What is Process Addiction? Diagnosis, Signs, and Symptoms

What is process addiction? Read on to learn about the impacts of typical process addictions and the detrimental effects on those who struggle.


Process addictions are characterized by powerful compulsive behaviors. Although many people immediately think of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco when the topic of addiction arises, it is essential to note that process addictions are more common than most may realize; however, the statistics associated with specific types of process addictions vary widely.

Process Addiction


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What is a Process Addiction?

Process addictions, sometimes called behavioral addictions, are defined as behavioral problems that involve reduced control, persistent seeking, and significant harm even though no addictive substance is involved. Process addictions and substance addictions are similar. Both involve compulsive behaviors, cravings, and urges.1

The most significant difference is that someone with a behavioral addiction repeats (or seeks) a behavior or an activity to achieve a high sense of pleasure or euphoric response. Someone with a substance addiction does the same, but drugs or alcohol help them achieve their desired results. Unfortunately, it can be hard to recognize the signs of behavioral addiction as they are not always as evident as substance addictions.2

Common Types of Process Addictions

There are many types of behavioral addictions, so it can be challenging to provide an inclusive process addiction list. Some are more common, or at least more well-known than others. 

Sex Addiction

Someone with a sex addiction struggles with a compulsive desire to obtain and achieve sexual arousal. They will fixate on performing or watching sexual activities, which they may use to improve mood or reduce stress.3 Survey results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Network Open indicate the up to 10% of the population has a sex addiction.4

Love Addiction

Love addiction is the dysfunctional urge or need to pursue satisfaction through love and romance. Someone with an “addiction to love” believes finding love will solve their problems, boost their self-worth, and provide a sense of security.

Porn Addiction

Porn addiction is a process addiction characterized by compulsive behavior where an abnormal amount of time is dedicated to viewing or searching for pornography. Porn addictions can significantly impact social, personal, and intimate relationships. Some statistics suggest up to 6% of adults have a porn addiction.5

Gambling Addiction

Gambling addictions are characterized by the overwhelming and uncontrollable urge to gamble despite the known harmful consequences gambling has on one’s personal and financial life. Data from the National Center for Responsible Gambling suggest that between 6% and 9% of youth and adults experience issues with problematic gambling.

Shopping Addiction

Someone with a shopping addiction struggles to control spending and shopping habits. Shopping addictions can lead to significant impairments in all areas of life. Although shopping addictions often lead to remorse after a spending spree, people with a shopping addiction cannot control their actions and often use shopping to improve self-esteem or reduce feelings of depression or anxiety.

Video Game Addiction

Those with a video game addiction engage in a pattern of video gameplay that indicates the inability to control their gaming habits. They will play games to the point where it impacts their physical, emotional, and social health. Studies suggest that between 1.5% and 7.3% of youth and adults engage in problematic gaming.6

Internet and Social Media Addiction

Internet and social media addictions are frequently discussed together. In either case, someone with one of these process addictions uses the internet or social media to adversely affect their daily functioning. It can also lead to other severe consequences, including job loss, depression, impaired social functioning, relationship problems, and weight management problems.

Food Addiction

Some people also refer to food addictions as eating disorders. When someone has a food addiction, they cannot stop eating despite knowing potentially severe health effects are associated with a poor diet. Food addictions can occur when someone uses food to help manage mental health challenges such as depression or stress.

Process Addiction Signs and Diagnosis

There are several potential signs of behavioral addiction. Again, it can be complicated to recognize behavioral addictions as many of the symptoms of process addictions are not necessarily immediately seen as harmful. Unfortunately, by the time friends and loved ones acknowledge process addiction as an example of indications in a loved one, their addiction may have evolved to the point where they should seek help at a process addiction treatment program like Concise Recovery.

Common signs and symptoms of process addiction may include:

  • Spending an excessive amount of time thinking about or engaging in a behavior.
  • Continuing to engage in the behavior despite known consequences.
  • Downplaying their “problem” or how it affects their day-to-day lives.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not engaging in the behavior.
  • Difficulties stopping the behavior even when actively trying.
  • New or worsening mental health conditions associated with the behavior (both during and after it stops).

Diagnosis of Process Addiction

Many mental health providers and addiction treatment professionals turn to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to find diagnostic criteria for mental health conditions. Although the recent edition of the DSM lists gambling disorder as a diagnosable behavioral addiction, many other process addictions were omitted from the text. However, because process addictions follow many of the same patterns (such as signs and symptoms), it is possible to look at the diagnostic criteria for gambling addiction when assessing other process addictions.8

Process Addiction Causes and Risk Factors

As with many mental health conditions, including addiction, several potential causes and risk factors are associated with process addiction. Examples include environmental, genetic, and social factors. These can influence or increase one’s risk of developing a process addiction. In addition to the above, other factors, including substance addiction, medical health challenges, trauma history, and co-occurring mental health challenges, may also increase the risk.

Treatment for Process Addiction

Process Addiction

Process addiction treatment follows a similar path as addiction treatment. Behavioral addiction treatment involves several steps, including detox, therapy, and ongoing aftercare support. For some, the first step in behavioral addiction treatment is detox. This occurs when someone struggles with a co-occurring process addiction and substance use disorder. For someone to engage fully in therapy, it is crucial to be free from the impacts of drugs and alcohol.


Psychotherapy is another valuable and essential component of process addiction treatment. Psychotherapy at a process addiction treatment provider may include a variety of therapies, including personal and family sessions. The most common type of therapy used in behavioral therapy sessions is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT helps someone with a process addiction manage their negative thoughts and behaviors through understanding and altering their behaviors to adopt healthy, more positive ones.

Peer Support Groups

In addition to individual and family sessions during therapy, participation in peer support groups and alternative therapy options are also effective and beneficial components of therapy. Peer support groups are options (in many cases) both during and after treatment as part of a comprehensive aftercare plan.

Get Help at Concise Recovery

The most effective way to overcome struggles with a process addiction or a co-occurring process addiction and substance use disorder is to seek help at a behavioral addiction treatment program. Many people, including family and friends, may not recognize the symptoms of a process addiction at first. It is essential to remember that these addictions can have a harmful and lasting impact on your overall physical and emotional health. To learn more about how to begin your journey to overcoming behavioral addictions, contact a member of our admissions team today.