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What Is Process Addiction? Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

What Is Process Addiction?

Process addiction is also known as behavioral addiction, and refers to an overwhelming and uncontrollable impulse to engage in certain behaviors, despite the potential negative outcomes. During the behavior or process, the individual feels elevated and fulfilled, but often that is shortly followed by guilt or shame.

What is a process addiction and is there more than one type? This term refers to an entire category of behaviors that can become habitual and impulsive. They are considered process addictions because people are encouraged by the process and its outcomes, rather than being addicted to a substance or single item like alcohol.

What Are the Most Common Behavioral Addictions?

Several types of behavioral addiction fall under this umbrella, including gambling, shopping, work, exercise, and more. You can get an idea of what each entails below.

Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is a very common process addiction. This refers to anyone who has uncontrollable impulses to gamble, and who may gamble dangerously, such as by using money that’s supposed to be for bills to go to the casino. The increasing availability of casinos and online gaming opportunities is putting more people at risk for gambling addiction, but there are also growing options for behavioral addiction treatment.

Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction plagues millions of Americans, including men and women alike. It involves compulsive shopping and spending, often beyond one’s means. Some people rack up thousands of dollars in debt or lose their homes and other assets to this addiction.

Overworking Addiction

Believe it or not, people can be addicted to work. A work addiction is characterized by increasing urges to work overtime and during off-hours. Some people just like to work—the people who have an overworking addiction don’t necessarily like to work, but they have a compulsion toward it.

Food Addiction

Food addiction and other eating disorders also qualify as addictive behavior examples. Again, people aren’t necessarily addicted to the food itself, but to the process of eating, including binging and purging. Some people may be addicted to the feeling that comes from not eating (anorexia nervosa), too.

Exercise Addiction

Some people get so into exercise that it becomes a compulsion, and eventually an addiction. People who have exercise addiction typically cannot stop themselves from exercising, despite how much strain it puts on their bodies or whether they need to exercise as much as they do.

Social Media Addiction

Today, many teens and young adults are seeking treatment for social media addiction and Internet addiction. The nature of social media makes it easy to get addicted—people have become influencers and even created wealth from their social media existence. While it can affect older adults, it is usually found among the younger generation.

Signs and Symptoms of Process Addictions

  •         Excessive time spent thinking about or engaging in the behavior
  •         Reduced ability or total inability to control the behavior
  •         Trouble stopping a behavior
  •         Continuing to engage in addictive behaviors despite negative consequences
  •         Downplaying the severity of the problem
  •         Using behaviors to cope with feelings and emotions
  •         Experiencing emotional withdrawal when not engaging in behaviors

Are There Similarities Between Process Addictions and Substance Abuse?

Although they are completely different issues, there are similarities found between substance abuse and behavioral addictions. People dealing with these addictions all get the same type of feeling from whatever they are addicted to—someone can feel just as “addicted” to working or exercising as someone who is addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Causes of Process Addictions

There are several causes of teen behavioral problems. Understanding the cause is important to figuring out the best treatment for the person who is dealing with the addiction. Genetics, societal and environmental factors, and other factors can impact whether people develop process addictions at any age. Some behavioral addictions also stem from mental health disorders that are co-occurring or undiagnosed.

Treatment for Process Addictions

There are several options for treatment for process addictions. Teens with behavioral health issues seek treatment from therapists and addiction centers that specialize in things like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Talk therapy, addiction recovery treatment programs, support groups, and other treatments are usually combined to create a comprehensive solution.

Key Process Addiction Statistics to Know

  •         Exercise addiction is found in 50% of marathon runners
  •         Shopping addiction plagues about 4.9% of adults
  •         23-25% of female professionals have a work addiction
  •         14% of college students report gambling addictions
  •         “Screen addiction” is a rising issue in children ages 4-11

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 4 Levels of the Addiction Process?

The four levels of the addiction process are:

  1.   Experimentation
  2.   Regular use
  3.   Risky use/abuse
  4.   Total dependency/addiction

What Are Some Challenges in Diagnosing Process Addictions?

The challenges of diagnosing process addiction come in determining the root cause, diagnosing co-existing mental health conditions, and ongoing research into this area that is still largely misunderstood.

What Personality Traits Are Most Closely Tied to Addiction?

Those who are most likely to be affected by addiction include those who are:

  •         Impulsive
  •         Non-conforming
  •         Anxious or depressed
  •         Unable to handle stress
  •         Seeking sensation (feeling)
  •         Shifting blame
  •         Looking to escape

Can Process Addiction Lead People to Other Problems?

Process addiction can lead to other addictions, as well as other behavioral issues and therapeutic needs. That is why people should seek the appropriate treatment with dedicated recovery centers and treatment programs.

How Can I Help Someone with Process Addiction?

You can help someone dealing with this addiction in several ways. Don’t enable them and encourage them to get help. Find out what are addictive behaviors and how to identify them, and pay attention. Most importantly, get them help when they need it.

How Evolve Treatment Can Help

Speaking of getting help, if your teen is struggling with process addictions of any kind, Evolve Treatment can help. We offer a full service of treatment options and programs at our teen behavioral health center and can customize a program to suit your teen. Contact us now to learn more.

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We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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