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Process Addiction: Understanding Impulsive and Addictive Behavior

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Process addictionThe concept of addiction to alcohol and other drugs is pretty well understood by most people. A chemical creates a reaction in the body that makes
us feel so good that it becomes impossible to live without it. But did you know we can react to behavioral stimuli in the exact same way? That’s process addiction.

Gambling, sex/porn, spending/shopping, eating and endless rounds of video games can release the same endorphins in our brains that drugs do. They make us feel good. But when the behavior causes your life to spin out of control – when you can’t stop – that’s when it becomes an addiction.


Process Addiction: A Very Real Problem

While gambling is the only process addiction currently recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), they are all very powerful and very real.

Addiction in any form is an attempt to escape one or more aspects of our lives that we find difficult, if not impossible, to deal with. Feeling stressed or anxious? Go to your process addiction to numb the pain and feel good again – and again – and again. But when your life becomes unmanageable (failing marriage, problems on the job, health issues, mounting debt) you may realize your escape mechanisms are not only less than helpful, but they are making things much worse.


Do I Have a Process Addiction?

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your behavior:

  • How much are you hiding it?
  • How often are you going to it?
  • Are you doing it at work or during family time?
  • Are you spending too much money on this?
  • Can you go two weeks without it?

If you enjoy it, it’s a pleasure. If you need it, it’s an addiction.

Getting Your Life Back

The road to recovery begins with the realization that your world is not going to improve without a change in behavior. This can come from a personal epiphany, an intervention or guidance from a clergyman or therapist. Whatever the source, this realization allows you to ask yourself, “What other coping skills can I use to get deal with my problems and get better?”

There are support groups for all forms of process addiction. The big advantage is you are with other people who are struggling with the exact same things. One of the big reasons for addiction is shame. We need to medicate the shame and it spirals into one big cycle of negative behavior. Twelve-step programs are great for people with process addictions. They get rid of the shame. You’re known and accepted and normalized within the group.

Other healthy coping skills include: talking to friends, deep breathing, meditation and yoga. Another exercise is “sitting with the emotion.” In other words, can you acknowledge the existence of the emotion and not run from it or medicate against it, and still know you’ll be okay? If you can handle the anxiety for 10 minutes without falling into your addiction, the urge will pass.
You’re Not Alone

If groups are not your thing, and you’ll not having any success on your own, our counselors here at Stenzel Clinical specialize in process addiction. A personal conversation with a trained professional may be the best way for you to find your way out of the emotional maze that process addictions create. We are here to listen and are here to help.


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