Process Addiction vs. Substance Use Disorder

Process Addiction vs. Substance Use Disorder – A process addiction, sometimes also referred to as a behavioral addiction, is characterized by compulsive participation in an activity despite the incurrence of adverse consequences. The same is true for substance use disorder, and the main difference is that individuals who are not exposed to intoxicating substances do not experience the physical symptoms of a substance use disorder. Both types of addictions can be extremely destructive and severely impact the lives of those suffering and their loved ones.

What Is Process Addiction?

Some may doubt that it is really possible to become addicted to a behavior such as gambling in a manner that rivals an addiction to drugs or alcohol. The American Psychological Association says that it is possible, however, due to the fact that addiction is characterized by repetitiveness, high frequency, and excessive use, regardless of whether the focus is on a substance or a behavior. Also, the same hallmarks of an addiction to substances, such as continuing use despite adverse consequences and psychological cravings, also apply to a process addiction.

Process addictions can be found in many forms, such as those focused on the following:

  • Shopping
  • Gambling
  • Food
  • Exercise
  • Love
  • Sex
  • Porn
  • Internet or phone
  • Video games

Like substance abuse, people can become addicted to the feelings that these activities induce. These addictions are influenced by an increase in endorphins, dopamine, and other chemicals in the brain responsible for the experience of pleasure and reward.

Process Addiction vs. Substance Use Disorder
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Substance Use Disorders

Substance abuse may include the use of alcohol, illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin, or the misuse of prescription medications that cause a person to experience severe negative outcomes. These adverse consequences may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Failure to attend to responsibilities at home, work, and school
  • Strained relationships with loved ones
  • Legal and/or financial difficulties
  • Physical and mental health problems
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Serious injury or death resulting from intoxication or overdose

A substance use disorder is the product of tolerance, dependence, and compulsive drug-seeking behavior. Over time, people can develop a tolerance to intoxicating substances, which means they must use increasing amounts of the substance to experience the desired effect.

In addition, dependence can occur due to the prolonged use of certain legal or illicit substances, including prescription medications that are used as directed. When chemical dependence develops, the body has adapted to the persistent presence of the drug in its system. Psychological dependence can manifest in addition to physical dependence, and also involves emotional symptoms, such as anxiety and depression when the use of the substance is discontinued.

The choice to use a substance initially is voluntary. But, once a substance use disorder has developed, long-lasting changes in the brain have occurred that make it nearly impossible for many people to stop using without professional help.

Substance Abuse and Process Addiction: Common Traits

When people repeatedly abuse drugs, they are often unconcerned with the consequences of their actions, as they are in search of a high and the avoidance of withdrawal. The same can be said about a process addiction—individuals may fail to consider the aftereffects of gambling, excessive eating, or unsafe sex.

Instead, they are thinking about the immediate feelings and the pleasure that the act itself gives to them. Also, an individual experiencing a process addiction may exhibit changes in the brain consistent with those related to a substance addiction.

Some signs of process addiction are comparable to those of a substance use disorder include the following:

Tolerance – People who use substances may feel they need to use more and more over time to achieve the feel-good effects, and those with a process addiction may increase the frequency or intensity of their behavior for the same reason.

Withdrawal symptoms – Those who are dependent on a substance experience physical and emotional symptoms if they try to quit, and those with a process addiction may experience profound anxiety or depression if they cannot engage in the activities of choice.

Inability to modify behavior – Those with process addictions and substance use disorders may desire to curb or halt their behavior(s), but find they are unable to do so for any significant length of time.

Primary focus – People with substance use disorders and process addictions often spend a considerable amount of time planning, participating in, and recovering from the behaviors related to their addiction, such as drinking, using drugs, or shopping.

Certainly, it is also possible to experience both a process addiction and substance use disorder simultaneously.

Getting Treatment for Addiction

As noted, process addictions come in many forms and can be just as destructive as substance abuse. Most traditional addiction rehab facilities do not specifically treat process addictions without a co-occurring substance use disorder. Those without an addiction to drugs or alcohol, however, can receive treatment from a qualified mental health professional and behavioral therapy.

When substance abuse and process addiction does occur together in the same person, comprehensive treatment that addresses both disorders is usually necessary. In addition to behavioral therapy, Recovery By The Sea offers individual and group counseling, peer support groups, health and wellness programs, and aftercare planning services.

We are proud to employ highly-skilled addiction professionals who are dedicated to providing people with the tools and support they need to recover, prevent relapse, and experience long-lasting sobriety and wellness.

If you or someone you love is suffering from substance abuse and process addiction, contact us as soon as possible to discuss treatment options!

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