Substance Use

What is a Process Addiction?

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Do I Have a Process Addiction?

A process addiction is a compulsion to repeatedly engage in a certain behavior. Process addiction occurs when an individual becomes addicted to this process, behavior, or activity. Although the activity itself is typically normal, such as shopping or eating, it results in harmful consequences because the person cannot control their participation in the activity or stop engaging in it.

Addiction is a term often associated with drug or alcohol abuse, but there is more to it than just substance abuse. Process addiction — as the name suggests — is a non-chemical addiction related to repetitive behaviors (that reflect compulsive tendencies or psychological disorders) that lead to compulsive behaviors.

For instance, excessive gambling or video games/online gaming can lead to a gambling addiction or an online gaming addiction, respectively. Repeated use of the internet can lead to internet addiction. Some repeated behaviors, such as eating when not hungry or overindulging in sweets, can result in a food addiction that, if not treated, can lead to an eating disorder.

Everyone engages in some of these activities. They may even find joy in them. But these activities aren’t considered addictions unless:

  • The activity creates physical health or mental health problems.
  • The activity causes disruptions or difficulties within personal relationships at home or at work.
  • The activity results in negative consequences, such as a gambling addict unable to pay rent or a mortgage.
  • The individual can’t stop participating in the activity even though the consequences are adding up.

If you think you or one of your family members may be struggling, process addiction treatment can help you learn how to address the causes that lead to long-term unhealthy behaviors. Call the treatment specialists at Zinnia Health at (855) 430-9439.

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Process Addictions vs. Substance Addictions

The main difference between process addictions and substance addictions is that a process addiction is an addiction to processes, activities, or behaviors, whereas a substance addiction is an addiction to a prescription or illegal substance.

Aside from this one difference, process addictions and substance use addictions share many similarities.

Both Trigger Chemical Reactions in the Brain

Substance abuse is the repeated taking of a specific substance. Illegal and prescription drugs have an effect on brain chemistry, many of which release chemicals in the brain that induce a blissful state. Repeated abuse of an illicit substance often leads to substance dependence and addiction.

A process or behavioral addiction is caused by the repetition of specific activities or behaviors. The enjoyment gained from the activity is caused by chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine, that are released during the activity. This, in turn, can cause a sort of “action abuse” or “behavior abuse,” in a sense. Over time, an abused activity or behavior can become an addiction. 

Like a substance abuse issue, the cascade of chemicals flooding the brain during specific activities causes the individual to repeat the behavior — even if it leads to destructive outcomes. 

Both Present Harmful Consequences Without Treatment

Substance addictions and process addictions can result in harmful consequences, such as:

  • Deteriorating mental health
  • Debilitating physical health
  • Breakdowns in personal relationships
  • Financial problems

Like substance addictions, process addictions can also lead to legal issues. While the consequences are similar, treatment for substance and process addictions varies based on the cause of the addiction and is unique for every person.

What Causes Process Addiction?

Various influences affect how process addictions develop. The behaviors within a process addiction generate a certain type of “high” as pathways within the brain receive stimulation, causing the release of brain chemicals signaling the “reward” and standing as reinforcement of the behavior or activity.

Trauma, abuse, stress, neglect, or general unhappiness can cause addictive behaviors.

For instance, individuals with mental health disorders struggling with process addictions may engage in the activity as a form of stress relief or to avoid or ignore negative emotions. When these activities become compulsory, if there are other addictions or addictive personality traits present, it can be due to other mental health issues, signifying co-occurring disorders that typically complicate both issues and can worsen the activities attributed to the process addiction.

Process addictions are characterized by specific criteria, such as:

  • The person can’t control the behavior.
  • The person continues engaging in the behavior regardless of any negative repercussions.
  • There’s a physical or emotional dependence tied to the activity.

Addiction of any kind is complex. It affects your brain and confuses your body’s natural means of rewarding certain “good” behaviors, thereby activating the brain’s pathways of reinforcement.

What Types of Process Addictions Exist?

Process addictions can arise from almost anything but shouldn’t be confused with habits necessarily. For instance, when you get into your car to drive somewhere, you likely have a “ritual” such as:

  1. Get in
  2. Close the door
  3. Put the key in the ignition
  4. Start the car
  5. Put on your seatbelt
  6. Check your surroundings
  7. Proceed to drive

While this is no doubt a process, it’s not a process addiction because your act of completing each step in the process:

  • While habitual, isn’t uncontrollable
  • Doesn’t result in negative repercussions
  • Doesn’t release dopamine
  • Doesn’t induce a craving to repeat the behavior

The activities below, however, can become uncontrollable, result in negative repercussions, activate neural pathways resulting in dopamine release, and induce cravings to engage in the activity regardless of consequences.

1. Gambling

A gambling process addiction is an overwhelming desire to participate in gambling activities, such as card games or slot machines, regardless of the act’s negative consequences — winning a jackpot can induce a euphoria much like the high from substance addiction, and substantial losses are much like the resulting crash when there’s no more substance.

Physical casinos, horse tracks, bingo nights at the local community center, and lottery tickets all have online versions today, making access even easier.

Symptoms of a gambling process addiction include:

  • A fixation on any form of gambling, whether slots, sports games, lottery tickets, etc.
  • Going further into debt even though income hasn’t decreased
  • Making accommodations in lifestyle or budget to continue gambling

A gambling addiction can begin for any number of reasons. For instance, a person who’s never gambled in their life wins a hefty sum the first time they visit a casino, bet on a horse, or buy a lottery ticket.

A person with addictive tendencies may seek to replicate that “high.” They might return to that casino, racetrack, or gas station with the idea that they’ll only play a certain amount of money for a specific amount of time, or only buy a certain number of tickets.

The problem is viciously twofold:

  • They win again. With the reinforcement that their luck is good, they might reinvest the winnings with additional gambling.
  • They lose. Because they’ve won in the past, though, the person “knows” they can win again. Several small wins reinforce this feeling, and they continue playing until they lose with nothing left to play.

If a person loses more than they can afford, they may panic and gamble even more because they need to win back their losses.

If you suspect that you or a family member is suffering from a process addiction, contact Zinnia Health at (855) 430-9439. Our compassionate specialists offer process addiction treatment programs that can help uncover triggers and design a holistic treatment plan.

2. Sex, Intimacy, and Love

A sex addiction is a disorder in which individuals feel compelled to seek arousal that’s sexual or intimate in nature. The desire is characterized by an obsession with sex itself or intimate activities in which the individual finds stress relief or improved moods.

It’s perfectly natural, especially when you’re in love with your partner, to experience these heightened sensations from time to time when thinking of them. A person with a sexual addiction, however, isn’t able to control the impulsive nature of their desire and may sexually fantasize about people they’re interested in and even engage in sexual activities that aren’t safe.

A person who’s addicted to love, on the other hand, feels compelled to seek romance and the satisfaction of being “in love.” Love addicts believe all they need to solve life’s problems is to be in a romantic relationship.

The relationship serves their need for romance and helps them feel worthy and secure. Because the addiction is about the relationship, it’s not about the partner, which can be self-defeating and lead to a host of unhealthy dynamics in the home.

3. Shopping

Shopping is a part of everyday life — there are things you need to live comfortably and securely. A shopping addict, however, compulsively spends excessive amounts of money on impulse purchases.

An addiction to shopping creates a “high” that reinforces and even encourages the activity, significantly impairing your life and financial standing.

Shopping addicts also tend to feel guilty or shameful after a spending spree, so a tendency toward secrecy about their spending habits is a protective mechanism.

If you have a shopping addiction, you may use this activity as an attempt to bolster your self-esteem or compensate for anxiety, depression, or another (potentially undiagnosed) mental health issue.

4. Working

Some process addictions may seem harmless and even beneficial for an individual. An addiction to working is often viewed by people around the addict as a love for their job or as a commendable practice — they’re taking care of their family, paying bills, etc., so how can it be wrong or harmful?

Work addicts feel apprehensive or guilty if they’re not doing something tied to their job. Anxieties that can trigger a work addiction include fear of replacement and fear of financial issues, while guilty feelings can stem from personal definitions of success.

The aspects of work addiction most often mistaken for commendable actions by others are fierce loyalty to an employer and strict devotion to the work itself. What’s often unseen is that this loyalty and devotion often result in a stark lack of a personal life — all other activities come second to work, including hobbies, family trips, and other activities the person once loved.

A work addict may not take breaks or days off. For remote workers, this can be especially difficult because the lines between work and home are now blurred. When is the right time to call it a day? What should signal the beginning and end of the workday?

Depending on the nature of the work, this constant connection to job tasks can create physical and mental issues, such as an improper diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor emotional well-being, as well as strained relationships.

These are just some of the most common process addictions. People can develop a process addiction to almost anything, and can even experience several addictions, even process and substance, at the same time.

Process addictions shouldn’t be considered less significant than substance abuse addictions — any addiction can have detrimental effects on the addict and their loved ones.

What Are the Signs or Symptoms of Process Addiction Disorder?

Process addictions, especially if an individual is secretive, can be difficult to pinpoint. However, there are multiple signs and symptoms that can help you spot process addictions, such as:

  • Spending disproportionate amounts of time thinking of or actively engaging in a behavior
  • Inability to control actively participating in the behavior
  • Continued engagement with the behavior even when it’s resulted in negative consequences, whether physical, financial, emotional, or otherwise
  • Attempts to stop a behavior are fruitless
  • Ignoring work, school, or family responsibilities to engage in the activity
  • Engaging in the activity as a way to deal with sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, or other difficult feelings
  • Downplaying how bad the problem has gotten or the effects it’s had on various aspects of your life
  • Akin to substance abuse tolerance, individuals can become process-tolerant, meaning they need to actively engage in the activity more frequently to achieve the same level of fulfillment
  • Having cravings or withdrawal symptoms whenever stopping or avoiding the activity
  • Worsening mental health conditions, such as irritability, sadness, or apprehension when the activity is over
  • Developing a substance use issue to replace the fulfillment of the activity when not participating in the activity

These common signs and symptoms can help you identify your own or a loved one’s process addictions.

Can Process Addiction and Substance Addiction Happen Together?

Behavioral addictions and substance use disorders are often co-occurring disorders because the same desires and feelings prompt both addictions. Behavioral and substance addictions are not dependent conditions — in other words, a process addiction doesn’t automatically mean a person may use substances.

However, both addictions are inadequate coping mechanisms. These addictions can occur separately, overlap, or occur simultaneously, one feeding off the other. An addict can alternate between addictions, such as a video game addiction and an alcohol addiction.

Finding Treatment for Behavioral or Process Addictions

Left untreated, behavioral addictions can devastate an individual’s home, school, social, financial, and work lives. Because process addictions are difficult to overcome alone, treatment with a professional healthcare provider is often warranted.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is just one treatment for process addictions. CBT can help individuals learn how to cope with the negative feelings and thoughts experienced when not engaging in their chosen activity or behavior. This form of treatment is highly successful in:

  • Identifying triggers and risk factors
  • Uncovering why an addiction developed
  • Teaching healthy ways to cope with unhealthy impulses

At Zinnia Health, our treatment specialists use CBT and other programs to treat the whole person. Everyone is unique, and not every process addiction begins the same. If you or someone you love is suffering, behavioral addiction treatment is just a phone call away at (855) 430-9439.

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