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Most people think of addictions to substances like drugs and alcohol when they think of addictions. Today, the term applies to a broader range of behaviors. Gambling, shopping, surfing the Internet and exercising all qualify as forms of “process addictions.” People sometimes have difficulty accepting these behaviors as addictions. They think that they should be able to simply stop, much like you might break a bad habit. In reality, process addictions are just as debilitating and difficult to overcome as addictions to chemical substances such as drugs and alcohol. While addictions to behaviors may not pose the same dangers as drunk driving or overdosing, they can still ruin your life. To learn more, read on.
What is a Process Addiction?
Behavioral science experts believe that anything capable of stimulating a person can be addictive. According to experts at the National Library of Medicine, when a habit changes into an obligation – something you feel compelled to do – it can be considered as an addiction. Although people with behavioral addictions are not addicted to a chemical high, they are just as hooked on the behavior or feeling generated when they buy something expensive, for example, or meet a new guy or girl. Behavioral addictions can be passive, as in the case of watching television, or active, as any computer gaming addict can tell you. Signs of addiction include the following:
- Repeat failure to resist impulses to engage in a certain behavior
- Increasing sense of tension immediately prior to starting the behavior
- Pleasure or relief at the time of engaging in behavior
- A feeling of lack of control while engaging in the behavior
- Preoccupation with the behavior
- Engaging in behavior to a greater extent for over a longer period of time than intended
- Repeat efforts to reduce, control or stop the behavior
- Excessive amount time spent in activities necessary for the behavior
- Frequently engaging in behavior when expected to sell other responsibilities at work, home or school
- Continuing the behavior despite knowledge of social, financial, psychological or physical problems that are caused or exacerbated by the behavior
Current research supports the growing understanding that process addictions can trigger the same impact on neurotransmitters in the brain as drugs and alcohol. While most people can experience pleasure without craving it, addictive individuals become preoccupied with attaining the euphoria and sense of well-being a behavior brings. Scientists writing for the Harvard Health Publications say that the biochemical basis for this cycle lies in the nucleus accumbens — a cluster of nerve cells underneath the cerebral hemispheres. When a person performs an action that satisfies a need, or fulfills a desire, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released and produces pleasure. This creates a reward pathway. Each time the person engages in something that provides this reward, the brain imprints the experience and rewires itself to make us more likely to repeat the behavior.
Process Addictions: More Common Than You’d Think
Historically, many processes addictions have been viewed as “impulse control” disorders, according to the National Institute of Health. Several common process addictions include the following:
- Video gaming
- Web surfing
- Compulsive eating
- Falling in love
Frequent cell-phone texting – in which a person can sometimes sends and receive hundreds of messages a day – contains the conditions for addiction. Many behavioral health specialists contend that it is especially problematic because it interferes with one of the major tasks of development: developing effective mechanisms of impulse control.
Experts at the Vanderbilt Addiction Center believe that people with untreated mental illness, neglected emotional wounds or underdeveloped coping strategies raise vulnerability to addictions of any kind. Although no “addiction gene” has been identified, people who are predisposed have been found to share certain traits. They typically struggle with low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, for instance. Experiencing trauma or abuse of any kind also increases risk.
Because total abstinence is not possible for many process addictions, overcoming them often requires close monitoring and relapse prevention strategies. Failing to find a suitable replacement for an addictive behavior can be a set-up for relapse. Just like addiction to drugs and alcohol, a person cannot stay sober simply by abstaining. He or she must also develop other positive coping strategies. Often this means rediscovering former interests that have fallen by the wayside, or finding a new hobby. Most people learn that giving up addictive behaviors, while painful in the short-term, ultimately leads to a life of greater satisfaction, meaning and purpose.
Treatment for Behavior Addictions
If you or someone you love seems to be struggling with addiction to a behavior, please consider seeking help. Our admissions coordinators are available toll-free, 24-hours a day to answer your questions and help you explore your options.