Mental Health Conditions and Process Addictions

October 26, 2016

A man looking at a computer

Millions of Americans struggle with mental health conditions. Fortunately, most of these conditions can be treated effectively with the help of therapy and medication. When a person with a mental health condition also suffers from a process addiction, his situation becomes a little more complicated, but still completely treatable. Since mental health conditions and process addictions can interact with each other in negative ways, it’s important for a person struggling with both conditions to seek out professional help tailored for co-occurring disorders. This professional assistance can help those with these conditions achieve healthier and happier lives.

Definition of Process Addictions

Process addictions, also known as behavioral addictions, are similar to substance addictions. Both involve repeating harmful activities despite the negative consequences of doing so. But while substance addictions describe a person’s dependency on a chemical, process addictions are based on activities that a person feels compelled to repeat. Some activities that can develop into process addictions include:

  • Cleaning
  • Eating
  • Exercising
  • Gambling
  • Having sex
  • Shopping
  • Using the internet
  • Working

Like substance abuse, process addictions can interfere with an individual’s relationships, career and everyday functioning.

Are Process Addictions True Addictions?

As Robert Weiss explains, process addictions are sometimes not recognized as true addictions because most of the activities that a person might become addicted to are normally healthy and productive, and “our brains are programmed to encourage these behaviors.” Because of this, engaging in these activities causes the brain to release dopamine and increase the person’s feelings of well-being.

A person with a process addiction becomes psychologically dependent on this rush of dopamine that the activity creates. In this way, process addictions and substance addictions are nearly identical, since both affect the natural functioning of a person’s neurological pleasure system. Thus, as Seyyed Salman Alavi, et al. report, process addictions are similar to substance addictions except that instead of being addicted to a substance, the person is addicted to the feelings that the activity creates in the brain.

Process Addictions and Co-occurring Disorders

When a person is struggling with a process addiction alongside another mental health condition, he is said to have co-occurring disorders. Many people who struggle with either process or substance addictions have at least one other mental health condition. The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 40.7 percent of the 20.7 million Americans who had struggled with a substance use disorder in the previous year were also diagnosed with a co-occurring mental health condition.

Dealing with a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression can sometimes lead a person to self-medicate with either substances or activities, which can in turn lead to the development of an addiction and thus co-occurring disorders. Additionally, many addictions can intensify a person’s feelings of anxiety or depression, which can develop into a mental health issue. Since each disorder interacts with the other in negative ways, it can be difficult to manage co-occurring disorders alone.

Treatment of Co-occurring Disorders

Although a person with co-occurring disorders may feel overwhelmed and hopeless, recovery is completely possible and multiple treatment options are available. Richard K. Ries explains that the following three types of treatment are most common in co-occurring disorders care:

  • Sequential treatment – The person receives treatment for one condition first, then begins treatment for the other condition immediately afterwards. Although treatment of either disorder can come first, some healthcare professionals try to treat the condition with the most severe symptoms first.
  • Parallel treatment – In this method, the person receives both forms of treatment at the same time, but in separate settings, and the programs are not connected to each other.
  • Integrated treatment – This type of treatment cares for both conditions simultaneously in one setting, and is often led by healthcare workers who are trained in treating both mental health concerns and addiction.

How to Get More Information About Treating Mental Health Conditions and Process Addictions

Dealing with both a mental health condition and a process addiction can be frightening, but fortunately, professional treatment can teach you or your loved one how to manage the disorders effectively. If you or a loved one is struggling with co-occurring disorders and want to learn more about the different treatment options that are available, please call us at 615-490-9376.

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