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Process Addictions and Substance Abuse

process addictionSubstance abuse is a diagnosable condition that is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association. The condition is so serious that, although there are four distinct symptoms, an individual need only suffer from one of them in order to receive a diagnosis. Ultimately, substance abuse is a problem if it negatively impacts your life in some way. For instance, if you’re not attending school or you’re failing to show up for work because of something related to substance abuse, you might qualify for a diagnosis. The reason for the irresponsible behavior does not have to be that you were actively abusing substances. Perhaps you were suffering the after-effects — the “hangover” — that is often associated with alcohol binges or excessive drug use. You may find yourself having legal problems, such as charges of driving while intoxicated. You may find that you are having difficulty getting along with family members and friends as you’re consistently fighting about whether or not you have a problem. executive manThese are fairly distinct situations that can occur as a result of substance abuse. But, what about other types of addictions?  Is there really such a thing as an addiction to shopping?  Is it possible to have an addiction to gambling, the Internet, or some other activity?  According to the American Psychiatric Association, as they prepare to release the newest edition of their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the answer is “yes.” Currently, gambling is categorized as an impulse control disorder. Even drug addiction, as a diagnosis, does not exist in the current version of the manual used by psychiatric and psychological professionals worldwide. Rather, the correct diagnoses are “substance abuse” or “substance dependence.” In the newest edition, slated to be released this year, the new, official diagnosis of “addiction” will include process addictions for the first time. Gambling will be listed as a specific process addiction, while other behaviors would fall under the heading of “Addictions not otherwise specified.”

Substance Abuse and Process Addictions Have Inherent Similarities

pills being poured into a handWhy are the industry professionals changing the way we look at behaviors that can be damaging to our lives?  Perhaps, it is because there are so many similarities between the way that individuals who suffer from process addictions behave, how their brains react and interact with the process to which they have developed an addiction, and the damage that can ensue with substance abuse and dependence. An article published by MIT News states that an individual who is addicted to gambling does not gamble because they expect to become instantly wealthy. They are actually addicted to the feelings that are associated with the gambling activity itself. When an individual is looking to escape from the stress of their life, they might choose to abuse drugs, or they might choose to sit in front of a slot machine for hours on end. For some, gambling is something that happens when they take a much-needed vacation to Las Vegas or some other city where casinos represent harmless entertainment. Someone who suffers from process addiction, however, does so to the detriment of their daily life, their relationships and their responsibilities. Shopping episodes, according to Stanford University, are often preceded by episodes of depression or anxiety. In much the same way that drugs alleviate these feelings, spending money to purchase a material object can ease the feelings in someone suffering from shopping addiction. Moreover, it has been shown in clinical studies that certain compulsive behaviors can have the same kind of physical response in the brain, such as reward and pleasure, that drugs do. As more and more individuals find escape for their problems in addictions, the diagnoses are necessary to ensure comprehensive and consistent diagnoses, as well as to establish a pattern that will, perhaps, prompt insurance companies to cover the necessary treatments.

In addition to gambling and shopping, some possible process addictions might include:

Recognizing the Signs of a Process Addiction

checkboxCurrently, there are seven parameters which the psychological community has placed upon a diagnosis of substance dependence. If one looks at the criteria for the current “addiction” diagnosis, one may be able to determine if a pattern exists that can apply to your behaviors, or the behaviors of someone you care about. It is important to seek professional help if you suspect that you or someone you love may be suffering from a process addiction, of course. However, it is also important to see how the behaviors can drastically affect our day-to-day lives. The first issue that may be present when someone suffers from addiction of any kind is tolerance. In the case of drug addiction, tolerance means that an individual must ingest more of a substance in order to achieve the same, euphoric feelings. This can be translated to process addictions as well. A gambler might find that small wagers are no longer giving them satisfaction; the risk is not enough to create the release they receive because of the gambling activities. Someone who is addicted to shopping may find that spending a few dollars isn’t enough, so they increase the frequency or cost of their purchases in order to find the effects they are looking for. Another issue of concern might be the presence of withdrawal symptoms. These are physical or emotional conditions that exist when an individual cannot participate in the activity they choose. Some might experience anxiety that can only be relieved if they are permitted to play their favorite video game, while others will only be satisfied by making another bet.

Other symptoms might include:

  • Participating in an activity for longer than intended or in greater quantity or effect, such as going to the mall to purchase one pair of shoes and being unable to control the purchase of several pairs for far more than one can reasonably afford to spend
  • An inability to stop the behavior, even if one wants to
  • Spending an unreasonable amount of time planning for, taking part in, or recovering from the events or behaviors, such as figuring out how to replace funds lost or spent or making plans to meet others for compulsive sexual encounters
  • Choosing one’s process addictive behaviors over other activities that a reasonable person might find more important, like spending time with one’s children, working, or going to school
  • Having knowledge that the behavior is causing significant problems in one’s life, yet continuing to participate despite all the negative effects

In some cases, an individual may suffer from both a substance abuse disorder and a process addiction at the same time. One study, published by the U.S. Library of Medicine, found that alcohol influenced the severity of the behaviors exhibited by compulsive and addicted gamblers, for instance. Because of the negative effect that extreme losses during a gambling session can create – such as when an individual loses their mortgage or car payment, or they spend the money needed to purchase food for their children – addicted gamblers will often engage in a behavior known as “chasing.”  They will return to the casino and try to recoup their losses by engaging in the same behaviors that got them into trouble in the first place. When alcohol is involved, individuals are far more likely to lose control over how much they are gambling. Likewise, those individuals who exhibit less control are more likely to engage in “chasing.” Finding help for process addictions doesn’t have to difficult. In many cases, the same kinds of therapies used to treat substance abuse can be effective for the treatment of process addictions, as well. If you or someone you know has a problem with a behavior that is changing their lives for the worse, please do not hesitate to contact us for more information on the treatments available. The sooner you get the help you need, the sooner you can learn to control your own destiny.

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