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    Process Addictions

    What are Process Addictions?

    While the term ‘addiction’ is most commonly associated with substances, it has more recently been expanded to include a number of activities or behaviours, called process addictions.

    Behavioural process addictions usually involve highly rewarding, reinforcing, natural drives – such as love, food, money and sex – which, in moderation, can be healthy and normal.

    It is when we become overly reliant on a specific behaviour – using it to get ‘high’, to escape underlying issues and emotional pain, or to replace relationships or commitments – that it can spiral out of control, resulting in process addiction. When we lose control over the rate, frequency or duration of a specific behaviour – and the need to engage in the behaviour becomes greater than the consequences to our wellbeing – it is time to seek treatment.

    Process addictions include:

    • gambling
    • sex and love
    • work
    • new technologies (the internet, mobile phones, online chat rooms, social media)
    • video gaming
    • shopping
    • eating
    • exercise
    • plastic surgery.

    While process addictions do not involve substances, they do share some similar characteristics with drug and alcohol addiction, for example:

    • they initially produce pleasure
    • they provide escape or relief from emotional or physical discomfort
    • they involve powerlessness (i.e. an inability to resist temptation or impulse to engage in the behaviour)
    • they are unmanageable (i.e. engaging in the behaviour results in significant negative consequences)
    • cravings or urges to perform the behaviour are present
    • feelings of anxiety, stress or depression occur when we cannot engage in the behaviour (withdrawal symptoms).

    Process addictions frequently co-occur with other addictions or mental health disorders.

    Left untreated, a process addiction will have far-reaching consequences that not only cause damage to the addicted person’s life but may also impact negatively on the lives of their family, friends, work colleagues and extended community.

    What are the Different Types of Process Addiction?

    Some of the most common types of process addictions develop from behaviours that are socially acceptable, and can even include necessary behaviours such as eating, shopping and exercise. This can make it difficult to recognise when a behaviour has become more than just a healthy habit or pastime and has developed into an addiction.

    Some of the most common types of process addiction include:

    • Gambling
    • Sex and love
    • Work
    • New technologies (the internet, mobile phones, social media)
    • Video gaming
    • Shopping
    • Eating

    What are the Causes of Process Addiction?

    As with any type of addiction, the underlying causes of process addictions cannot be easily identified as one single source or event. Studies support that process addictions are often the result of a combination of factors including genetic, biological and environmental. Underlying exposure to trauma, abuse, unhealthy relationships or high levels of stress can also contribute.

    Researchers believe that substance addictions and process addictions share many common biological and behavioural characteristics, and therefore may share many risk factors that have an influence on their development, including:

    • genetics
    • personality traits
    • low distress tolerance – lack of healthy coping skills for easing stress
    • early exposure to trauma / abuse / neglect
    • a co-occurring mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression or PTSD
    • environmental
    • societal
    • an existing substance use disorder.

    The factors that contribute to the onset of a process addiction are unique to each person, which makes predicting them almost impossible. However, it is now believed that several factors need to interact in order to trigger the onset of any addiction and that no two people will be affected in the same way.

    What are the Signs and Symptoms of Process Addiction?

    Many of the activities or behaviours involved in process addiction are deemed acceptable in society and therefore it can be incredibly difficult to recognise or acknowledge when a certain behaviour has developed into an addiction.

    One of the key differences between a healthy enthusiasm for any of these activities and a process addiction, is that a healthy enthusiasm adds to our life while a process addiction takes away from it.

    While the physical signs and symptoms of substance addictions are typically absent in process addictions, there are common mental, emotional and behavioural signs to look out for, including:

    • spending excessive amounts of time thinking about or engaging in the behaviour, or recovering from its effects
    • an increasing sense of tension immediately before initiating the behaviour
    • an inability to control the behaviour, despite being aware of the negative consequences
    • repeated failed attempts to reduce, control or stop the behaviour
    • prioritising the behaviour over other parts of our life, including family, work, friends and other responsibilities
    • giving up important work, social or recreational activities because of the behaviour
    • using the behaviour as a coping strategy to feel in control and / or deal with difficult emotions and feelings
    • secrecy – hiding behaviours from others, lying about them and / or downplaying the extent of the problem
    • developing a tolerance to the behaviour so that we need to increase the frequency or intensity of it, in order to achieve the same satisfaction
    • experiencing emotional withdrawal symptoms, such as moodiness and irritability, if unable to engage in the behaviour (can lead to developing mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse).

    The signs and symptoms of any addiction can vary from person to person, depending on the type of addiction, and on individual circumstances. It is important to recognise that without expert help and support, the effects of a process addiction will become increasingly worse, resulting in a negative impact on all areas of our life.

    Process addictions are treatable and there are a number of effective treatments available to ensure full recovery and prevent relapse.

    How can Process Addictions be Treated?

    Process addictions present some unique challenges in treatment options. Many of the behaviours or activities involved – such as working, eating, shopping and using the internet – are common and necessary parts of everyday life and so abstinence is not a realistic solution.

    Effective treatment therefore not only needs to address the underlying issues, but also to provide recovery tools so that we are able to engage in the behaviours or activities in healthy and ‘normal’ ways.

    Treatment plans for process addictions typically focus on behaviour therapy and include:

    • Individual therapy – to help us look deeper into the issues surrounding our behaviours, get to the root causes of these unhealthy coping strategies and learn alternative coping skills to replace them. Talk therapies, such as CBT, are known to be highly effective in treating process addictions.
    • Group therapy – to helps us explore the underlying issues contributing to our addiction, have an opportunity for honest feedback and open sharing, to understand how others deal with similar issues, and learn healthy communication skills.
    • Psychiatric care – as co-occurring mental health conditions can feed process addictions they need to be diagnosed and treated at the same time. Medication may sometimes be used to relieve any severe symptoms of mental health conditions while undergoing treatment. Each disorder needs to be addressed fully, along with any potential interactions between them.
    • Complementary therapies – complementary therapies can be beneficial during recovery, as part of a holistic treatment plan, such as equine therapy, mindfulness, music and art therapy, and acupuncture.
    • Aftercare – ongoing support is hugely important for relapse prevention in process addictions, so an aftercare plan is needed, including access to local support groups.

    Process addiction treatment plans will depend on each individual’s specific needs. An experienced therapist will have to assess the situation and the addiction – along with any co-occurring conditions – and determine the most effective treatment plan for each unique set of circumstances.

    By asking for help, and participating in a therapy programme designed just for us, it is possible to overcome any addiction and start building a healthy, happy life without it.

    If you or a loved one are struggling with a process addiction and need help, effective treatment is available. Please call us now so we can help you discover a treatment plan that will work for you, so you take back control of your life.

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