In this blog post, we discuss the issue of ‘process addictions’. Process addictions arise when a person becomes addicted to a rewarding behaviour. Typical behaviours known to give rise to a process addiction include gambling, Internet pornography, eating and shopping. Each of these activities is pleasurable and involve the release of dopamine when carried out.

Process addictions are also known as compulsive or behavioural addictions. When a process addiction arises, a compulsion to continue with the activity in question also arises. This compulsion forces the sufferer to continue with the activity despite many negative consequences that arise from doing so.

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 thus this release of dopamine that gives rise to process addiction, rather than the behaviour per se.

Similarities between process addictions and substance addictions

All addictions, whether substance abuse or process addictions are classed as a chronic disease of the brain. All 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, you will begin to seek out that behaviour quite subconsciously and compulsively. The ability to derive pleasure from the activity also decreases.

All addictions, whether relating to behaviours or substances operate by affecting the brain’s reward system. These reward systems operate to encourage you to engage in behaviours that promote your survival. However, substances and addictive behaviours hijack this process and thus give rise to an addiction.

Differences between process addictions and substance addictions

The key difference between substance addictions and process addictions is that substance addictions directly impacts 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.

Types of common process addictions

Many process addictions arise from natural and healthy behaviours. 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 we list some of the more common process addictions:

1. Gambling addiction

Gambling addiction is perhaps the most widely known and accepted process addiction in existence. This is perhaps due to the significant negative consequences attached to a gambling addiction. Those addicted to gambling are often termed ‘compulsive gamblers’. Gambling negatively affects sufferers’ finances, social life and professional life.

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. Those who suffer from a gambling addiction are more likely to commit suicide when compared to people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

2. 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 find inclusion 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 gives rise to sex addiction. Symptoms of sex addiction include being preoccupied with sex and  you act on sexual compulsions despite negative consequences that arise from doing so.

3. Food addiction

The concept of a ‘food addiction’ has gained currency in recent years due to popular diet books advocating the concept. A food addiction arises when you become addicted to eating. When you eat certain foods high in sugar or fat, your brain is flooded with dopamine. It’s the dopamine-releasing properties of food that give rise to an addiction to food.

4. Internet addiction

The concept of Internet addiction has, quite ironically, become popular due to the Internet itself. There now exists thousands of websites dedicated to exposing and treating all-manner 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 are unable to 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.

5. Shopping addiction

The term ‘shopping addiction’ is commonly used in situations that don’t warrant its use. Many people use the word ‘shopping description’ 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’. A shopping addiction is a sufficiently serious condition to warrant obtain professional assistance when it arises and we should refrain from using the term to berate ourselves for spending too much money.

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.

Symptoms of process addictions

Below, we list some of the more common symptoms arising through the existence of a process addiction:

  • Denial
  • Cravings when the behaviour is stopped
  • Inability to resist 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. This means process addiction is not due to the sufferer’s ‘moral failings’. Like substance addiction, a process addiction is considered a ‘disease of the mind’.

Treating process addictions

Due to this loss of control and continued use despite negative consequences, it’s usually necessary for those of you 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 are able to make a full recovery within a six-to-twelve month period.

At Ocean Recovery Centre, we make use of tailored process addiction treatments. These treatments are tailored to the specific process 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 services, get in touch today.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: January 13, 2022

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.