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Process Addiction/Behavioral Addiction

Process addiction or behavioral addiction is similar to drug addiction except the individual is not addicted to a substance but a behavior or feeling brought about by a specific action. 

Process addiction is a compulsion to continue with a particular behavior despite the negative consequences and may include:  Gambling addiction, food addiction, sex and love addiction, shopping addiction, pornography and risky behaviors to name but a few.  

Some people don’t feel that a process or behavioral addition can be classed as an addiction and that just a little self-control is all that is needed.  However, if that be so then why can’t we just stop?  When a behavior has turned into a problem and a person just can’t stop and their life is spiraling out of control it is time for a person to seek help.

Gambling addiction

This can include casinos, playing slot machines, poker tournaments, sports bets, on-line gambling.

  • Placing bets more and more frequently
  • Placing more money than originally intended
  • Betting beyond the ability to pay
  • Feeling irritable and aggressive when losing
  • Feelings of hopelessness and depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Spending most of the day preoccupied with the thoughts of gambling
  • Legal problems
  • Bankruptcy
  • Divorce
  • Loss of career.

Food addiction

People with food addiction can’t control their compulsive eating habits.  They tend to crave foods that are high in sugar and salt and are always chasing the “high” these foods give them.   What is more, they continue to seek out these foods despite the fact they are now obese and are struggling with health problems such as diabetes, pancreatitis and gallbladder issues.  Relationships can suffer and feelings of low self-worth and depression can also be present.

Sex and love addiction

People who struggle with sex and love addiction tend to get involved with people they hardly know.  They fear being alone and therefore they stay in dysfunctional relationships.  They confuse love with neediness, and they use sex and emotional involvement to manipulate and control others.   They become immobilized by their sexual obsessions or fantasies and they attach themselves to people who are emotionally unavailable.  They can even place their significant others on pedestals to the detriment of themselves.

Pornography

The danger of pornography use isn’t about right or wrong. It’s about the effects that pornography has on the user and the effects it has on their loved ones. Pornography has serious, negative side effects.  As research shows, pornography use can become an actual addiction, as users are not able to stop by themselves. Pornography addicts need to go through the same recovery process that a drug addict has to go through.

Video games and Internet addiction

Video games and compulsive Internet use may seem relatively harmless, but like other forms of addiction it is a form of escapism.  Compulsive video gaming and Internet addiction can interrupt people’s ability to stay connected with others in a healthy way.  It can affect relationships, work, physical and mental health, as well as, loneliness and depression.

Risky Behaviors

Some people enjoy the thrills and danger that include parachuting, hang-gliding, bungee-jumping as they seek an adrenaline rush.  However, having unprotected sex, driving under the influence and speeding can clearly become compulsive and lead to an inability to stop.  This risky behavior can often have devastating consequences.

Process addiction and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand with people who already have a substance abuse issue.  This is probably due to the fact that the reward response in the brain is so similar for both addictions.  People who are genetically predisposed to addiction will often have poor impulse control, which also adds to their risky behavior.

A diagnosis of addiction and process addiction often include:

  • Dominance of a person’s life by the substance or activity
  • Euphoria or a “high” derived by the substance or activity
  • Tolerance
  • Unpleasant symptoms created by the stopping of the substance or activity
  • Conflict with oneself due to the use of the substance or activity
  • Relapse potential

Treatment Options

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is often the best treatment for any form of addiction, as it addresses impulse control and compulsion.   Group therapy and self-help groups can also be extremely helpful. 

Research and testing on Naltrexone is also underway for process addiction.  Naltrexone has already been used and identified as a drug that helps with cravings for opiates and alcohol.  Naltrexone blocks the receptors in the pleasure centers that are involved in both addictions and certain activities.  Several other mood stabilizers are being considered as possible treatments, including Lithium and Wellbutrin.  When dealing with any form of addiction it is best to consult with a therapist or doctor to get professional advice and guidance.

Johnina Noar, CADC-II
AToN Center 888-535-1516