Being addicted to drugs and alcohol is one thing. But can people be addicted to other things, such as sex, gambling, and even shopping?
The answer is “yes”. All of these are known as process addictions and they can be as disruptive to your life as having a drinking problem or a heroin addiction.
Process Addiction Defined
As the name implies, process addictions are when you are addicted to a particular addiction or process. This includes such things as eating, gambling and even working. They share many commonalities with other types of physical addictions, such as problem drinking or being hooked on drugs.
For example, if you don’t do something to address them, they can be just as ruinous to your health, family life, financial stability, and overall happiness.
One of the biggest problems with process addictions is that they are not always easily recognizable. Other types of addictions get a lot more attention, but process addictions can be just as destructive as alcohol or drug addiction.
For example, pathological gambling – or compulsive gambling – is a real psychological condition that has been recognized by medical science for many years. People who suffer from this condition have no control over their gambling and often are powerless to stop on their own.
Gambling addiction occurs most frequently in people who are highly competitive and who are prone to other addictive disorders. In fact, it often goes hand-in-hand with alcoholism and/or uncontrollable drug abuse.
Sex addiction occurs when there is a pattern of repeated sexual relationships involving a series of lovers who are seen by the person with the addiction only as objects to be used for sex. Symptoms include compulsively searching for multiple partners, an uncontrollable fixation on partners who are unattainable, frequent masturbation, compulsive love relationships, and the constant need for sex in a relationship.
It’s a consistent and escalating pattern of sexual behaviors that the person pursues despite increasingly negative consequences for themselves or others. These include such things as simultaneous or sequential sexual affairs, multiple anonymous partners, participating in unsafe sex, frequent visits to adult bookstores or strip clubs, using cyber-sex or phone sex, paying for sex with prostitutes, and an addiction to pornography.
Treatment for sex addiction is different than it is for other types of addiction. The ultimate goal is not abstinence, but the elimination of the compulsive element of sexual behavior.
People who suffer from sex addiction often also have other types of problems, such as alcoholism or drug addiction. So many treatment centers will address both issues simultaneously.
Compulsive eating and other types of food-related disorders also are considered process addictions.
The two most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Both are quite common: Eating disorders affect about 10 million women and 1 million men in the US each year.
People with process addictions involving food may eat too much, eat not enough, or eat in a way that is dangerous to their heath, such as forcing themselves to vomit up food after they eat it.
Eating disorders often have both a familial and biological component to them. For example, many people who suffer from anorexia or bulimia have a parent or sibling who also has the same disorder. Some studies have shown that people who have been sexually abused also are more prone to this type of process addiction.
Eating disorders can be very dangerous and can even lead to death if not treated. Treatment usually focuses on restoring normal body weight, improving the person’s overall health, and treating the psychological problems that are causing the process addiction in the first place.
Many people jokingly refer to themselves as “workaholics”, but for some people working too much or spending an unhealthy amount of time or energy on work is a genuine process addiction.
Work addiction is the compulsive and repetitive pattern of working that ignores or dismisses increasingly negative consequences to other areas of the person’s life, such as their family life, their social life, or their physical health.
Genuine workaholics usually are obsessive about their work. They would rather work longer and harder than anybody else than anything else in their lives. They often bring their work home with them, refuse to take vacations, or are tied to the smartphone and laptops all the time.
Treatment for work addiction typically takes the form of individual or group counseling. There also is an organization called Workaholics Anonymous that is based on the 12-step program established through the Alcoholics Anonymous program.
People who are addicted to shopping can’t control themselves when it comes to spending money on clothes, electronics and other products. The person is consumed with an uncontrollable desire to spend, even after they run out of money and max out their credit.
Like other types of addicts, people with shopping addiction often experience feelings of shame, guilt and remorse about their process addiction. They also are likely to lie about their problem to others and to themselves.
While process addictions such as these don’t get as much of the spotlight as other types of addictions, they can be just as serious and can be just as disruptive to people’s lives.