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Process Addictions

What is a process addiction? Process addictions are behaviors that become addictive, that are not necessarily based in substance use, but can also be a part of the substance use process.

Process Addictions

Process addictions can be better understood as behavioral addictions. Many experts believe that behavioral addictions share many similarities with substance-based addictions. Unfortunately, the only behavioral addiction that is formally recognized as an addiction by the American Psychiatric Association in the DSM-5, is gambling disorder. It is likely clear to most people why gambling can be so addictive. An insatiable urge to win, despite losing more than winning, and sometimes getting very close to winning. Realistically, these instances of mostly winning are the most detrimental to gambling addiction. “I was so close.” “Almost.” “Next time, for sure I'll win.” You can see how these thoughts will correlate with the “one more time" or “one last time" mentality of substance addiction. Other behaviors can include video games. There is a task-reward mentality in video games that seems to create the perfect opportunity for repeated behaviors leading to process addictions. Work can easily become a process addiction, particularly if it is task oriented. The difficulty with these types of addictions is the consequences are seemingly minor, as there are no overdoses or organ failure. The consequences are more likely to be interpersonal, financial, or certain health issues related to sedentary life style. Obligations with work or school may also fall to the wayside. So it begins to become apparent how closely related these issues are.

Process Addictions and Substance Use

So, how do these process and behavioral addictions interact with substance use? Some may have substance use as ancillary, like drinking and smoking compulsively while gambling. These are areas to monitor while the individual attempts to stop the behavior, as these other issues may increase to fill the created void. Certain substances will have their own process rituals woven into them. Consider the experience of the IV drug user. First, the act of obtaining drugs in itself creates measurable brain activity, and most individuals will report physical reactions from the knowledge of their ability to obtain drugs that same day. Second, IV drug users in general will have some sort of relationship with the needle. At times, this can become ritualistic and addictive. Some have a harder time coping with this over the actual drug. The last point is regarding a behavior such as vaping. Vaping may include nicotine, which has physical dependency. This addiction is arguably different from addictions to substances like alcohol and heroin. Regardless, if someone is to decrease and stop their intake of nicotine, but continue vaping, a process addiction will remain. The individual may then struggle to stop vaping as a process addiction. This makes it clear just how complicated addiction is in general. 


Process addictions can be every bit as difficult to treat as substance-based addictions. We highly recommend seeking professional help. Learning how to cope with urges to return to behaviors will be integral. As will working on any traumatic events that may have caused or exacerbated addiction. Oftentimes, mental health may be a root cause. People with anxiety disorders may utilize specific processes addictions to calm their anxiety and find they can't stop. Connecting to resources and being educated will also be a way that professionals can help. Support groups such as group counseling, 12-step meetings, or SMART Recovery may be something that can help in this transition away from certain behaviors. Whatever path you take, we hope you don't tread it alone, but with friends, family, individuals with similar experiences, as well as professionals. 

Independent Recovery

At Independent Recovery, we take all behavioral concerns and addictions seriously. We want to help you create a plan to accomplish your goals, whatever they may be. Head on over to our Get Started page for a free consultation.