How Are Drug and Process Addictions Connected?

How Are Drug and Process Addictions Connected?Whether it’s an addiction to gambling or alcohol, the basic way a person’s brain responds to addiction is the same.

Similarities of Drug and Process Addictions

Researchers believe that certain substances and specific repetitive behaviors alter neural pathways in the brain. Studies also show that chemical addictions and process addictions (also known as behavioral addictions) produce similar feelings in individuals leading them to repeat actions or take drugs compulsively according to a 1994 article in the journal of Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity.

Scientists continue to research addictions to physical behaviors specifically addictions to food, sex, exercise, shopping, electronic media and gambling. As more research is done on process addictions, scientists continue to make comparisons to chemical addictions to drugs or alcohol. The scientific community already recognizes chemical addictions as a chronic disease, and process addictions are considered very similar according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).

What Is a Process Addiction?

Process addictions refer to an individual’s compulsive need to engage in a behavior repetitively even when doing so harms the individual or interferes with his or her ability to function in social and work settings. A process addiction may include behavior related to primary drive states such as eating or sex, or it can encompass other behaviors like gambling or playing video games.

Similar to a chemical addiction, a process addiction begins as a single activity that escalates over time to eventually monopolize nearly all of a person’s free time. The primary sign of an addiction goes beyond repetition or the amount of time spent on the behavior according to the ASAM. An addiction is an obsession with a behavior that leads to participation even when there are negative consequences. The following factors define the cycle of addiction according to a 1990 article in the British Journal of Addiction:

  • Behavior initially produces pleasurable feelings or emotional “high”
  • Tolerance develops as behavior produces less pleasure
  • Dependence on behavior develops as withdrawal effect makes a person feel even worse than normal
  • Thinking about behavior or engaging in behavior produces a learned state of arousal or excitement
  • Certain emotional states, such as stress or pain, prompt acting out the behavior

Furthermore drug and process addictions share several characteristics. The following traits apply to both types of addiction according to an article in the journal of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity.

  • Obsession
  • Denial
  • Loss of control
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Continued use or participation despite adverse consequences
  • Escalation of the behaviors

As more research identifies the similarities between process and drug addictions, scientists identify the best ways to treat each type of addiction, particularly co-occurring addictions.

Common Treatments for Drug/Process Addictions

Individuals suffering with addictions must set goals to begin an effective recovery process according to the British Journal of Addiction article. Initially a person may feel ambivalent about treating an addiction or continuing therapy. The best therapies offer attainable goals at each step of the process. Successful addiction treatment also offers alternatives to destructive behaviors.

Individuals who develop a range of acceptable substitutes for destructive behaviors have an easier time during recovery. The Addiction journal notes that when people engage in normal repetitive behaviors, they are willing to make several substitutions. For example a person who plays golf on Saturdays may be willing to stay indoors when it’s raining.

Offering acceptable substitutes for behavioral addictions is especially important to ensure a person does not develop another damaging addiction. It is common for individuals with a process addiction to also develop a chemical addiction according to the Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity journal article. A person who is addicted to drugs and sex will have a harder time recovering from a drug addiction if the sex addiction is not treated. In addition a person with a process addiction may develop a drug or alcohol addiction as he or she tries to cope with the consequences of his or her behavior.

Individuals with process addictions respond well to the traditional therapies offered for chemical addictions according to the Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity article. Addiction treatments that include behavior modification skills, such as those offered in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, are effective as well as long-term participation in 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Sex Addicts Anonymous.

Need Help Finding Addiction Treatment?

Addictions destroy lives and can lead to disabilities or even death if untreated. Both process and chemical addictions respond well to scientifically proved therapies. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, we can help.

Individuals who recognize the need for help are ready to take the next step toward recovery. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide options. Don’t wait to find the help you need. Call us today and get started on a more fulfilling, productive life.

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