Gambling, Sex, And Internet Gaming Have Quickly Become A New Phenomenon In The Science World Known As Process Addictions

Substance use disorders targets the pleasure receptors in the brain where short term rewards are felt.  Over time, chronic substance abuse tends to negatively affect behavior, diminishes control of that behavior, and result in what is commonly known as addiction.

The compulsive behaviors that arise in addiction, coupled with the lack of control and the inability to stop them, have opened the conversation and concept around what referred to as behavioral or process addictions. Although behavioral and process addictions are centered around science, they continue to remain controversial.

How does someone become addicted to something that lacks an addictive substance? The answer has to do with the pleasure centers in the brain. Certain behaviors stimulate and reinforce the brain’s pleasure center which creates a craving for the behavior to be repeated. Without these behaviors being continuously repeated, individuals experience withdrawals similar to those associated with substance abuse. Withdrawal symptoms might include agitation, sleep disturbances, and personality changes.

Brain imaging provides scientific evidence that behaviors can become addicting.  Some of these compulsive behaviors that may lead to process addictions are–

  • Exercise– Exercise is healthy in moderation, however, when it starts to interfere with relationships and becomes so compulsive that it gets in the way of everyday life, is when it transforms from being considered healthy to addiction.
  • Sex and pornography– Sex releases endorphins and other mood enhancing hormones that can become addictive resulting in compulsive sexual behaviors.
  • Gambling– Just like exercise and sex, gambling stimulates the brain’s pleasure and reward centers, adding an element and thrill of risk.
  • Shopping– Shopping creates a sense of control and wellness that becomes compulsive when it is used to overcome depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions.
  • Eating– People who suffer from an eating addiction have uncontrollable urges to eat with no regard to whether they are hungry or full.
  • Internet and gaming– The compulsive use of the internet and gaming is often used to escape the stresses of life by entering into a fantasy world.  Often relationships are developed online providing recognition for gaming success and excitement for the challenges of the game.

Process addiction, also known as compulsive behavioral addiction, characterize specific addictive patterns and behaviors that transpire as a result of activities that do not directly include drugs and alcohol. Many times, process addictions involve substance abuse and mental illness, meaning it’s imperative to treat these issues simultaneously. Process addictions could potentially be just as damaging as drug and alcohol addictions.

Although process addiction may not seem as severe as substance use disorders, there are different levels of severity for all types of addiction. For process addiction, there may be significant or insignificant consequences depending on the level of addiction.

Pathological gambling is now included in the DSM-5 based on clinical research demonstrating phenomenological, genetic, neurobiological, and other similarities between gambling and substance-use disorders. The DSM-5 now groups pathological gambling, otherwise referred to as gambling disorder, with substance-related disorders.

Although gambling disorder is presently the only condition in the subsection of “Non-substance-related disorders” in the category of “Substance-related and Addictive Disorders”, internet gaming, sex, exercise, shopping, and eating addictions have also been considered.

At this time no other behavioral or process addictions are included in the DSM-5 because the studies concluded that there was insufficient peer review evidence. The establishment of the diagnostic criteria and course descriptions need to be identified for these compulsive behaviors to be recognized as mental health disorders.

As you seek to overcome either process or substance use addictions, at Healing Springs Ranch we realize that every patient is different and is deserving of a personal, custom approach to recovery. 

Our team places an emphasis on getting to your underlying issues and we will work with you to understand the “why” behind your addiction in an effort to help you overcome it.

Are you living your best life? Get in touch with our caring staff, and we will help you chart your path to finding meaning and purpose.