Here, we answer the question, what are process addictions?

Find out here the most common types of process addiction and how they can be treated. If you need help with an addiction now, don’t hesitate to contact us today at Ocean Recovery to find out how we can help you recover, no matter your kind of addiction.

What Is a Process Addiction?

A process addiction, also commonly referred to as behavioural addiction, is a term used to describe a particular action or activity that does not involve the consumption of substances like drugs or alcohol.

Rather than drugs and alcohol, a process addiction revolves around repetitive behaviours or activities that individuals find pleasurable but which still, ultimately, have negative consequences on their lives.

Behaviours giving rise to process addiction all involve the potential for the sufferer to experience a reward or a perceived reward. When this reward is anticipated, dopamine is released in the brain. It’s this release of dopamine that perpetuates the process of addiction at hand rather than the behaviour itself per se.

Substance Addiction Vs Process Addiction: The Similarities

All addictions, whether substance abuse or process addictions, stimulate the brain’s central reward system.

This reward system is known as the brain’s ‘dopamine pathways’. When the release of dopamine is associated with a certain behaviour, whether that is taking the substance or the act of a process addiction, you will begin to seek out that behaviour compulsively.

The ability to derive pleasure from the activity also decreases; as tolerance grows, more and more is needed to feel the effects of the addiction. It is due to this similarity of dopamine that both substance addiction and process addictions have the following correlations.

  • Loss of Control
  • Cravings
  • Withdrawals (psychological)
  • Escapism
  • Tolerance increase

While substance addictions come with physical withdrawals that process addictions may not, the influence of psychological withdrawal symptoms is just as serious, including the likes of restlessness, irritability, anxiety or depression.

There is medication to help with these symptoms, and being within a designated rehab space can make the process of getting sober much more manageable.

Substance Addiction Vs Process Addiction: The Differences

The key difference between substance addictions and process addictions is that substance addictions directly impact neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine. Process addictions indirectly impact the brain’s reward system.

When you consume a drug such as cocaine, the drug itself directly causes the brain to become flooded with the pleasure-producing neurotransmitter known as dopamine. In contrast, engaging in addictive behaviours such as gambling or compulsive shopping will only indirectly cause the brain to become flooded with dopamine.

Nonetheless, there are some differences between the two; these include, but aren’t limited to:

  • No substances are required for a process of addiction
  • Substance addiction induces a chemical effect; process addictions are psychological
  • Substance addictions induce physical withdrawal symptoms
  • Substance addictions require detoxification (medically assisted)
  • Legal implications (illegal substances can have legal implications, whereas most process addictions won’t)

Types of Common Process Addictions

Many process addictions arise from natural and healthy behaviours that can spiral out of control, whether that be due to mental health implications, social situations or similar instances.

This includes activities such as having sex, eating food and exercising. Because process addictions largely arise from seemingly harmless activities, many people unknowingly continue to experience them despite accompanying negative consequences.

Below, you can find some of the more common process addictions.

Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is perhaps the most widely known and accepted process addiction in existence.

However, it is incredibly difficult, and it can land those suffering in serious debt and legal trouble while even quickly becoming a gateway to other addictions as a coping mechanism.

Those addicted to gambling are often termed ‘compulsive gamblers’, which is why gambling is indeed illegal in many countries. It can be detrimental to mental health, families and pretty much every aspect of life.

In fact, if you suffer from a gambling addiction, you are also significantly more likely to commit suicide due to the negative consequences of a gambling addiction.

It is crucially important to get help before it spirals out of control; you may find it surprising that those who suffer from gambling addiction are more likely to commit suicide when compared to people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Rehab for gambling is incredibly common; there is no shame in getting help as people like us and many other rehab centres are here to help.

Sex Addiction

Following the revelation that President Bill Clinton had ‘sexual relations’ with 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky in 1998, the term ‘sex addiction’ was thrust into the limelight.

Nearly 20 years on, the concept of ‘sex addiction’ is one that’s largely accepted by the public. However, sex addiction is yet to be included in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Like all process addictions, sex is linked with a reward. When you have sex, your brain is flooded with dopamine.

It is this release of dopamine that perpetuates sex addiction; like a drug, it is easy to crave more of it to feel the same rush of dopamine. Symptoms of sex addiction include being preoccupied with sex, and you act on sexual compulsions despite negative consequences that may arise from doing so.

Food Addiction

Food addiction includes the compulsive behaviour of eating high-calorie foods that are highly processed, sugary or fatty – making the experience of eating pleasurable.

Being addicted to food makes it difficult to control eating habits, similar to those who take substances or drink alcohol chronically. Just like these substances, intense cravings for particular foods can make it hard to stop.

Plus, since we have to eat to get through the day, it is impossible to go ‘cold turkey’ on eating alone. This can make it incredibly difficult to control, but with the right help, it is certainly possible.

Internet Addiction

Internet is a relatively new addiction, but nonetheless, suffered by masses of users.

There now exists thousands of websites dedicated to exposing and treating all-manners of Internet addictions. The most common form of Internet addiction is Internet porn addiction. This is followed by Internet gaming addiction.

The vast majority of people who use the Internet will not develop an Internet addiction.

Generally, an Internet addiction will arise when the sufferer spends a disproportionate amount of his or her time online. This vast amount of time spent surfing the Internet means sufferers begin to neglect other aspects of their lives.

This may mean Internet addicts cannot cope with their daily living needs. An Internet addiction may result in family breakdown, job loss and even suicide. It’s thus vital that those suffering from an Internet addiction seek out help before it is too late.

Shopping Addiction

The term ‘shopping addiction’ is commonly used in situations that don’t warrant its use.

Many people use the word ‘shopping addiction’ to describe shopping binges or in a situation when more money has been spent than the spender can afford.

This is a highly misguided use of the term ‘shopping addiction’; shopping addiction is also known as ‘compulsive spending’.

Those who experience shopping addiction often claim they feel immense feelings of shame and guilt following a shopping binge. Shopping addiction is characterised by its social, financial and emotional consequences, yet still pursuing the shopping spree even when the consequences are well known.

Symptoms of process addictions

Find some of the most common symptoms of process addictions below; if you or somebody you know is exhibiting these sorts of symptoms, seek help today.

  • Denial
  • Cravings when the behaviour is stopped
  • Inability to resist the temptation to engage in the behaviour
  • You stop engaging in long-held hobbies and interests
  • You build up a tolerance for the activity, meaning you must expose yourself to it more and more to experience the desired amount of pleasure
  • Feelings of denial
  • Feelings of shame and guilt following a binge
  • You hide the behaviour from loved ones
  • Loss of control

One central characteristic of process addictions is the associated loss of control when it comes to refraining from the addictive activity. Those affected by process addictions are unable to control the addiction through mere willpower.

Get Treatment for Process Addictions

Due to this loss of control and continued use despite negative consequences, it’s usually necessary for those who suffer from process addictions to seek out professional addiction treatment.

Modern addiction treatment is highly effective, and the majority of people seeking out addiction treatments can make a full recovery within a six-to-twelve-month period.

At Ocean Recovery Centre, we use tailored process addiction treatments, which are tailored to the specific process of addiction you must tackle.

The treatment we offer focuses on abstinence. Sometimes this is not possible. For instance, if you are addicted to food, you cannot simply live your life by starving. In this case, we help you to develop healthier patterns where you simply eat enough food to meet your daily energy requirements.

if you are struggling with a porn addiction, check out our guide on how to overcome a porn addiction or for more information on our behavioural / process addiction services, get in touch today.


John Gillen - Author - Last updated: October 6, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.