A commonly – and erroneously – held belief is that addiction is restricted to substances like drugs and alcohol. However, our understanding of addiction has expanded in recent years, and scientists now believe that any stimulating activity can become addictive.
Process addictions are also called behavioral addictions, as they rely on predictable and repeated patterns in behavior. Though process addictions are not associated with the same biological effects of an addiction to alcohol or illicit substances, they can take a damaging psychological toll. The most common types of process addiction include gambling, work, compulsive shopping, sex, and using the internet.
Some people are at higher risk for developing a process addiction than others. For example, a person with underlying depression, other substance abuse problems, or social anxiety may be more likely to develop a behavioral addiction. Additionally, lack of social support has been shown to be a possible precursor to the condition.
How Can Behaviors Be Addictive?
There is some confusion about process addictions and how they differ from other forms of substance abuse. Recent studies about process addiction show that a person who overly participates in a non-substance-related but pleasurable activity can undergo structural changes in the reward system of the brain.
Some people may also have a natural predisposition to develop process addictions. These individuals have fewer dopamine receptors in the brain, or they may not be able to produce as much serotonin or dopamine, the so-called “feel good” neurotransmitters. As a result, these individuals find it difficult to find pleasure in experiences that others might find rewarding, and seek pleasure through other means that can prove psychologically damaging or addictive.
Impulsive Behaviors and Addiction
Impulsive behaviors are closely tied to both substance abuse and process addictions. Impulses are urges in your body and mind to do something or to perform an action, even if your analytical judgment tells you that doing so can have negative consequences. This will seem familiar to those who have gone through the argument in their mind of whether or not having another drink or taking a drug is the right thing to do. This is the same for process addictions like gambling or shopping or sex addiction. The urge to perform that action simply is stronger than the will to resist.
Symptoms of Impulsive Behaviors
- Low Self-Control – “I don’t know when to stop.” This is very common in binge drinking and in those that have addictions that go to extremes.
- Low Perseverance – Characterized by procrastination and getting bored easily.
- Searching for New Experiences – Wanting to experience new things is not inherently bad in all cases, but when the urge to do something new is stronger than your what judgment and rational thought is telling you to do, it is definitely problematic.
Comparable to the chicken and egg conundrum, impulsive behaviors can cause a person to abuse drugs and alcohol or develop a process addiction, or the addiction can cause or worsen impulsive behaviors.
The Most Common Types Of Process Addiction
Often, process addictions become apparent when they escalate to the point of jeopardizing a person’s career, finances, or family life. While these can be any pattern of behavior that leads to negative consequences or obsession, the most common types include:
Gambling is a legal form of entertainment that can be fun for some people, but for compulsive gamblers, the activity can wreak havoc on finances and family life. People who gamble compulsively can win and lose thousands of dollars in a matter of days, or even hours. Gambling triggers a euphoric rush that a person with a gambling addiction craves. When they lose, they experience a crushing loss that triggers a need to gamble again, in an attempt to regain the high. This creates a vicious cycle of damaging behavior.
People who struggle with sex addiction often engage in risky behaviors to fulfill their high. This may include inappropriate touching or sexual misconduct, engaging in risky sexual activity, or sexual compulsions interfering with work or family life.
A pornography addiction may coincide with sex addiction or exist separately. A person with a pornography addiction may compulsively engage in the behavior so often that it affects their mental health, job status, or social life.
Shopping Or Compulsive Spending Addiction
An intense need to spend money, often for items that are unnecessary or frivolous, marks compulsive spending or shopping addictions. These frequent shopping sprees often lead to financial issues, obsession over money and item prices, and affecting the person’s marriage or social life.
Much like someone with a substance addiction, a person who has a work addiction achieves a sense of euphoria from working, which causes them to repeat the behavior compulsively. Work addictions often are connected with a need to achieve success or a certain status. A person struggling with a work addiction will be unable to stop their behavior, despite the negative toll it takes on their family life or mental health.
Internet Or Phone Addiction
Internet and smartphone addictions are a relatively new phenomenon, but their effect on the psyche is well-documented. A person struggling with an internet or phone addiction may be linked to other compulsive behaviors, such as online gambling or pornography. Others may struggle to break free of social media or online chatrooms.
Process Addiction Treatment
Process addictions are linked to a pattern of compulsive behavior. Some people have difficulty controlling impulses or finding adequate substitutes for behavior that might be damaging or inherently risky. These individuals are at an increased risk for process addiction but are also at risk for other substance abuse problems. In fact, substance abuse and process addictions often coincide.
How to Treat Process Addictions and Impulsive Behaviors
Treating a process addiction begins with learning to control impulses. Intervention techniques and training can help rein in impulses and lead to changes in the areas of the brain that control impulses. Cognitive behavioral therapies and mental health counseling can usually get to the bottom of what causes these behaviors, and can teach you how to use rational thought and judgment to resist the impulses.
Harmony Place uses a variety of targeted therapies to help people suffering from process addiction, including preventive strategies that help clients guard against patterns of impulsive behavior. These strategies help prevent the development of a process addiction, while also helping the recovery process from substance abuse and addiction.