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When a hobby, habit, or behavior becomes an addiction, it can be just as harmful as an addiction to alcohol or chemical substances.
Called process addiction, many people don’t realize the negative effects that this kind of compulsive behavior can have on daily life, relationships, and overall well-being.
Becoming addicted to something such as shopping, gambling, sexual activity, or eating can take over and lead you down an unhealthy path. When an activity interferes with your life, it’s time to seek help for a process addiction.
In this blog, we’ll look at the following:
- Facts about process addiction
- Process addictions and the brain
- Developing a process addiction
- Diagnosing a process addiction
- Recognizing the problem
- Interventions for process addicts
- Benefits of hiring an interventionist
Facts About Process Addiction
“Process addiction” refers to any compulsive behavior a person is dependent upon. This term is widely used for any addiction that does not involve an addictive chemical but rather a hobby or habit. Process addiction is complex and involves several different factors leading up to the state of addiction:
- Mental state
- Social status
- Past experiences
The combination of a person’s specific traits can lead to a process addiction. Hobbies start innocently, as something you do for fun or something your family does.
Activities such as fishing or shopping can be soothing, offering someone time for quiet reflection. Hobbies are perfectly healthy in moderation. It’s when the hobby begins to take over your life, interfering with responsibilities like your job and your family, then it becomes a problem.
Process Addictions and the Brain
While process addictions don’t involve ingesting chemicals, there’s an actual chemical process that takes place within the brain – just like with other addictions.
When a person becomes overly attached to a specific activity, he or she becomes incapable of doing anything other than that activity. In time, the activity causes palpable harm to the person’s life, including severing relationships and resulting in financial ruin. Still, the addict can’t quit the activity on his or her own.
People can easily understand other addictions because substances have a physical effect on the brain. Alcohol, heroin, and opioids release chemicals into the body and brain that drive addictions.
Addicts chase the high, repeating their behaviors regardless of damaging consequences. Process addiction can be less understood, as there isn’t something taken that causes the high. Process addicts chase the ups and downs of activities such as gambling or sex. These activities stimulate the brain’s reward center, resulting in the same “high” as substances – a natural high.
Developing a Process Addiction
As with substance abuse problems, most people with process addictions don’t realize that they have a problem until it’s too late. What starts out as a fun hobby can quickly develop into an addiction when habits evolve into obligatory behaviors.
True addicts can exist without psychotropic drugs. Stanton Peele, an early thought leader in addiction, pioneered this idea in his 1979 study, “Love and Addiction.” According to Peele, individuals who are dependent on a set of experiences are addicts, regardless of what the experiences are.
The term “addiction” can be used for a wide variety of behaviors and hobbies, including watching television, playing video games, browsing the internet, physical exercise, sports, eating disorders, sexual behaviors, and compulsive criminal behavior. If the activity causes functional impairments at work, in relationships, and in social situations, it’s appropriate to make the diagnosis of behavioral addiction or process addiction.
Diagnosing a Process Addiction
When a passive or active hobby becomes the most important activity in a person’s life, dominating his or her thinking, feelings, and behavior, it’s a sign of an addiction.
Process addictions can also modify moods, leading to feelings of escape, having a “buzz,” or feeling high. It can be seen as a coping mechanism. Process addictions have tolerance and withdrawal symptoms just like other addictions. People can develop a tolerance for the activity and thus need to do it more and more often to chase the feeling that they had the first time.
Process addicts can also experience withdrawal, such as unpleasant feelings, moodiness, irritability, and even physical effects like the shakes.
If a person recurrently fails to resist the impulse to engage in a specific behavior, feels tense right before initiating the behavior, experiences pleasure or relief while engaging in the behavior, and lacks control during the behavior, he or she is most likely suffering a process addiction.
Recognizing the Problem
People often overlook process addictions or live in a state of denial due to feelings of guilt and shame and a lack of understanding. Process addictions don’t typically result in physical signs of addiction like substance abuse does, making it more difficult to recognize.
If you or a loved one experiences at least five of these nine criteria, there may be a process addiction forming:
- Repeated preoccupation with the behavior
- Engagement with the behavior to a greater extent than intended
- Frequent attempts to reduce, stop, or control the behavior
- Extended periods of time engaged with the behavior, activities for the behavior, or recovering from the behavior’s effects
- Engagement with the behavior instead of fulfilling occupational, domestic, or social obligations
- Choosing the behavior over other important activities
- Continuance of the behavior despite the fact that it exacerbates social, financial, physical, and/or psychological problems
- The need to increase the frequency or intensity of the behavior to achieve the desired effect
These signs are similar to those of a drug or alcohol addiction, although physical signs are typically absent in process addictions. If you or a loved one develops depression, social anxiety, loneliness, or other psychopathological effects, these can be precursors to a process addiction.
Interventions for Process Addicts
The need for interventions for process addicts is stronger than for substance abuse problems since process addicts often don’t recognize they have a problem.
This is in contrast to drug and alcohol addicts, who realize that they have a harmful addiction and need help when they hit rock bottom or feel social pressure. Process addicts often don’t feel the need to seek help and instead must be told by others that they have a problem they need to fix.
People with process addictions can’t simply cease their behaviors by themselves. They have similar relapse rates to those with drug addictions and need similar forms of help.
Process addictions can be just as pervasive as other addictions and require targeted therapy to recover. Telling someone he or she should stop the behavior isn’t enough to achieve actual change. Instead, the addict needs a formal intervention to help him or her to accept the need for therapy.
Who Needs an Intervention?
If you catch the signs of a process addiction early enough, it’s possible that having a conversation with the person is all he or she needs to stop traveling down a bad path, especially if the person has only been engaged in the behavior for a short period of time. They may be able to drop the behavior without suffering ill effects. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with most process addicts.
For people with advanced cases, such as those with an involuntary and irrational need to engage in an activity, a quick conversation won’t be effective. These addicts can’t stop, and they may never fully recover from addiction. However, intervention can start these people on the path to healing and leading normal lives.
When to Hold an Intervention
When you realize a loved one chooses to engage in a certain behavior instead of other normal activities, such as going to work, pursuing an education, or spending time with family, it may be time to hold an intervention. This is especially true when the behavior has had other negative effects on the person’s life, such as financial problems, trouble with the law, and broken relationships.
Benefits of Hiring an Interventionist
Process addicts can benefit from abuse prevention programs similar to those used for substance abusers. Specialized training educates young people about process addictions, teaching warning signs and when to seek help. Hire an interventionist, such as those at Family First Intervention, to help you hold a process addiction intervention for someone in your life.
Interventions can be difficult for people with process addictions, and family members need a firm understanding of how to host an effective discussion about this relatively new subject.
Many families hold interventions for the purpose of trying to push a person into a treatment program. For process addicts, families should consider hiring their own interventionist to help. People with process addiction may never choose to leave a behavior behind, but an interventionist can help them control their addictions and lead normal lives.
Emotions can run high during an intervention. It’s important to rehearse a script, including important statistics you’ve researched prior to the intervention, and stick to it as closely as possible. This can prevent outbursts of anger and curtail arguments with the addict.
As soon as your loved one agrees to get care, the intervention should end, and therapy should begin. Be compassionate toward your loved one during intervention and recovery – a process addiction is just as real as a substance addiction and requires patience and understanding.
It can be tough to decide if you would like to set up an intervention because you don’t want to cause any further damage. Our intervention process is for the whole family, not just the addict. Everybody in the family can benefit from an addiction intervention.
If you think it is necessary to hold an intervention or you would like to learn more, click the button below.
An intervention is not about how to control the substance user; it is about how to let go of believing you can.
“The most formidable challenge we professionals face is families not accepting our suggested solutions. Rather, they only hear us challenging theirs. Interventions are as much about families letting go of old ideas as they are about being open to new ones. Before a family can do something about the problem, they must stop allowing the problem to persist. These same thoughts and principles apply to your loved one in need of help.”Mike Loverde, MHS, CIP