Behavioral Health

What is Behavioral Health and Addiction?

10% of the U.S. adult population struggles with addiction. Substance or alcohol abuse disorders have touched almost every family. But sometimes, addiction can take the form of behavioral addiction, also known as a process addiction. The following article will explore the different types of behavioral, or process addictions, and what the treatment options are for behavioral health and addiction.

What is a process addiction?

Addiction can take many forms. When most people think of the term “addiction,” they think of physical dependence on a substance or alcohol. They may think about physical withdrawal symptoms and other signs of a drug or alcohol addiction. But process or behavioral addictions include the negative consequences present in physical dependence, but without drugs or alcohol driving the addictive behavior. Instead, people with a process addiction display compulsive, damaging behaviors that are impossible for the person to break without outside intervention and ongoing support.

A process addiction is defined as the compulsion to continually engage in an activity or behavior despite the negative consequences. The person who is addicted to the behavior will find it psychologically rewarding, and they may feel euphoric while engaging in the action. But afterward, they will become overwhelmed with guilt or other consequences.

What are the common types of behavioral or process addictions?

The most common types of behavioral addictions are:

  • Shopping addiction
  • Exercise addiction
  • Sex and love addictions
  • Gambling addiction
  • Food addiction

Nearly everyone engages in these behaviors, but the difference between people who are addicted to these behaviors and those who are not addicted comes down to how much the behavior interferes with their day-to-day functioning. These behaviors increase dopamine levels in the brain that give people sense of euphoria and increased mood, similar to the effects of using a drug. Engaging in these behaviors can become compulsive in people who are vulnerable to addiction.

A person suffering from one of the above process addictions can experience the following consequences that interfere with their lives:

  • They will suffer from physical or mental health problems as a consequence of the behavior, and an inability to stop.
  • The person with a process addiction will experience problems with their relationships or even at work.
  • They will experience chronic, extreme, or ongoing problems related to their addiction. A gambling or shopping addict may lose their home or be forced into bankruptcy. A person with a food addiction may experience chronic health problems related to obesity.
  • Despite the negative consequences, someone with a process addiction will not be able to stop engaging in the behavior.

What are the risk factors for behavioral addiction?

With any addiction or mental health disorder, no single factor can definitively determine if someone will suffer from this type of disorder. When it comes to process addictions, people will engage in these activities throughout their lifetimes. Classifying people who are at risk of becoming addicted to these behaviors is similar to how some people will become addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Having low self-esteem can make people vulnerable to a process addiction. Engaging in these activities can give people a sense of power, self-worth, and euphoria. A susceptible individual with low self-esteem can become addicted to these activities. Unaddressed guilt and trauma, and lacking a secure support network and social skills can also make people vulnerable to developing a process addiction.

Are people with behavioral addictions at higher risk of substance abuse?

Studies indicate that about 21% of all people with a process addiction are addicted to substances or alcohol as well. The symptoms of a process addiction also mimic symptoms of drug or alcohol addiction.

  • Thinking about the behavior compulsively
  • Continuing the action despite the consequences
  • Inability to stop the practice, despite the desire to quit
  • Feeling symptoms of withdrawal after cessation, such as depression, restlessness, and irritability
  • Denial of the addictive behavior
  • Secretiveness surrounding how often and how much of the activities they engage in
  • Guilt

Having a process addiction can also increase the chances of a person developing a mental health disorder. Also, people with untreated mental health disorders are more likely to self medicate with substances or addictive behaviors. When someone suffers from addiction and one or more mental health disorders, the condition is called dual diagnosis, co-occurring disorders, or comorbidity.

When it comes to process addictions, feelings of guilt after engaging in negative behaviors can fuel or even triggers symptoms of depression and anxiety. When each co-occurring disorder intensifies the signs of the other disorders, it can be challenging to treat any of the conditions. For people with process addictions and comorbidity, it’s crucial that they receive help for both disorders at the same time. Failing to address one disorder can increase the chances of relapse and other adverse health outcomes.

How are behavioral health and addictions addressed and treated?

Although behavioral addictions and co-occurring disorders are complicated to treat, treatment, recovery, and lifelong sobriety are all possible. There are many different methods for approaching behavioral health and addictions, but regardless of the approach, all comorbid issues must be addressed and treated for the person to make a full recovery.

When someone is addicted to a substance or a particular behavior, there are underlying, deep emotional reasons for why they are compulsively engaging in that behavior. The most effective way to address and treat a process addiction disorder is by uncovering the root cause that’s driving the addiction. Talk therapy, group therapy, and family support are all effective ways for helping individuals overcome a process addiction.

If someone is suffering from a process addiction and comorbid mental health or substance use disorder, any co-occurring disorders will also need to be addressed. A patient may need to undergo medical detox for drugs or alcohol. Depending on the severity of their addiction, a person may need to stay for several months in an inpatient rehabilitation facility.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with behavioral health disorders, there is help available. Please reach out to a qualified addiction specialist today to explore your options for behavioral health treatment.