Process and Behavioral Addictions
Detox from alcohol or opiate addiction is never fun, and avoiding relapse is rarely easy, but at least those in recovery have the option of permanently doing without the tempting substance. Not so with many process addiction or behavioral addictions, which involve compulsive overdoing of certain activities—often activities that, in themselves, are essential aspects of normal life.
What Is Behavioral Addiction?
Behavioral addiction (the more common term among laypeople) comes in many forms, though not all are officially recognized as psychiatric disorders. Some common behavioral addictions are:
- Gambling (the first process addiction to receive official “addiction disorder” status)
- Working overtime
- Internet surfing
- Television watching
- Extreme sports
- Sexual activities
Obviously, while behavior addicts may be able to completely give up gambling, a person recovering from an eating disorder can’t go long without some kind of eating. And unless you want to become a desert-island hermit, permanently doing without shopping and screens isn’t too feasible either.
Is Process Addiction the Same as Chemical Addiction?
While it may not do as much physical damage, behavioral addiction is similar to chemical addiction in its other symptoms:
- Getting a distinct “rush” (dopamine boost) from engaging in the activity
- Increasing the intensity or frequency of the activity as time passes, in attempts to recapture the thrill of earlier “rushes”
- Spending all available time and money on the activity, to the detriment of other responsibilities
- Constantly “borrowing”—or stealing—money for the activity
- Neglecting relationships, hobbies, and self-care
- Trying to conceal the extent of the activity
- Becoming instantly defensive when someone else hints the activity is a problem
- Repeatedly trying to limit or abstain from the activity, without success
- Experiencing high stress and mood swings—perhaps accompanied by sweating, nausea, or other physical symptoms—when the activity is unavailable
Neuroscience has confirmed that process addiction, like chemical addiction, is associated with detectable abnormalities in the physical brain.
(Note: it’s not infrequent for someone to have a behavioral and a chemical addiction, or to be addicted to multiple behaviors/substances. Addictions of all sorts frequently co-occur with each other, with other toxic habits, and with mental health disorders. Frequently, one problem is introduced through attempts to alleviate another, but ultimately they just make each other worse.)
What to Do about Process Addiction
You can help prevent behavioral addiction by:
- Knowing about potentially addictive activities, and setting your boundaries (including firm time limits) in advance
- Not “multitasking” work or socialization with potentially addictive activities (e. .g., turn your phone off when talking to others in person)
- Practicing mindful attention to the three-dimensional world around you
- Learning to deal with real-world problems (with counseling or mentoring if you need help) rather than seeking escape from them
- Cultivating physical health and self-esteem
- Planning your daily schedule to emphasize priorities and minimize distractions
If you or someone in your family is showing distinct behavioral-addiction symptoms as described above, the problem is probably past the point of being solvable by willpower and stricter rules. Get professional help, preferably from a therapist or psychiatrist who specializes in the problem you’re dealing with. Several weeks of inpatient treatment in a controlled environment is ideal for the first phase of detox, but not always easy to find unless a co-occurring chemical addiction is involved. Ask your therapist, as well as your regular doctor, for ideas on eliminating temptation during initial recovery.
Preventing Relapse When Complete Abstinence Is Not an Option
As already noted, there are many behavioral addictions where you can’t simply abstain from the problem activity. Ways to live with it without letting it get out of control again:
- Have someone to be accountable to—a member of your household, a close friend—who checks on your progress every day or week.
- Avoid doing the problem activity when alone. When you eat with someone else or use computers in communal-traffic areas, awareness that someone is watching you acts as a check on letting the behavior take you over.
- To really keep a tight rein on temptation, lock up your “behavioral” equipment and give someone else the key. Or program your computer/phone to shut itself down at set hours, or to block potentially troublesome websites.
- Keep up regular counseling.
- Join a regular peer support group that specializes in behavioral addictions.
- Find goals and hobbies that appeal to your passions and keep you productively busy. Human nature abhors a vacuum too, so one good way to keep a behavioral addiction out of your life is to fill the space it used to occupy!
Pine Grove Treats Process Addiction
Pine Grove’s treatment programs include help for teenagers battling one of today’s most common process addictions: technology dependence and compulsive screen time. Our weekly outpatient program for 13–17-year-olds uses group therapy to explore the psychology behind technology addiction, and to help youngsters bring their lives back into balance. Contact us online or at 888-574-4673 to learn more.