Process addiction occurs when a person’s behavior becomes compulsive to the point that they are unable to stop the activity, despite significant negative repercussions in their life and the lives of those around them.
This blog explores the signs, symptoms, causes and types of process addiction, as well as how to get effective treatment.
What is process addiction?
Unlike many common addictions – for example nicotine, alcohol or drugs – process addiction does not involve a substance. However, the desire to experience a ‘high’ from the behavior becomes so strong that the sufferer continues to engage in the activity despite the harm it may cause in many areas of their life, including physical and mental health, relationships, finances, work and education.
Researchers describe compulsively engaging in activities such as internet use, exercise, overeating, shopping, gambling, pornography and sexual activity as process addictions (Alavi et al. 2012), but the exact criteria that connect them are still under debate.
Signs and symptoms of process addiction
If you are concerned that your behavior, or that of a loved one, may be unhealthy, here are some warning signs:
- Do you spend most of your time engaging in, thinking about or planning to engage in the behavior or activity?
- Do you continuing the behavior or activity despite physical harm, mental distress and/or financial difficulties?
- Do you struggle to control the behavior or activity, despite wanting to cut down or stop?
- Have you become dependent on the behavior or activity as a way of coping with your emotions?
- Do you experience withdrawal symptoms, like depression, anxiety or irritability, when trying to stop?
- Are you neglecting work, school or social activities to engage in it?
- Do you no longer enjoy the behavior or activity but feel an overwhelming urge to do it?
- Are you secretive about your behavior and do you hide the extent of your problem from others?
Process addiction vs. behavioral addiction
The terms ‘process addiction’ and ‘behavioral addiction’ both refer to the same type of behavior – when a person feels compelled to excessively engage in an activity despite harmful consequences. The addictive behavior can be considered a ‘process’ which is where the term ‘process addiction’ comes from. The condition describes addiction to a type of behavior rather than to a substance which is where the term ‘behavioral addiction’ derives.
Causes of process addiction
There are a number of psychological, biological and social factors that can make some people more susceptible than others to process addiction:
- Negative childhood experiences – trauma, abuse or neglect
- Familial factors – family history of addiction or mental health issues
- Co-existing addictive disorders – people with substance use addictions are more likely to develop process addictions
- Personality traits – those who are more impulsive and risk taking are more likely to experience problematic behaviors and addiction
- Lifestyle – people who repeatedly engage in the behavior or activity are more likely to develop a problem.
Types of process addiction
There are many types of process addiction. Here are some of the most common ones:
Gambling addiction, also known as called problem gambling or gambling disorder, is characterized by being preoccupied with gambling, feeling irritable or aggressive when not gambling, placing bets more and more often, betting more than originally intended or able to afford, and chasing losses. Gambling addiction can have serious consequences including bankruptcy, divorce, legal problems, job loss and suicidal thoughts. It the only officially-recognized behavioral addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) at present.
Learn more about therapy for gambling addiction.
The World Health Organization will include gaming disorder in its eleventh iteration of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) which comes into effect in 2022. It defines gaming disorder as “a pattern of gaming behavior (‘digital-gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
Learn more about therapy for gaming disorder.
Social media addiction
For a small percentage of users, checking and scrolling through social networking sites is a process addiction. It is characterized by having an uncontrollable obsession or compulsion to engage with social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it is all consuming. Social media addiction can be largely attributed to the dopamine-inducing environments that social media platforms provide. Studies have shown that the constant stream of likes, shares and retweets cause the brain’s reward area to trigger the same kind of chemical reaction seen with drugs.
Exercise addiction is an unhealthy obsession with physical fitness and exercise. It can lead to something referred to as ‘runner’s high’ where the body releases endorphins which create a sense of euphoria while raising the pain threshold. However, if the body’s muscle systems don’t get enough rest, they can start to deteriorate. Excessive exercise can also deplete nutrients and interrupt sleep, which can have a detrimental effect on health. Plus, an obsession with exercise can disrupt daily responsibilities and cause relationship conflicts.
People with sex addiction are unable to control their sexual urges and fantasies, which may be harmful to themselves and others. They can become addicted to having sex or engaging in sexual activities to experience the feeling of euphoria released by endorphins and other chemicals in the brain. They often have to significantly alter their life in order to have sex or engage in sexual activities multiple times a day to experience the ‘high’. People with a sex addiction are unable to stop the behavior despite the negative ways it may affect their personal life, or physical or mental health.
A shopping addict (sometimes referred to as a shopaholic) is someone who shops compulsively and has no control over their behavior. As they shop, their brain releases endorphins and dopamine, and over time, these feelings can become addictive. The addiction can manifest itself when the individual feels anxious or depressed. It is usually the act of shopping, not the purchases, that is addictive. In many cases, someone with shopping addiction will never use or wear the majority of things they have bought.
Work addiction, also known as workaholism, is the compulsive need to work, despite negative consequences. The addiction is sometimes driven by the obsessive need to achieve status and success, or escape stress As with other process addictions, a person with work addiction achieves a ‘high’ from working. They often continue to work excessively despite the adverse ways it may affects relationships, and their physical or mental health.
Treatment for process addiction
Although process addictions can be destructive, they are also highly treatable. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective addiction treatments because it focuses on changing thought patterns, which can help eliminate problem behaviors.
At Kindbridge, we will assess the symptoms and severity of the process addition in order to devise a personalized recovery plan. If the addiction is being used as coping mechanism for underlying emotional issues, we will also seek to identify and treat those co-existing psychological problems. A fully-licensed therapist will help you, or a loved one, regain control of your life.
Our online counseling is highly accessible, affordable and convenient. Take the first step today and book your free 30-minute consultation.