship. Many are based on the 12-step model initially created for alcohol use disorders. The groups usually focus on one specific set of compulsive behaviors. Some common process addiction support groups include Gamblers AnonymousSex Addicts Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous. Meetings can be found through most organization’s websites.

If you or a loved one struggles with process addiction, don’t wait another day. The Recovery Village can help. Our medical professionals are trained in treating addictions and co-occurring disorders. Reach out to a representative today for a free consultation.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Denise-Marie Griswold, LCAS
Denise-Marie Griswold is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She earned her Master's Degree in Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling from East Carolina University in 2014. Read more

Grant, J. E., Potenza, M. N., Weinstein, A., & Gorelick, D. A. “Introduction of Behavioral Addictions.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published September 2010. Accessed February 10, 2019.

Alavia, S. S., Ferdosi, M., Jannatifard, F., Eslami, M., Alaghemandan, H., & Setare, M. “Behavioral Addictions versus Substance A[…] Psychological Views.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published April 2012. Accessed February 10, 2019.

Tillery, E. E., & Shark, A. N. “Off-label use of naltrexone for compulsive behavior.” The Mental Health Clinician, Published 2015. Accessed February 10, 2019.

Wilson, A. D., & Johnson, P. “Counselors’ Understanding of Process A[…]the Counseling Field.” The Professional Counselor. Accessed February 10, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.