We hear a lot about drug and alcohol addiction. We are taught that drug and alcohol addiction ruins lives, brings about legal difficulties, destroys families, creates health problems, and causes premature death. We know that millions of Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol. We also know that our jails and prisons are packed with offenders who were arrested and convicted of crimes related to their addiction. Drug addiction makes the 5 o’clock news and alcoholism makes for interesting newspaper headlines. Indeed, if you live in the United States, you have been well-educated about the dangers of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.
What we don’t hear about very often are process addictions. Process addictions, also known as behavioral addictions, are addictions to activities that do not involve the use or abuse of drugs or alcohol. Shopping, gambling, sex, food, and gaming are five examples of activities that can lead to a process addiction. (Yes, you can be addicted to food!) Each of these comes with its own unique set of negative consequences.
Although process addictions are not nearly as dangerous as chemical addictions in terms of how they affect the human body and the human brain, they can be just as devastating. Research suggests that process addictions work on the brain in the same way that chemical addictions do. They cause the same addictive cycle, one that will continue without intervention.
Think you might have a process addiction? Here are seven signs that will help you decide if you have one:
1. You spend a lot of time wondering if you’re addicted to shopping/ gambling/ sex/ food/ gaming.
People who aren’t addicted do not spend a lot of time wondering whether or not they are addicted. If you are engaged in activity that is wreaking havoc on your life, and you are wondering if you’re addicted to it, chances are …… you are.
When it comes to addiction, denial is a powerful motivator. Denial is a defense mechanism of the mind. It protects the mind from seeing hurtful truths. Anyone who has ever had an addiction has, at one point, been in denial. Denial tells you it’s not a problem, that you have it under control, and that you can stop anytime you want to. Denial is designed to prevent you from acknowledging the painful reality that you are addicted, which will require you to make a change you may not be ready for.
When you begin to come out of denial, you begin to ask yourself, “Could I be addicted? Is this a problem that has gotten out of control? Do I need help?” If you are asking yourself these questions, this is good news. It means you are ready to come out of denial and get help for your process addiction.
2. You spend a lot of time preoccupied with your next “fix.”
Just like with drugs or alcohol, process addictions cause the mind to obsess about the addiction. This means you will begin thinking about shopping/ gambling/ sex/ food/ gaming when you are not engaged in your activity of choice. Obsessing about your next fix will interfere with work, family time, and other social activities you used to enjoy. When you are not engaging your addiction, it will be at the forefront of your mind and you will spend a lot of time thinking about the next time you can “use.”
3. You have an inability to stop or control your addictive behavior.
The cornerstone of addiction is the inability to stop or control your addictive behavior. For the drug addict or alcoholic, this manifests as the inability to stop or control the use of drugs or alcohol. For someone with a process addiction, this manifests as the inability to stop shopping/ gambling/ having sex/ eating/ or playing video games in spite of obvious negative consequences. This is a telltale sign of addiction. If you have told yourself time and time again that you are not going to engage in a certain activity, only to find yourself doing that exact thing repeatedly, you may have a process addiction.
4. You spend more money/ time/ energy than you planned to in pursuit of certain activities.
Shopping alone is not a problem. We all shop, right? Gambling can be fun if you plan to go for a short trip and budget for the occasion. Eating is a necessity of life. Sex is one of life’s pleasures and video games are a great pastime for people who are into that sort of thing. But, any of these activities can quickly and easily become an addiction. One of the ways you know it has become a problem is when you spend more of your time, money, or energy than you planned to in pursuit of these activities.
Here are some examples:
- If you promise yourself you aren’t going to go shopping after work, but end up spending five hours at the mall, you could have a shopping addiction.
- If every time you go gambling, you go with the intention of only spending one hundred dollars, but you end up blowing the rent money; you might have a gambling addiction.
- If you sit down to watch one pornographic video, but call in sick to work so you can watch porn all day, you probably have a sex addiction.
- If you sit down to eat a hot fudge sundae, but end up eating the entire half- gallon of ice cream, you may have an addiction to food.
- If you sit down to play “just one” video game, but stay up playing until 4 a.m., which makes you late for work, you might want to consider if you have a gaming addiction.
You get the idea, right?
5. Your family or friends have told you they think you might have a problem with shopping/ gambling/ sex/ food/ gaming.
Family, friends, and important people in our lives are usually aware of our addiction long before we are. Remember our ole friend, denial? He’s a tricky little devil. Keep in mind that denial will cause us to be unaware that we have an addiction. Our friends and family will not be in denial about our problem. They will see it for what it is. Because they love and care about us, they will do their best to make us aware of our problem….even if we are not ready to see it. If someone important to you has told you they are concerned that you might have a process addiction, sit up and take notice. You may be addicted and not even know it.
6. You experience shame and guilt when you have a process addiction.
If you have an addiction of any kind, there is usually some shame and guilt associated with it. If you go shopping because you planned to, and because you need to buy certain things; you don’t feel shameful. You simply go shopping, go home, and unpack your newly acquired goods. The same is true for sex. If you have a healthy sex life, you feel good about it – NOT guilty. Although there is no reason to feel any guilt or shame if you do have a process addiction, guilt and shame are ways the subconscious mind communicates with the brain that something is “wrong.” We feel guilt and shame when we have done something we wish we wouldn’t have. When you have a process addiction, guilt and shame are trying to snap you out of your denial and make you aware that you are engaged in activity that is not healthy for you.
7. Finally, you may have process addiction if you are experiencing unmanageable consequences as the result of your activity of choice.
When done responsibly and in moderation, shopping/ gambling/ sex/ food/ gaming can be pleasurable activities for those who are not addicted. When addiction is present, these processes will bring about negative consequences. These consequences can make your life feel unmanageable and make you feel completely out of control – like life is spinning into a whirlwind of insanity. For example, shopping addiction can cause a shopping addict to drown in credit card debt. Gambling addiction can lead to the loss of someone’s home because they cannot pay the rent or mortgage. Sexual addiction can result in STDS and unwanted pregnancy. Food addiction leads to obesity and gaming can lead to a loss in other interests – including showering and proper hygiene.
Getting Help for a Process Addiction
If you can relate to any of these seven signs of a process addiction, you may have a problem with shopping/ gambling/ sex/ food/ gaming. You don’t have to wait until things get worse before you get treatment for your problem. Get help today. There are 12-Step programs and a wide variety of support groups available for people who have a process addiction.