Process (or behavioral) addictions can include gambling, eating, video games and more
Most people think of pills and powder when discussing addiction, but people also become addicted to behaviors. Process (or behavioral) addictions can include gambling, eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, engaging in sexual activity and shopping, and the Asian Social Science journal in 2014 argued that compulsively checking social networking sites could also be added to the list.
In 1992, Russian psychiatrist Tsezar Korolenko published a study in the Bekhterev Review of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology; it was one of the first to address process addictions, and it is now widely recognized in the medical community. Additionally, one of the most significant acknowledgments came from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which introduced a behavioral addiction category when it debuted its fifth edition in 2013.
Process Addictions and Science
Various drugs can lead to physical dependency, but exogenous chemicals like opiates are not the only way to stimulate the brain’s dopamine pathways, which play a primary role in addiction. The American Psychiatric Association (APA), which introduced the inaugural DSM in 1952, issued a press release in 2010 that said changes in neurobiology, brain reward systems and impulse control are characteristics shared by both process and substance addictions alike.
Likewise, the International Journal of Preventive Medicine argued in 2012 that mental health issues and poor social support structures are common precursors to both conditions, while a 2008 APA report suggested that genetics play a primary role in the changes that characterize addictions. In other words, both drug and process addictions involve similar areas of the brain, share overlapping environmental triggers (stress, abuse and trauma) and they are often motivated by a need to self-medicate the symptoms of co-occurring disorders.
The DSM-V made pathological gambling the first entry under behavioral addictions, and Internet and sex addictions are listed as needing more study. Shopping, eating, work and other process addictions are classified as compulsions for now, though the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse stressed in 2010 that compulsions and addictions are not mutually exclusively. Per the DSM-V, the criteria to diagnose a gambling addiction includes preoccupation, withdrawal symptoms, jeopardizing relationships and employment, concealing the extent of the gambling and committing illegal acts to fund it, which are essentially the same symptoms as substance addiction.
Numerous studies confirm that process addictions change memory, motivational hierarchies and reward structures, and the medical community recognizes that such behaviors are capable of becoming addictions in the clinical sense.
Process Addiction Treatment
Many rehab centers treat both substance and process addictions, so while a personalized plan is created for each patient, the following treatment methods are commonly applied:
- Integrated therapies for co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders
- One-on-one counseling to address unresolved trauma and unconscious conflicts
- Relapse-prevention strategies to deal with cues that trigger obsessive compulsions
- Life tools to improve coping skills, anger/stress management and conflict resolution
- Behavioral therapies that motivate positive conduct by reshaping thought patterns
- Motivational therapies that guide patients to uncover personal catalysts for change
- Optional holistic treatments, like hypnosis, yoga, acupuncture and relaxation exercises
All forms of addiction share similar genetic and environmental risk factors, so many patients suffer from both substance and process addictions at the same time. However, treatment is available, so seek help to begin recovery.