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What is a Process Addiction?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Process addiction is an addiction to an activity or process, such as eating, spending money, or gambling. These behaviors can be as debilitating as those associated with substance addictions, and they require psychological treatment. People sometimes have difficulty understanding these conditions, because they believe that people should just be able to stop negative behavior, but process addicts face the same problems that people with substance addictions do.

In many discussions of addiction, the term process addiction is used to create a rough category of addictions which is differentiated from substance addictions. It is a compulsive behavior which is related to a process, while substance addiction requires the ingestion of a particular substance. Substance addictions have been recognized for centuries; process addiction was less widely accepted until the 20th century.

The process of addiction is extremely complex, and it appears to be influenced by a variety of factors. Someone's mental state, genetics, and social status can all contribute to addiction, as can factors like childhood experiences. Addiction appears to be closely linked to the idea of psychological gratification, in that people learn to indulge in an activity or substance to be rewarded in some way, and this in turn creates a state of dependency.

Just like a substance addiction, a process addiction usually starts out small, and people who suffer from such addictions may have an illusion of self control. It can also be very harmful. Chronic gambling and spending, for example, can bankrupt someone in addition to generating large amounts of debt. Compulsive eating can lead to health problems and a host of psychological problems in addition to costing a great deal of money, and many process addictions are linked with a social stigma, as well.

Treatment for these conditions requires identifying the addictive behavior, and making a commitment to put a stop to it. This can be extremely difficult, and often requires an extensive period in therapy, and sometimes the assistance of tools like pharmaceutical compounds, hypnosis, and other techniques. Treatment courses vary greatly from patient to patient, with equally varied success rates, although many psychologists agree that a conscious desire to address the issue will greatly increase the success rate of therapy.

People who interact with someone who has a process addiction are encouraged to treat that person just as they would treat someone with a substance addiction. Offering drinks to a recovering alcoholic, for example, is generally frowned upon, and likewise it would be considered rude to invite a compulsive shopper who is undergoing treatment on a shopping trip.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon91556 — On Jun 22, 2010

Addiction is addiction in whatever form it takes. Looking at it spiritually, psychologically and emotionally, as well as physically, will begin to help start the process of recovery. You have to look at the problem also as a process. Mental health is always a good cue. Community Educator/Integration Specialist for Addiction Recovery

By anon75448 — On Apr 06, 2010

it may be so that many people don't believe in any mythical, but many people also don't believe in therapy anymore as it mostly just doesn't work as the only resource of recovery. What about the Minnesota Model, where therapy and 12 steps are combined? and many non-believers find their own inner source of a Higher Power through working the 12 steps. I did and I know many people who did.

By anon59120 — On Jan 06, 2010

Twelve step is higher power focused and many addicted people don't have a belief in mythical, mind reading higher powers. The article gave excellent info just as it stated.

By anon47818 — On Oct 07, 2009

I also wonder why 12 step model is not suggested as an option. I am an addictions treatment counselor and discuss this in lectures to our chemically addicted populations.

By anon30692 — On Apr 22, 2009

This article was very informative. I've never seen the term "process addiction." I'm wondering why 12 Step Recovery wasn't offered as a suggestion for recovery since they work so well, especially combined with individual therapy?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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