Comparing Process and Substance Addictions

When people see or hear about addiction, the first thing that usually comes to mind is alcohol abuse or drug dependency. However, it is clear that addictive behaviors go far beyond the narrow category of substance abuse. People addicted to gambling, or sex, are also classified as ‘addicts.’ And although they experience the same amount of struggle to stop the addiction, they are not dependent on a particular chemical substance.A generalized definition of addiction is characterized by the repeated, compulsive seeking or use of a substance, behavior, or activity, despite negative consequences (harmful consequences to the individual’s health, mental state or social life). Addiction is often accompanied by physical or psychological dependence, withdrawal symptoms when use halts suddenly, and the gradual buildup of tolerance over time. The vicious cycle of addiction can in theory be derived from any rewarding behavior, and is believed to be strongly associated with the brain’s reward center. In both process and substance addictions-this reward system is heavily prevalent.Although continued repetition of the addictive behavior persists, the goal is no longer aimed to induce pleasure, but to relieve the anxiety caused by the absence of the particular substance or behavior adopted. The behavior is now compulsive and very hard to control.2 Types of AddictionAs mentioned above, process addiction easily transcends simple alcohol or drug addiction. Although substance abuse counts for some of the most numerous and devastating addictions, there are also equally negative conditions connected with “process” (or “behavioral”) addictions. Activities and behavioral patterns can become serious addictions just as easily as drugs or alcohol can.A “process addiction” is simply an addiction to an abusive way of living or self-defeating behaviors. This kind of behavioral addiction affects cognition and emotions. Many research studies have shown how process addictions affect the same reward system in the brain as chemical addictions, in which a behavior is repeated to relieve anxiety or induce pleasure while causing harm to either medical, societal and mental aspects of a healthy person’s life. Both forms of addictions are related in that way. People suffering from a process addiction can be just as oblivious and suffer from denial as any other form of addiction.Examples of process addictions include shopping, gambling, internet, computer, sexual, pornography, eating, video game, work, and love addictions. All have unwanted consequences when repeatedly indulged. Process addictions are usually involved when it is easy to attain instant gratification. The ease at which the gratification is achieved and the speed at which this can be repeated is the key to why process addictions can become so addictive so quickly.The key to any “addiction” is the obsessive and compulsive need or dependence upon a substance, an object, a relationship (love), an activity, or a thing. It’s a phenomenon that has the power to elicit perceived stability to an individual-one that is entirely false and becomes a crutch.Also similar to alcohol and drug abuse, process addictions can build tolerance just as quickly. However, unlike substance abuse, with process addictions the body is not receiving any externally added chemical changes, the necessity for more and stronger participation in the behavior similarly causes severe deterioration. For example, individuals addicted to sex may start off participating in the addiction once or twice a day. As the addiction progresses, the act of having sex multiple times a day is not for achieving an aim of feeling pleasure. It becomes a necessity to abate the anxiety that comes with not participating in the act.Both forms of addiction are dangerous for the general wellbeing of any person and can have equally hazardous effects on financial, relationships, social, mental and physical aspects of an individual’s life.The Function of AddictionPeople use an addiction as a way to cope, to fix situations, and feel better. Addictions may block out sensations of pain, uncertainty, or discomfort. It may create powerfully distracting sensations that focus and absorb attention. It may enable a person to feel “okay” about some insurmountable problem or uncomfortable circumstance. It provides an artificial, temporary feeling of security, of self-worth, purpose, or accomplishment; ultimately having immediate power or control.Most addicts feel that continual use of substances helps them avoid emotional pain, or: feel good about themselves, fill empty spaces in their hearts, escape loneliness, relieve anxiety, feel connected, feel a sense of purpose, cope with difficult circumstances and all together escape reality. Because this “escape” provides such an effective barrier between the individual and reality, it even blinds people from the negative results that are happening in reality, which is continues to the cycle of escaping in mind-altering substances. Over time, whether suffering from substance or behavioral issues, individuals will begin to demonstrate symptoms which often include deterioration in multiple aspects of their life. These can range from physical illness to psychological instabilities.

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