What Do Process And Substance Addiction Have In Common?

Taken at face value, it would seem that process and substance addictions are as different as two conditions can be. But the two actually share many common characteristics, including the ways that addicted people behave and how it affects them. And while substance and process addiction are sometimes treated differently, they have a lot more in common with each other than most people think. 

Common Characteristics of Process and Substance Addiction

For many people, process and substance addiction have a surprising number of characteristics in common. One of the most glaring similarities is disregard for the consequences of their actions. 

Just as drug addicts generally don’t care what happens as long as they get their fix, process addicts will engage in harmful behavior with little thought to the consequences, making drug and sex addiction surprisingly similar. Most are primarily focused on the pleasure and satisfaction they derive from gambling, binge eating, or having illicit sex, instead of the harm they may be causing to themselves or the people around them. 

Some symptoms of process addictions also closely resemble the symptoms of substance addiction. Among these are: 

  • Building up of tolerance. Process and substance addicts generally require more and more of the addictive behavior or substance to get the same feeling of satisfaction. 
  • Withdrawal. Take away the process or the substance, and the addict will usually experience withdrawals of  overpowering feelings of anxiety or depression. 
  • Inability to stop or control their urges. Addicts are usually unable to stop themselves from indulging in the destructive behavior or substance despite their desire to do so. 
  • It takes over their lives. Most addicts eventually structure their lives entirely around the addictive process or substance. 

Why is Process Addiction so Difficult to Diagnose? 

One of the most challenging aspects of addiction is identifying that the problem exists. This is especially the case with process addiction, which is notoriously difficult to diagnose. 

Substance addiction in general is relatively straightforward and often even pretty obvious. Take someone who uses a particular substance regularly, and there is a good chance that they are addicted. 

Things aren’t quite so simple with process addiction, which often involves particular behaviors. These can be even more challenging to differentiate from normal patterns or actions because of their acceptability to society at large. 

Gambling is a good example. Every year, Las Vegas is beset by as many as 42 million visitors from out of town. A considerable percentage of these are there to gamble, which is largely seen as ‘acceptable’ in many societies. 

But how much gambling is ‘normal’? When does it begin to spiral out of control? The answer varies from person to person, and what one might find excessive would be insignificant to another. 

The fact that process addiction can be very difficult to identify is especially alarming, considering the possibility that it could lead to substance addiction. This is discussed in the following section. 

Does Process Addiction Lead to Substance Addiction?

One other connection between process and substance addiction is that the former often leads to the latter. At the very least, addiction to unhealthy processes increases the chances of the individual developing a substance addiction. Studies have shown that people with process addictions have a 15% to 64% chance of developing substance dependency. 

Of course, the likelihood of developing substance addiction varies depending on the process to which the affected person is addicted. Those who are addicted to sex are much more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. 

In contrast, those addicted to exercise are less likely to develop substance addictions. Considering that addiction affects about 10% of the general population, there is usually a significant difference in substance addiction risk. 

Compounding the problem is the fact that addicts typically have to deal with more than one type of addiction. For those struggling with process and substance addiction, things can spiral out of control very quickly. They are also more likely to develop anxiety, depression, or some other type of mental condition. 

Therapy-Based Treatment is Still the Best Option 

Regardless of how similar or different process and substance addiction are from each other, therapy-based treatment remains one of the most effective courses of action available. 

In many ways, addiction affects people the same way, whether it involves a substance or a process. Both process addiction and substance addiction affect the brain significantly, and require intensive therapy to free the affected person from their grasp.