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Process Addiction

What is a Process Addiction?

Process addiction is when someone becomes addicted to a rewarding behaviour, such as Sex/Pornography, Co-dependency/Relationships, Eating Disorders, Shopping, Gambling or computer game addiction, as opposed to a drug or substance.

It is sometimes referred to as behavioural addictions or compulsive behaviours and involves compulsion to perform an action despite negative consequences to the individual and the people around them. In this way, people can suffer from psychological dependence on certain processes. They are reliant upon and controlled by the addiction as their primary way of dealing with life.

While the theory about behavioural addictions has been around for a while, only recently have we been able to look at the brain and determine how processes can, in fact, become addictive in the same way as addictive substances.

Types of Process Addiction

Sex/Pornography Addiction

Sex addiction can be described as any sexual activity that becomes out of control. This could be sex with a partner but often involves pornography, masturbation, visiting online chat rooms and visiting prostitutes.

Just like any other addiction, the behaviour of sex addicts has a progression. The addicts increasingly feel that they need to engage in more and riskier sexual activity to get the same ‘reward’. Sex addicts also have a lack of impulse control, therefore feeling unable to control their urges and actions. They continue their sexual activity, despite the negative consequences in their financial, relationship and professional lives.

As sex addicts get into a pattern of risky behaviour and inability to stop their actions, they become embroiled in a downward cycle. The guilt and shame they feel lead them into more and more self-destructive or high-risk activity that becomes emotionally unfulfilling.

Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is when someone has an intense urge to gamble and unable to exercise control despite being aware of its damaging consequences of his or her finances, family, work, business or relationships. Rehab HC has been able to help many people with a gambling problem and you can follow this link for more information on gambling.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are another type of process addiction. There are three types of eating disorder – Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge-eating, all of which are explained in more details on our Eating Disorders page.


Co-dependency, also known as ‘relationship addiction’, is another process addiction whereby people depend on other people to exist. They engage in often emotionally destructive and abusive relationships. Furthermore, they suffer from such low self-esteem that they look for anything outside of themselves to make themselves better. There is an inner sense of dis-ease and they do not feel comfortable within themselves. They, therefore ‘fix’ on other people and have a dependency on relationships to fill this void.

The causes of sex addiction and co-dependency are often related to childhood or adolescent trauma and neglect. Research showed that about 80% of people with a sex addiction suffered some form of childhood sexual abuse or trauma.

Internet/Video Game Addiction

Addiction to the fantasy and escape provided by a computer game is a growing phenomenon, especially among the younger generations. In today’s world of modern technology, people are becoming engrossed in a virtual reality world where they communicate with strangers from all around the world via headset, over the internet. Addicts are prevented from having physical human interaction thereby causing social anxiety leading to depression and potentially onto other addictions

As compared to a substance abuse addiction or even to other process addictions, video game addiction may seem relatively harmless. Of course, many people can play video games on occasion without ever developing a problem. However, compulsive video game play can interrupt a person’s ability to connect positively with others and have healthy relationships. Furthermore, impairs the person’s ability to maintain responsibilities at work, and make choices that support their physical and mental health. Some don’t even have the time to eat regularly or healthfully, exercise or visit their doctor for a routine appointment. Ultimately, those who don’t get treatment may end up completely isolating themselves from the real world. They lose their ability to function, be with family, and achieve any goals outside of the video game world.

Similarly, with ‘Smart Phones’ becoming mini-computers, many people are finding it hard to separate themselves from their phone. They find that their obsessive use of social media, for example, is actually having a negative impact on their lives.

Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction (Oniomania), affects an estimate of 8-16% of British people, that’s up to 8 million people in the UK. It is characterised by compulsive shopping which goes far beyond ‘Retail Therapy’.

Addicts find themselves ‘fixing’ themselves by over-spending and buying elaborate items and clothing to make themselves feel better. They cannot control buying things that they don’t need or can’t afford, despite the negative consequences that come with it. Addicts often suffer from depression and low self-esteem and they use shopping as a means of lessening these negative emotions. Eventually, shopping addicts often find themselves in crippling debt and their behaviours can have a significant impact on their relationships.

Similarly, shopping addicts find themselves lured into a trap of online shopping and credit card spendings which becomes uncontrollable. Because there is such a fine line between normal shopping behaviour, the human need to feel good about how one looks, and obsessive, compulsive shopping, shopping addicts are often hard to spot and may often be in denial about the extent of the problem.

Signs of a Process Addiction

It is often difficult to spot specific signs of process addictions, but they are often characterised by:

  • An obsessive need to be involved in the activity, or planning the activity.
  • Neglecting responsibilities in favour of engaging in the behaviour. Underperforming at work or not carrying out an activity because of your obsessive internet use.
  • Your behaviour is interfering with your relationships, such as infidelity, neglect of children or change in friendships.
  • Legal trouble, such as illegal gambling, prostitution, or breaking laws to engage in your behaviour of choice.
  • You feel as if you do not have control over the behaviour. You can’t stop shopping despite knowing you are racking up credit card debts.
  • Your life revolves around your behavioural addiction.

What is the treatment for a Process Addiction?

As with all addiction, process addictions are often the symptom of an underlying problem. Therefore, it is the treatment of the underlying problem that is necessary to eliminate the addictive behaviour. The challenge with dealing with some process addictions is that, unlike in the case of alcohol or drugs, life-long abstinence is sometimes unrealistic or impossible. People need to eat and we are all hard-wired to have sex. Hence, the treatment is aimed at identifying specific negative traits of the addiction and working to eliminate these from the individual’s behaviour. In such cases as sex or food addictions, treatment must be tailored to address specific foods and situations that trigger compulsive behaviour and avoid them.

‘Digital detox’ is sometimes used for internet and gaming addiction; addicts spend a week or 2 away from home and have no internet use whatsoever.

Similar to other process addictions, compulsive shopping can be hard to treat. Treatment relies on setting healthy boundaries around the behaviour, having an understanding and awareness of the consequences of compulsive shopping and looking at the underlying thoughts and emotions that cause people to fix themselves through this destructive action.


It is quite often the case that process addiction emerges as a cross-addiction when an addict gives up another substance without treating the underlying issue. Drug addicts may stop taking a drug and think that they are ‘cured’ or have overcome the addiction, but instead start to engage in other addictive behaviours such as process addictions, because really, they are still ‘using’. That is doing something, whether it be shopping, sex, gambling or any of the other process addictions listed above, to make themselves feel better due to an underlying feeling of low self-worth, anxiety, loneliness or other negative emotion.

Rehab HC can help you!

Rehab Healthcare (Rehab Hc) can help you to find a rehab that will be able to provide this specific help around your eating disorder, as well as develop with you a tailored treatment plan including ongoing aftercare and social support so that you can maintain your recovery from your eating addiction.

Rehab HC would always recommend a stay in a private residential rehab clinic, particularly around behavioural addictions, as staff can observe the behaviour of the addict around the clock. Rehabilitation staff can set ‘healthy’ parameters around certain behaviours and help people with learned addictive behaviours to stick within these parameters and work with the person to set realistic goals that are achievable in the real world.

Rehab Healthcare employs counsellors that are on call 24 hours a day to support you.