Gambling and Process Addictions that Can Catch You Off Guard During Substance Abuse Recovery

You’re six months into your recovery from heroin, cocaine, alcohol or another addiction. Smooth sailing from here, right?

Not so fast.

OK, maybe you’ve learned to hold off your cravings for that substance, but that’s not the only threat lurking around the corner. Many people in recovery take the compulsive behavior that once revolved around substances and inadvertently apply it to a new source of entertainment or pleasure. This “source” is usually innocuous on the surface, but in large doses, it becomes a problem.

What we’re talking about are process addictions, which are a threat to almost anybody in the midst of substance abuse recovery. This article will explore the different kinds of process addictions, how they form, and healthier activities to explore instead.

What Are the Different Kinds of Process Addictions?

Process Addiction:
The obsession to take part in certain activity or behavior. A compulsion or dependence on a rewarding behavior.

Each type of process addiction likely needs little explanation, although you may wonder how certain ones can turn into addiction. The top five most prevalent process addictions are to the following activities:

  • Gambling
  • Food/eating (such as binge eating)
  • Shopping (also known as compulsive buying disorder or shopaholism)
  • Sex
  • Internet use/video gaming (also known as computer or screen addiction)

It’s worth noting that gambling is the only behavioral addiction that the American Psychiatric Association currently recognizes, although internet addiction appears to be not far behind.

Lesser-known process addictions and those still being studied include:

  • Love or relationship addiction
  • Porn addiction (independent of sex addiction)
  • Work addiction
  • Exercise addiction
  • Social media addiction (independent of internet addiction)
  • Plastic surgery addiction
  • Risky behavior addiction (the “Jackass” mindset)

A theme you might notice in almost every process addiction listed is that each can be costly. Process addictions lead many to financial ruin. Not to mention, they threaten relationships, careers, mental health and other aspects of life.

How Do Process Addictions Develop?

People in recovery are often taught to find substance-free activities that give them new purpose in life and are intrinsically rewarding. You’ll notice that none of the aforementioned process addictions need to involve drugs or alcohol (although you could argue that a couple of them often go hand in hand with substance use).

However, when those in recovery begin pursuing these passions, some take it too far. That’s because compulsive behaviors can rewire the brain in ways similar to how drugs and alcohol do. The activities listed above can trigger a flood of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, and this can be addicting. After repeated occurrences, the brain’s natural pleasure and reward system can get off kilter.

Some addiction experts argue that compulsive behaviors can’t really be addictions at all, but that they are simply bad habits. Others note the similarities in behaviors between people with process addictions and those with drug or alcohol addictions.

Whether shopping, eating, video gaming, etc. can lead to true addictions or not, the fact is you will have to seek therapy if one of these behaviors begins to take over your life, and if you want to stop the compulsion, but can’t – at least without outside help.

The Similarities Between Gambling and Sex Addictions

What may come as either a little or a big surprise is that gambling addiction and sex addiction share many similarities. A 2014 study in Spain that took into account the self-reported personality characteristics of gambling addicts and sex addicts found that there were very few differences.

What the study found was that gambling addicts and sex addicts both suffered from symptoms such as:

  • Depression
  • Sensitivity
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Psychoticism
  • Obsession and compulsion

And it wasn’t like sex addicts reported high anxiety while gamblers reported mild anxiety. The two groups showed similar degrees of the same symptoms! So even though the two groups basically experienced the same symptoms, the way they expressed themselves and tried to alleviate those symptoms is the major difference.

Another similarity between sex and gambling addicts is that both types of individuals tend to lead double lives; their coworkers and even family members may be wholly unaware of their compulsive pursuits. The entire process becomes addictive to these individuals, even the planning part, which is why these are called process addictions. The thrill of the next conquest becomes the driving force.

6 Different Types of Shopaholics

Did you know that there are at least six distinct types of shopaholics? Not everyone with a shopping compulsion spends hours in retail stores as a status symbol or for the purpose of filling their closet (or entire home) with the latest, trendiest, high-dollar items.

Not sure what we mean? Check out the six main types of shopping addiction and it will make sense:

  • Flashy shopaholics: The most renowned type of shopping addiction. These individuals spend big and opt for the gaudiest items with the intent of impressing others.
  • Bulimic shoppers: They’re addicted to buying items and returning them, a vicious cycle. These are the type to buy a high-dollar outfit, wear it once, return it and then repeat the cycle.
  • Trophy hunters: They’re out to find the perfect items. The thrill for them is in the hunt for the best product, either rare or of the highest value.
  • Bargain hunters: Those who buy things they don’t even need simply because the items are on clearance or a special discount. These individuals relish getting a great deal.
  • Collectors: They’re out to get multiple versions of the same item in different colors, sizes, editions, etc. The addiction is in diligently filling out their collection.
  • Compulsion-shopping addicts: These individuals turn to shopping to relieve stress, anxiety and difficult feelings. They’re not out to necessarily buy the flashiest items, but the act of shopping is their self-medication.

The Idea of Replacement Addiction

Once people stop using alcohol or drugs, they may be at risk of developing a “replacement addiction.” They may no longer be ruining their body by drinking or drug use, but they are chasing a different kind of high. Their indulgence in a certain activity is impacting their quality of life.

As we noted earlier, process addictions change the chemical makeup in the brain in the same way that substance abuse does. The process addictions listed at the beginning of this article can all be considered a replacement for the original chemical dependency. Make note that these are called “substitute addictions,” as well.

Healthier Alternatives to Addictive Processes

There are reasons why addiction treatment programs don’t bring clients on “experiential” outings to casinos and high-end restaurants, and why they limit computer/internet use and discourage starting a new romantic relationship in rehab.

Clients may cling to one of these behaviors or activities, and that can turn into an addiction in itself. An ensuing process addiction could raise the risk of substance abuse relapse, as well.

Instead, rehab programs generally lead clients in, or at least encourage, the following activities:

  • Healthy, portion-controlled eating
  • Meditation
  • Fitness training and exercise
  • Hiking
  • Swimming or boating
  • Art or music creation
  • Sports participation
  • Reading

Notice that these are interests that the client can easily take with him or her beyond the treatment program and into everyday life. Some even call these “positive addictions,” although, like anything, you want to be mindful of doing everything in moderation.

Therapy for a Process Addictions

If you find yourself overindulging in any one activity or specific behavior, you may not need to enter a full-blown treatment program, but you should seek help from a trusted therapist. There are even support groups you can join, such as Gamblers Anonymous, for a variety of compulsive behaviors.

Process addiction is a vast subject, and if you would like to learn more
about these behaviors, we’ve prepared a resource just for you.

See Our Process Addictions Fact Sheet

2 thoughts on “Gambling and Process Addictions that Can Catch You Off Guard During Substance Abuse Recovery

  1. Randy Chorvack

    It’s interesting to me that internet use in the top five most prevalent addictions. I didn’t know you could be addicted to so many different things! I might be addicted to my phone, so I suppose I should probably try to stay off it more often.

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