A process addiction is hallmarked by obsessive participation in an activity despite the adverse consequences it is causing. The same is true for substance addiction—except the individual is addicted to drugs or alcohol instead of a behavior. The primary difference is that persons who are not exposed to intoxicating substances do not generally encounter the same physical withdrawal symptoms.
Both forms of addiction can be extremely harmful and severely affect the lives of those struggling with these diseases and the people around them.
What Is Process Addiction?
Many doubt that it is actually possible to develop an addiction to a behavior such as shopping or gambling in a manner that rivals an addiction to drugs or alcohol. However, the American Psychological Association (APA) states that this is possible because addiction is characterized by a psychological compulsion to engage in frequent repetitive behavior, regardless of which is the person’s primary focus.
Process addictions can come in many forms, such as those centered on the following:
- Video games
There are any number of behaviors to which a person may become addicted. My Strange Addiction is a popular series on the TLC channel that details dozens of cases of people who compulsively engage in very odd behaviors, such as eating clay and getting plastic surgery.
Like substance abuse, individuals can become addicted to the rewarding feelings these activities produce, primarily related to an increase in endorphins, dopamine, and other neurochemicals in the brain that are closely associated with feelings of pleasure.
Substance Use Disorders
Substance abuse includes excessive use of alcohol, any use of illicit drugs such as heroin, or the misuse of prescription medications that cause an individual to experience adverse outcomes. These unwanted consequences may include the following:
- Neglect of responsibilities at home, school, and work
- Strained or broken relationships with loved ones
- Legal issues, including DUIs, arrest, and incarceration
- Financial problems, which may be severe
- Physical and mental health conditions
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Serious bodily injury or death related to drug or alcohol intoxication or overdose
A substance use disorder is largely the product of dependence, tolerance, and compulsive drug-seeking behavior. Over time, individuals can develop a tolerance to intoxicating substances, which means they are forced to use ever-increasing amounts to experience the sought-after effects.
Also, dependence can occur due to the extended use of certain legal or illicit substances, including prescription medications, even when used as prescribed. When physical dependence has developed, the body has become accustomed to the drug’s continuous presence in the system. This condition incites unpleasant physical symptoms such as shakiness, headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea when substance use is discontinued.
Psychological dependence tends to manifest along with physical dependence and involves emotional symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and irritability upon substance abuse cessation.
The choice to experiment with a substance is usually entirely voluntary. However, once a substance use disorder has manifested, long-lasting brain changes have occurred that make it virtually impossible for many individuals to quit using without intervention and professional help.
Substance Abuse and Process Addiction: Common Characteristics
When a person repeatedly abuses drugs, he or she is often unconcerned with the consequences of their actions, as they chase a high and attempt to avoid withdrawal. Likewise, the same can be said about process addictions—individuals often fail to consider the consequences of the excessive use of pornography, gambling, eating, or sex.
Instead, they primarily focus on immediate feelings of pleasure and reward that engaging in the act provides them. Moreover, a person experiencing a process addiction may incur consistent brain changes similar to those related to substance addiction.
Some signs of process addictions that are comparable to those of a substance use disorder include the following:
Tolerance: People who use substances may feel they need to use more and more over time to achieve the desired effects. Those with a process addiction may engage in the behavior more often or more intensely for similar reasons.
Withdrawal symptoms: Those who are substance-dependent experience physical and emotional symptoms if they try to quit. Those with a process addiction may experience extreme anxiety or depression if they cannot engage in their compulsive behavior.
Inability to modify behavior: Those with both process addictions and substance use disorders may aspire to curb or discontinue their behavior(s) but find they cannot do so for any significant amount of time.
Primary focus: Individuals with substance use disorders and process addictions often spend a substantial amount of time and effort planning, participating in, and recovering from the behaviors related to their addiction, such as drinking, using drugs, gambling, or shopping.
Indeed, it is also possible to experience both a process addiction and substance use disorder simultaneously. Such co-occurring conditions exist because both types of compulsive behavior are influenced by many of the same underlying factors, including:
- Having a history of childhood trauma
- Growing in an environment conducive to substance use, especially parents and other family members who experience addiction
- Experiencing mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety
- Having a genetic propensity to addiction and impulsive or compulsive behavior
Getting Professional Treatment for Addiction
When an individual experiences both substance abuse and process addiction, comprehensive treatment that addresses both disorders concurrently is usually necessary. In addition to behavioral therapy, Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer individual and group counseling, peer support groups, psychoeducation, health and wellness programs, mindfulness therapy, aftercare planning, and more.