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Process Addictions: Shopping, Gambling, Internet and More

teens on a laptop depicting internet as a process addiction

Process addiction, also called behavioral addiction, is characterized by an overwhelming impulse to engage in a certain behavior despite negative consequences. While involved in the behavior, the individual experiences an elevated mood often followed by a sense of shame or guilt once the behavior ends.

Common process addictions include shopping, gambling, sexual activity, pornography, eating disorders, internet use, exercise, and work. Process addictions harm the individual’s physical and emotional health, damage interpersonal relationships, and may cause legal or financial problems.

Process addiction does not include an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

What Do Process Addiction and Substance Addiction Have in Common?

Although process addiction and substance addiction are different disorders, they frequently co-occur, which is referred to as a dual diagnosis. For the best chance of long-term recovery, both conditions must be treated at the same time.

All addictions share similar characteristics, especially the inability of the addicted person to stop or limit compulsive behavior, even when it negatively impacts many facets of their life.

Other Warning Signs of an Addiction Disorder

  • Spending an abnormal amount of time thinking about or actively involved in the behavior, often to the exclusion of other activities, responsibilities, or personal or professional relationships.
  • Using the substance or behavior as an escape from negative emotions.
  • Continuing the behavior despite its adverse effect on mental and physical health, interpersonal relationships, work or school, and other responsibilities.
  • Compulsively seeking the “high” the substance or behavior delivers. Over time, increasing amounts of the substance or behavior are needed to achieve the desired effect.
  • Experiencing withdrawal. With a substance addiction, the addicted person experiences physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms once the substance is no longer consumed. When a process-addicted person is unable to engage in addictive behavior, they may experience severe mental distress.

Individuals are at a higher risk for addiction if they experienced childhood trauma, abuse or neglect, grew up with addicted family members, or spend much of their time with people who have substance abuse or behavioral addictions.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) recognizes process addiction as a mental health disorder but only includes gambling under that diagnosis. Experts believe additional process addictions will be classified as serious behavioral health conditions in future editions.

Treatment For Process Addictions

Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is the most recognized treatment for process addiction. The treatment plan may include prescription medications, depending on symptoms or co-occurring disorders.

A psychotherapist trained in addiction recovery helps individuals understand their addiction, underlying factors that trigger their addictive behavior, and how to manage compulsions.

During CBT, clients learn to identify, manage, and transform negative thought patterns to improve mental health. CBT is recognized as an effective approach for treating addiction.

Turning Point of Tampa has been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact our admissions department at 813-882-3003800-397-3006 or admissions@tpoftampa.com.