Has Digital Media Affected Process Addictions?

July 24, 2015

A woman sitting down while using a laptop

Before the 20th century, media consisted only of physical objects, such as newspapers, books, magazines and posters. However, with the invention of the computer in the middle of the 20th century, media expanded to include images and text conveyed through digital forms. This allowed for a significantly greater amount of information to be communicated between people all over the world, and it also revolutionized the media industry. Now, people can easily watch movies and television shows, read newspaper articles and look at images on their computers, but this expansion has also created problems for people with process addictions.

What Is a Process Addiction?

Some people argue that process addictions, also known as behavioral addictions, are completely different from substance addictions. Others even say that process addictions are not actually addictions at all, but rather a person’s significant lack of self-control. But, the core of addiction is the same, whether it is focused on eating, shopping or doing drugs. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry,” and they also explain that process addiction is characterized by the following traits:

  • Cravings
  • Decreased recognition of serious problems with one’s relationships and behaviors
  • Dysfunctional emotional responses
  • Impairment in behavioral control
  • Inability to abstain from an activity or substance

Each of these symptoms occurs in process addictions, especially the following behaviors:

  • Gambling
  • Eating food in specific ways (over- or under-eating, binge and purge cycles and etc.)
  • Playing video games
  • Exercising
  • Working

If you recognize any of these problems in relation to problematic behaviors, then seek professional help now.

How Digital Media Affects Process Addictions

Nearly every type of process addiction has been affected by the development and expansion of the digital world. For instance, consider the following examples:

  • People with gambling addictions are able to find gambling websites
  • Countless online sites have blogs about food and dieting, as well as pictures of models and places to get advice about controlling one’s weight
  • Millions of online video games are available
  • Exercise videos are all over the internet, some encouraging people to over-exert themselves while working out
  • Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry, and much of its content is available online for free
  • Working outside of the office is easier than ever with the help of smart phones and laptop computers that are connected to the internet

In an interview with Psych Central, recovery coach and addiction case manager Cindy Feinberg argues that process addictions are often more difficult to treat than substance addictions, since “sobriety with those disorders is not about total abstinence, it’s about harm reduction.” In turn, because people must learn what behaviors hurt them, more subjectivity occurs in process addiction recovery, especially when people believe that harmful behaviors do not increase their possibility of relapse. This latter point is especially true in relation to digital media: since almost everyone is surrounded by vast, unfiltered digital media, it is easy to find a source for developing, continuing or intensifying a process addiction. And, when people go through addiction rehab and learn ways to manage addiction, it can still be extremely challenging to develop a healthy relationship to digital media, especially if someone used it to engage his addiction.

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