What are Process Addictions…and Do You Have One?

Process Addictions

Being addicted to something is usually associated with the excessive use of substances like alcohol, opiates, street drugs, and nicotine. All of these can lead to a psychological and physical dependence because of the complex ways in which they take over the brain.

But did you know that aside from the use of drugs and alcohol, there are several common behaviors to which people can become addicted? These are called process addictions or behavioral addictions, and you might not even recognize that you have a serious problem.

There are several common behaviors to which people can become addicted. These are called process addictions or behavioral addictions, and you might not even recognize that you have a serious problem. Click To Tweet

What is a Process Addiction?

The term process addiction or behavioral addiction refers to uncontrollable habits that people will engage in—compulsive gambling and addiction to pornography or sex are some of the more well-known ones. However, there are other addictions that might fly under the radar because they are common activities for many people. The difference is that some people can’t seem to stop despite the negative consequences it might be having on their lives. And, when they try to give it up, they can struggle with mental health symptoms from the withdrawal.

5 Common Process Addictions

Because these addictive behaviors are a more extreme version of everyday activities, it can be harder to detect them and understand when they might be developing into a big problem.

Are any of these 5 process addictions getting in the way of your life or the life of someone you care about?

1. Video Gaming

As ubiquitous as these games are, some people are not able to hit the pause button on this habit. This is particularly true for those who have been playing video games for most of their lives. A research study published in the journal, Psychological Science, analyzed the gaming behaviors of more than 1,100 kids between the ages of 8 and 18. The study found that 8% of them met the criteria for “pathological gaming,” which indicated that the excessive amount of time spent playing video games adversely affected their functioning at school and led to health problems for these kids.

But this growing problem is not relegated only to the young. There are many adults who are hooked on gaming too (hello millennials!), and their addiction can result in the neglect of important responsibilities, thus causing problems with their relationships, careers, finances, and physical and mental health.

2. Shopping

It’s not unusual to joke about how a little retail therapy might help you get out of a funk, and often it does the trick. You feel better and move on, and don’t have the urge to go to hit the “Buy Now” button again any time soon. Not so with people who are truly addicted to shopping.

For a person who has what is known as compulsive buying behavior (CBB), shopping is like a drug and they experience a reduction of stress and a sense of euphoria when they buy something. The impulsive and excessive shopping results in stockpiles of purchases that don’t get used and/or overflowing closets with many items still having the tags on.   For obvious reasons, this addiction can lead to significant financial problems, including maxed-out credit cards and even bankruptcy.

3. Exercise

Although the mental and physical health benefits of exercise are well-known, some people take their workouts to the extreme. Over time, they need to increase the frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise to feel the same emotional benefits. The hyper-focus and excessive amount of time spent exercising often lead to the exclusion of other important aspects of their lives, including social and family commitments.

To the extent possible, they may also continue exercising despite physical injuries. Everything in their life is organized around their need to exercise. And, according to an article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, when exercise addicts have to stop, they experience withdrawal symptoms such as increased anxiety, irritability, and sleep problems. They keep exercising to avoid the discomfort these bring on.

4. Tanning

There’s no question that it is important to spend some time in the sun, and that doing so can make us feel better. When our skin is exposed to sunshine, it makes vitamin D which is critical for our overall health. But some people take tanning to the extreme. Whether it’s by sunbathing at the beach or pool, or in a tanning bed, they become dependent on how this habit makes them feel. Interestingly, it has been found that ultraviolet light makes our skin generate pain-relieving and mood-boosting endorphin hormones, so some researchers theorize that tanning can have underlying addictive properties.

Unfortunately, it has been well-established that ongoing exposure to ultraviolet light can lead to skin cancer. In fact, every day in the U.S., 9,500 people are diagnosed with     some type of it. Nonetheless, a person who is addicted to tanning will continue to engage in this behavior, despite knowing the potential—even lethal—consequences.

5. Food

While being addicted to certain types of food is not considered an eating disorder per se, it’s a form of disordered eating. What this means is that, unlike anorexia or bulimia where there are specific patterns associated with their eating behaviors, a person who has a food addiction will have a difficult time controlling themselves around certain foods—even when they aren’t hungry. Often, the foods they crave are high in sugar, fat, or salt, and when eaten, trigger the release of dopamine—the brain’s pleasure chemical. This is the same neurotransmitter involved in drug addiction, and for the same reason, makes it difficult for them to stop.

People who are addicted to food might intend to have just a couple of cookies or chips, but once they get started, they end up eating the whole bag. Of course, the consequences of compulsive eating are numerous since it can lead to obesity, which increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and other serious health problems.

Behavioral Addiction Problems are Brain Problems

By virtue of how the brain works, anything your brain finds pleasurable will be remembered and your brain will encourage you to repeat it. And, under normal circumstances, this is not a problem. Healthy activities and foods, beautiful objects, and fun social interactions can make you feel happy, so your brain will encourage you to include more of these in your life.

However, not everyone is able to maintain self-control with the things they like to do. This is very much the case for those who have problems with addiction—and there is science to back this up.

Using brain SPECT imaging for the past three decades, one of the big discoveries made by Amen Clinics is that addiction is not a single or simple disorder. Different brains become addicted in varying ways, and based on specific patterns found through brain imaging, the data reveals that there are 6 types of addicts:

  • Type 1: Compulsive Addicts
  • Type 2: Impulsive Addicts
  • Type 3: Impulsive-Compulsive Addicts
  • Type 4: Sad or Emotional Addicts
  • Type 5: Anxious Addicts
  • Type 6: Temporal Lobe Addicts

Each brain type is more vulnerable to certain kinds of addiction, so successful treatment plans will require different strategies to bring the brain back into balance. Despite the length of time, someone has been addicted to a behavior or substance, with the right diagnosis it is still possible to strengthen and optimize the function of the brain to reduce the possibility of relapse in the future.

Addiction and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. How about social media addiction and also phone addiction (the person can’t be away from the phone).

    Comment by Renata — July 19, 2021 @ 4:47 AM

  2. I believe that I have an addiction to shopping. I already have a DX of PTSD NOS and Anxiety and now depression based on an extremely abusive marriage with a cheating narcissistic spouse

    Comment by Tricia Lester — July 19, 2021 @ 5:06 AM

  3. I became addicted to food as a young child which turned into an eating disorder. The. Cocaine in my 20’s. Now in my late 40’s I know longer have an eating disorder or use any drugs or alcohol. I had a TBI 11 yrs ago. And with that I think my addiction personality has gotten better.

    Comment by Susan — July 19, 2021 @ 5:21 PM

  4. Please send me the information I want to save my son’s life

    Comment by Christiana Olumba — July 20, 2021 @ 10:01 AM

  5. Addicted to nicotine

    Comment by Louise Hayward — July 20, 2021 @ 12:29 PM

  6. Hi Christiana, we recommend checking out our other blogs as they cover a wide range of topics. Hopefully you find one that has the information you are looking for. For information regarding pricing, insurance, financing options, or scheduling an appointment please contact our Care Coordinators: https://amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — July 21, 2021 @ 11:34 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us