Are Process Addictions Medically Recognized?

Posted in: Mental Health

July 8, 2016

A therapist and patient in a therapy session

Millions of people struggle with process addictions each year. While many people think of addictions as involving a substance, a lot of people are addicted to activities or behaviors. These types of addictions, called process addictions, can be difficult to deal with, especially if the person doesn’t realize that he has an addiction at all. The difficulty with process addictions increases even more when some people don’t consider them to be actual addictions. In order for a person with a process addiction to receive the help he needs and begin the recovery process, he will need to admit to himself that he has a problem, and then seek out professional help from a rehabilitation center that treats his specific type of addiction.

Definition of Addiction

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry,” which can cause “characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations” that are exhibited by a person “pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.” ASAM goes on to list the following characteristics of addiction:

  • Inability to abstain
  • Impairment in behavioral control
  • Strong cravings
  • Decreased recognition of personal and social problems
  • Dysfunctional emotional response

Both ASAM’s definition of addiction and its list of addiction characteristics can apply both to substance addictions and process addictions. While process addictions can be more difficult to recognize because they often involve addiction to everyday activities such as using the internet, shopping or exercising, they can be just as difficult to manage as substance addictions.

Similarities between Process and Substance Addictions

Process addictions become even more complicated to treat because not all medical professionals recognize them as a psychological condition that needs treatment. Seyyed Salman Alavi, et al. report that while the medical field has traditionally rejected process addictions as actual addictions, many scientists and medical professionals are beginning to view these types of addictions as being very similar to substance addictions. Additionally, Alavi, et al. explain that some researchers’ criteria of addiction consists of the following:

  • Conflict: the person’s engaging in the activity creates conflict with other people or with himself
  • Euphoria: the person receives some sort of high from engaging in the activity
  • Relapse and reinstatement: he begins the activity again after trying to discontinue it
  • Salience: the person’s life is dominated by the activity
  • Tolerance: he has to engage in the activity in increasingly greater periods of time in order to achieve the same effects
  • Withdrawal: he develops negative emotional or physical effects when he stops engaging in the activity

Robert Weiss gives a clear-cut description of what he calls the “true nature of addiction:” people with addictions engage in an activity not to feel better or enjoy themselves, but to escape from or control their emotions and psychological conditions, especially those which make them feel anxious, depressed or afraid. He goes on to explain that while substance addictions focus on the consumption of chemicals and process addictions focus on activities, both types of addiction create a neurochemical numbness. Thus process addictions, while not identical to substance addictions in their practice, should be considered actual addictions because of the reasons people develop them as well as the ways that they manifest themselves in a person’s life.

How to Get Help with a Process Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with a process addiction and are seeking help, please give us a call at 615-490-9376. Our admissions coordinators are always available to talk more with you about the nature of process addictions, discuss treatment options for these types of addictions and assist you in getting quality and effective help.

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