• What is a “Process Addiction”?

    Process addictions are behavioral addictions that are compulsive in nature and can either be independent or accompany substance addictions.  They can also signify that more therapeutic work needs to be done once a person has achieved abstinence from substances. Process addictions can be debilitating for both the user and families and hijack the same parts of the brain that are involved in substance use disorders. Because of this, many of the behaviors can be similar – obsession with the behavior, deflection and minimization, dishonesty, stealing, emotional instability, and guilt and shame. Process addictions often are overlooked but can be just as (if not more!) damaging to the addicted and their loved ones.

    The list or process addictions is exhaustive, but here are some of the common ones:

    Eating Disorders

    Eating disorders involve compulsive and damaging patterns around food and exercise. They can present in many different ways, but the negative impact on the individual engaged in eating disorder behaviors is the same. 

    Eating disorders can show up through extreme restriction of food intake, overuse of foods for purposes of self-soothing, ingesting substances to help get rid of foods such as laxatives, cycles of binging and purging, over-exercising and being obsessive about workout routines, eliminating entire food groups altogether, being overly fixated on eating “healthy,” or use of stimulants or steroids to aid in achieving their perfect body. 

    On the outside, eating disorders often get overlooked because they can appear as though a person is making healthy food choices or taking care of their bodies at the gym. Our culture openly accepts dieting obsessively and this idea of a “perfect” figure and this is made worse by filters and photo-shopping on social media and unrealistic ideals from celebrities and other influencers. The individual struggling with an eating disorder is hyper-fixated on their next meal, their next gym session, and what their body looks like at all times. They struggle with shame and emotional regulation. 

    A calorie-deficit robs the brain of performing in the way that is intended to. It is very difficult to ask for help for this disorder. These behaviors are compulsive and all consuming and can lead to major medical issues. In fact, eating disorders are the number one cause of death of all mental health conditions, including substance use.

    Gambling Disorders

    The mental health community is seeing more and more damage done to individuals and their families by gambling disorders. Gambling and other high-risk financial behaviors are being moved from casinos to virtual platforms; thus, the devastation from these behaviors has become much more far-reaching. Gambling is showing up in our population via casinos, online poker, sports betting, card trading, fantasy sports, and obsession with scratch-offs and lottery tickets.

    Just like all process addictions, these problematic behaviors become all-consuming for the person who is addicted. Individuals become hooked on the highs and lows of gambling, and this feeling mimics the rush of drugs and becomes quite addictive. While these behaviors provide a sense of entertainment and recreation for the average person, a gambling addict (otherwise known as a “compulsive gambler”) experiences problematic symptoms such as a loss of control regarding the output of financial resources, obsessive thought patterns, justifying and minimizing behaviors, shame about the gambling, and financial deception with their families and loved ones. Gamblers are at an increased risk of depression and suicide.

    Digital Addiction

    The world has become a place where people are compulsively tied to their phones, computers, social media platforms, and gaming devices at all times. Similar with substance use disorders, for a person struggling with a digital addiction, these devices become a way to check out of the world. Everything in life becomes secondary to the digital world. Real interactions with other humans, employment, family relations, school, finances, and a person’s sleep cycle are disrupted by this obsession. For this digital addict, social interaction and self-esteem are derived almost entirely from a fantasy world found inside of an electronic device. They often become emotionally dysregulated and struggle with real life interactions with those around them and other worldly obligations of daily living.


    Codependency is another example of a process addiction which can be very destructive. Fixating all of your energy on another person’s emotions or well-being can be entirely debilitating. Often these individuals have very deep work of their own to be done. Being a chronic “fixer” of others can and often does become extremely intoxicating. 

    The codependent can appear to be very caring and a lot of people will have empathy for the anxiety that they are feeling. However, there is a secondary gain of focusing so much attention on another individual. In doing so, this person is able to avoid their own feelings of inadequacy and shame. Fixation on friendships, romantic relationships, or their children’s behaviors, can completely override all other obligations in a persons life and can have major emotional, medical and financial repercussions. 

    Of note, codependency is also a huge barrier in the recovery process for the individual who is struggling with addiction and can enable the process for this person, which is ultimately destructive to all parties involved.

    More about Process Addictions

    Process addictions rob people of serenity and the relationships that are the most important to them. Almost any behavior can become problematic if it is used compulsively over a period time. People also become addicted to shopping, stealing, hoarding, romantic relationships, OCD behaviors, sex, pornography and shopping. Any behavior that is engaged in compulsively, is accompanied by shame and guilt, or involves deception, minimization, or the need to hide it, is worthwhile to investigate or seek treatment for. The goal of sobriety or real recovery is not simply putting down the drug or the drink (or behavior in this case); rather, the goal is to be a person who feels at peace in themselves as a human being, and operates with integrity in all of their affairs. 

    Help is available at Mangrove Therapy Group

    Mangrove Therapy Group clinicians specialize in all aspects of addiction, substance use disorders, and trauma recovery. We want to help clients dig deep and find lasting serenity in their daily lives, and this includes examining and treating all existing trauma, family disruptions, unhealthy thought patterns, and maladaptive behaviors. 

    1. […] will be experts on substance use disorders but also on compulsive behaviors (otherwise known as process addictions). Your therapist will not only help you stop the self-destructive behavior. More importantly, they […]