What are Process Addictions and Do You Have One?


Where did your mind go when you read that word? Drugs? Alcohol? Food? Something else? 

Sure, many people struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, but did you know that a whole other type of addiction lurks in the shadows? They are called process addictions and can be just as harmful and disruptive to our lives as their substance counterparts.

The sneaky thing about process addictions is that many of them involve everyday activities or behaviours that can be healthy in moderation, for example, work and exercise. This is one of the reasons why process addictions are often misunderstood and misdiagnosed by professionals.

Let’s dive into the world of process addictions, explore their causes and impacts, and maybe even uncover if you have one.

So, what exactly are process addictions?

In simple terms, process addictions refer to compulsive behaviours or activities that become so overwhelming and all-consuming that they interfere with a person’s daily life.

Unlike substance addictions, process addictions don’t involve any substances. Instead, they revolve around specific activities or processes that provide a rush of pleasure, leading to a cycle of craving and dependence. Afterwards, individuals are often filled with a sense of shame or guilt and may repeatedly try to stop the behaviour without success.

Why do some people develop process addictions?

Like substance addictions, process addictions typically start innocently enough.

Someone may want to relieve stress through playing harmless games of poker with friends. Someone else may want to alleviate emotional pain and find that exercising to the point of exhaustion helps to calm their mind. Someone else may find that playing video games helps them briefly escape from the reality of their life.

Some people will develop process addictions from these seemingly harmless activities because of the powerful reward system associated with them. Addiction research shows that engaging in certain experiences triggers the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which creates a sense of pleasure and reinforces the behaviour.

While research is still limited into why some people are more susceptible to developing a process addiction than others, researchers have identified several factors that could put a person at higher risk, including:

  • Genetic or biological factors
  • Psychological factors (stress, anxiety, underlying mental health conditions)
  • Environmental factors (social influence, cultural norms)
  • Personality factors (impulsivity, “thrill” seeking)

Furthermore, individuals seeking to escape from negative emotions or cope with challenging life circumstances may turn to certain behaviours as a way to self medicate. While process addictions are still being studied, they should be recognised as serious issues that require support and treatment.

Common types of process addiction

Process addictions can take many forms, and they often vary from person to person.

Let’s take a look at some of the most prevalent process addictions:

Gambling addiction

Gambling Addiction

Gambling disorder is currently the only behavioural/process addiction identified within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Gambling addiction occurs when individuals develop an uncontrollable urge to gamble, no matter the negative consequences. Like other addictions, gambling can create a cycle of destructive compulsion, which leads to financial issues and relationship problems.

Sex and porn addiction

Sex and porn addiction is characterised by compulsive and excessive sexual behaviours and consumption of pornography. Individuals may experience a loss of control and negative consequences but feel unable to stop these behaviours.

Sex and porn addictions can significantly impact personal relationships and a person’s mental and emotional health.

Internet and gaming addiction

man almost sleeping while playing video game

It’s no surprise that with the rise of technology, the internet, and video games, many people need help with excessive internet or gaming use. Spending countless hours online or in front of a screen can not only lead to social isolation but also cause someone to neglect their responsibilities.

Internet and gaming addiction involve excessive and compulsive use of online activities and video games. The virtual world feels like an escape for internet and gaming addicts. When unable to play, they may experience withdrawal symptoms like depression and anger.

Compulsive spending addiction

Retail therapy may sound harmless, but for those with a compulsive spending addiction, it’s an entirely different story. The constant need to shop and acquire things can result in financial instability and debt, not to mention strained relationships.

Shopping addiction, also known as compulsive buying disorder, is a process addiction portrayed by excessive and uncontrollable shopping behaviours. The act of shopping provides temporary relief or a sense of gratification, but it can quickly spiral into a destructive cycle. 

Work addiction

In our fast-paced society, workaholism has become increasingly common. Being a workaholic means being addicted to work and constantly striving for success, often at the expense of personal relationships and one’s physical and emotional health.

Work addiction is an excessive and uncontrollable preoccupation with work. The need to constantly be productive and busy overshadows everything else in life. Individuals with workaholism often prioritise work over personal relationships, hobbies, and self-care, leading to physical and mental health issues.

The addictive nature of work provides a sense of achievement and validation, but it can result in an unbalanced and harmful lifestyle.

Exercise addiction

Yes, something as positive as exercise can also become an addiction. An unhealthy and excessive obsession with exercise and physical activity defines exercise addiction.

Those with exercise addiction may exercise for long periods, often disregarding their physical limits. Rest and recovery days are often out of the equation. This addiction can lead to physical injuries and an obsession with body image and appearance.

While exercise is undoubtedly beneficial for our health, an addiction to exercise can be detrimental.


codependency partners wearing one red scarf together

Codependency – sometimes known as relationship addiction – involves an unhealthy reliance on others for self-worth, validation, and emotional stability. Similar to other addictions, codependency can create a cycle of destructive behaviours, including enabling, caretaking, and neglecting one’s own needs in favour of others.

Codependency is a process addiction that can be deeply ingrained and challenging to break free from without the right treatment and support.

Signs and symptoms of a process addiction

Identifying a process addiction can be challenging, as some of these behaviours can initially seem like positives (particularly exercise).

How do you know when you have crossed the line into a process addiction?

If you find yourself exhibiting the following signs and symptoms, it might be time to take a closer look:

  • Always seeking the “high” that the process or behaviour delivers. You find yourself obsessing over when you can next engage in the behaviour.

  • Loss of control. You feel unable to control or stop engaging in the behaviour despite negative consequences.

  • Neglecting responsibilities. The addiction takes priority over work, relationships, or other important obligations.

  • Withdrawal symptoms. You experience irritability, restlessness, or anxiety when attempting to cut back or stop the behaviour.

  • Escalation. Over time, you need to engage in the behaviour more frequently or for longer periods to achieve the same level of satisfaction.

  • Strained or broken relationships. Your addiction affects your relationships, causing conflict, isolation, or strain with loved ones.

Do you have a process addiction?

Beautiful happy women with shopping bags walking in city and having fun

Now that you’re aware of the common types and signs of process addictions, you might be wondering if you have one. The fact that you’re wondering if you have one may be a good indication that you do!

Keep in mind that only a qualified professional can diagnose an addiction, but reflecting on your behaviour can be insightful.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the behaviour causing significant distress within my daily life?
  • Do I find it difficult to cut back or stop the behaviour, even if I want to?
  • Have I tried unsuccessfully to quit or control the behaviour in the past?
  • Do I continue engaging in the behaviour despite negative consequences?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, you should consider seeking help from a professional. Professional clinicians can evaluate your situation, provide support, and guide you through the recovery process.

Seeking help and support

Acknowledging and seeking professional help for a process addiction is an essential step towards recovery. There are many types of effective treatment available to choose from.

Here are some options to consider:

Individual therapy

Individual therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can help you address the underlying causes of the addiction and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Group therapy and support groups

Group therapy has been recognised as a promising method of treatment. Whether you undergo group therapy or join a support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, you will gain a safe space to share experiences and find support from others going through similar struggles.

Lifestyle changes

Modifying your environment, setting boundaries, and establishing healthier habits can aid in breaking the cycle of addiction.

Self-care and stress management

adult black man doing meditation by the beach

Engaging in self-care activities like yoga and massage therapy is a form of practising stress management. Pursuing hobbies can also help replace the addictive behaviour with healthier alternatives.

Process addictions may not be as well-known or acknowledged as substance addictions, but they can have a similarly devastating impact on our lives. Whether it’s gambling, sex, shopping, work, or exercise, recognising the signs and seeking support is crucial for breaking free from the cycle of addiction.

Remember, recovery from addiction is possible, and you don’t have to face it alone. Reach out to professionals, friends, or support groups, and take the first step toward reclaiming control over your life again.

Camino Recovery understands addiction

At Camino Recovery, we understand addictions of all kinds and recognise that trauma is often the root of addiction. With a compassionate team of experts, Camino Recovery provides comprehensive support for individuals battling addiction and mental health disorders.

Through evidence-based therapies, personalised treatment plans, and an encouraging environment, we empower individuals to recover from addictions.

Get in touch with us today for a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation with one of our professionals.

David Scourfield

David Scourfield is a Camino Recovery team member since 2017, focused on facilitating communication with Clinical and other professionals to ensure a comprehensive understanding of Camino's program.

Combining his marketing skills and lived experiences, he joined Camino in 2017, contributing to external publications and the Camino website. With a strong belief in solidarity during the recovery process, David helps clients build support networks by connecting them with others in recovery.

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