Process Addictions Explained | Introduction to Behavioral Addictions

Process Addictions Explained | Introduction to Behavioral Addictions

behavioral addictions

When you think of addiction, the first thing you probably think of is an addiction to substances such as drugs or alcohol. There are other kinds of addiction that can be equally challenging and devastating. For example, a process addiction is an addiction to a particular type of behavior. The following is an introduction to behavioral addictions, which might help you better understand how these types of addictions can be addressed and treated as well.

What is Addiction?

When you are addicted to drugs, alcohol, or certain types of behavior, you probably feel unable, both psychologically and physically, to stop using the substances or participating in the activities, even though it may be causing you harm. Addiction is generally thought of as a dependence on substances such as opioids, cocaine, heroin, or alcohol. However, some addictions involve an inability to stop undertaking certain activities, including gambling, eating, or working. These addictions are referred to as process addictions or behavioral addictions.

Introduction to Behavioral Addictions

The brain can react to behaviors much as it does to drugs or alcohol. When someone is addicted to a behavior, it is typically because that specific behavior produces a strong reinforcement in the brain that makes them want to repeat the behavior over and over, even if it interferes with their life. In this way, the concept of a behavioral addiction is very similar to that of a drug or alcohol addiction.

Likewise, someone who has a behavioral addiction can suffer through withdrawal symptoms just as someone would who has a substance use addiction. When a person with a behavioral addiction tries to stop participating in that behavior, withdrawal symptoms can include becoming agitated, having trouble sleeping, undergoing personality changes, and becoming irritable.

Not Just Pleasure Seeking

Addictive behaviors, such as shopping or gambling, may appear to be a source of pleasure for those who are addicted. The very idea of addiction itself has been considered to be a problem of personal weakness that the person chooses not to stop or is continued simply because the addict has no will power. We know this is not the case, with substance use addiction or with behavioral addictions.

Researchers, including clinicians and scientists, now think that many people engage in potentially addictive activities to escape discomfort, both physical and emotional. People typically engage in psychoactive experiences to feel good and to feel better. The roots of addiction reside in activities associated with sensation seeking and self-medication.

The object of addiction, whether drugs, alcohol, or behavior, is less important than previously believed. Rather, the new thinking reflects the belief that addiction is functional: it serves while it destroys. Addiction is a relationship between a person and an object or activity. With addiction, the object or activity becomes increasingly more important while previously important activities become less important.

Cravings and Tolerance

People who are addicted to a behavior can experience the same type of cravings as are common with substance use addictions. Behavioral addictions are often preceded by feelings of “tension or arousal before committing the act” and “pleasure, gratification or relief at the time of committing the act.”

Many people with pathological gambling, kleptomania, compulsive sexual behavior, and compulsive buying addictions report a decrease in positive mood effects with repeated behaviors or a need to increase the intensity of behavior to achieve the same mood effect, very similar to tolerance in those addicted to substances such as drugs or alcohol.

Common Behavioral Addictions

Some of the most common behavioral addictions include gambling, binge eating, video games, sex, shopping, and risky behaviors. People who get a rush from skydiving, bungee jumping, or other potentially dangerous activities may continue to seek out even more dangerous adventures to feel that same level of excitement. And studies show that these thrills flood the brain with the same chemicals released by addictive drugs.

Gambling is the behavioral addiction that most closely resembles addiction to drugs or alcohol. Studies show that gambling addictions light up the same areas of the brain as drug addictions — and treatment for gambling disorder is usually included in the same type of therapy settings as drug and alcohol abuse.


Addiction, whether to drugs, alcohol, or behaviors, can be treated successfully so you can enjoy a successful recovery. At Sober Austin, we will continue to provide the resources you need for substance abuse, behavioral addictions, mental health, and other areas you may struggle with in your life throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. If you or your loved need to learn more about available resources, please browse our site to learn more about finding support in Austin. Please feel free to contact us directly by calling 512-640-9661 or emailing