Process Addiction and Behavioral Addiction

Generally when people think of an addiction, drugs or alcohol come to mind. However, behaviors can become addictions which are called a process addictions or behavioral addiction. In this article, we will delve deep into the various aspects of this type of addiction.

What Is A Process Addiction or Behavioral Addiction? 

Simply put, a process addiction is when a person does a specific activity that produces an emotional “high.” Because of the emotional “high,” they continue to crave more and become fueled by compulsive behaviors. Much like with substance abuse, people with process addictions become obsessed with their behavior of choice. This creates a pattern where the behavior is all they think about or is the only thing that makes them happy. In turn, this affects that individual’s mental health and well-being because nothing else matters as much as the behavior, activity, or action. 

For example, many people can enjoy a piece of chocolate cake or partake in a night of gambling at the casino without losing an entire paycheck. Similarly, they can go to the gym a few times a week or even go on a shopping spree for a new summer wardrobe. However, for some, these enjoyable activities turn into behavioral addictions. While these activities bring an immediate “high,” in contrast, they cause negative consequences. For instance, they can bring about feelings of guilt, remorse, and shame, as well as having adverse effects on our bodies, health, or pocketbooks. 

While many people can choose whether they engage in some of the activities, people with process addictions feel compelled to do things such as eat large amounts of food, avoid paying bills to shop or gamble instead, and are often unable to stop on their own. Eventually, they have no control over their urges, and it consumes their life. Even if they are aware of the negative consequences, they continue the behavior, activity, or action. In some cases, these process addictions can become so severe that the person cannot take themselves out of this cycle. 

Types of Common Process Addictions or Behavioral Addictions? 

There are various types of behaviors and activities that fall under the umbrella of a process addiction. With a behavioral addiction, the negative consequences often get to a place of being unbearable before seeking help. It is important to note that several process addictions or behavioral addictions are not recognized as addictive disorders and are difficult to diagnose. Regardless, to help increase awareness around process addictions, below is a list of the most common ones.  

Internet Addiction 

Keep in mind, for internet users to become an addiction it must interfere with daily functioning. Generally, when someone is addicted to the internet, they have various outlets online, known as subtypes of internet addiction—for example, online shopping, online gambling, social media, pornography, cybersex, and more. 

Video Gaming Addiction 

When it comes to gaming addicts, they are often consumed by living in a fantasy gaming realm instead of the real world. Additionally, it is compulsive game playing despite the negative consequences on the physical, mental, and emotional health.  

Shopping Addiction 

Shopping addiction is classified as an impulse control disorder and compulsive engagement instead of a labeled addiction. However, it does involve a pattern of chronic purchasing that is difficult to stop. Contradictory is one of the socially acceptable addictions. Unfortunately, though, shopping addiction results in problems both financially and personally. Compulsive shopping is a means to coping with emotional pain and the difficulties of life. As a result, the consequences lead to the inability to handle their financial obligations and responsibilities. 

Gambling Addiction or Compulsive Gambling 

While many people have a problem with gambling, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a gambling addiction. Someone who falls under the category of compulsive gambling will continue gambling despite the consequences. They will have financial difficulties and inability to control their gambling behavior. Furthermore, those who have a gambling addiction win large amounts of money and then lose it all. 

Sex Addiction 

While sexual activity can be healthy, it becomes an addiction when it’s the primary source of pleasure. Additionally, it is often used to escape emotional and psychological problems and replaces healthy relationships and interests. That is to say, that sex addiction is a compulsive desire to engage in sexual conduct, despite emotional and physical consequences. The subtypes of sex addiction include porn addiction, cybersex, excessive masturbation, excessive visits to strip clubs, and more.  

Love Addiction 

Love addicts have a dysfunctional compulsion to pursue romantic satisfaction. Additionally, a love addict will seek their self-worth and sense of security through romantic fulfillment. As a result, they often enter codependent relationships or other unhealthy relationship dynamics. 

Exercise Addiction 

Many factors differentiate healthy exercise from exercise addition. One core factor in exercise addiction is that one will exercise intensely for long periods of time without giving the body recovery time. Additionally, they will continue to exercise hours on end regardless of illness or fatigue. This is probably the most controversial behavioral addiction of them all.  

Food Addiction 

Food addiction can cause obesity, malnutrition, and other threatening health conditions. People addicted to food overeat various things, especially processed foods. Additionally, they tend to overeat daily and do so as a means of coping with difficult emotions. As a result, people with food addiction often develop eating disorders such as binge eating disorder, anorexia, or bulimia.  

Tattoo Addiction 

While tattoo addiction is not recognized as a behavioral addiction, many individuals who get tattoos refer to them as addictive. Additionally, many states that it gives them a sense of euphoria, which keeps them coming back for more or wanting more. 

Plastic Surgery Addiction 

It is common for people to be obsessed with their physical appearance. However, some individuals take it to extreme levels. For example, some individuals turn to plastic surgery to alter or improve their looks and often cannot stop scheduling and undergoing additional procedures. As a result, this type of addiction often results in body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). 

Self-Mutilation Addiction (i.e., Cutting or Burning) 

Self-Mutilation or Self-Injury is a behavior that people engage in experiencing physical pain to ease their psychological pain. It is a form of emotional release due to a lack of healthy coping skills for persistent depression, anxiety, or other mental health symptoms. Additionally, there has been an addictive component to self-harm where dopamine levels increase due to self-injury. This provides a “high” like those with substance use disorders, making it difficult to stop even when psychological pain has decreased.  

What Are the Signs That a Behavior Has Become an Addiction? 

Though almost everyone engages in some form of these behaviors and typically enjoys them, they aren’t all considered process addictions. While you may have problematic behaviors, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are behavioral addictions. However, some signs will help you identify whether you have an addictive behavior. Behaviors can become an addiction when the following areas are presented: 

  • Inability to stop engaging in the behavior despite knowing the negative consequences and harm 
  • Making behavior a priority over anything else 
  • Neglecting responsibilities and loved ones to engage in the behavior 
  • Developing physical or mental issues due to not stopping behavior 
  • Feeling the need to hide the behavior or minimize it 
  • Having difficulties in one or more facets of their lives, including work, school, or significant relationships, due to their behaviors  
  • Experiences negative consequences directly related to repeated engagement in the behavior 
  • Developing a dependence on behavior to be happy and cope with emotions 

How Can Behaviors Be Addictive? 

There are debates about whether behaviors can be considered an addiction or not. Some people believe that behaviors wouldn’t be a problem with self-control. However, someone with a video game addiction plays 10-12 hours a day, only leaving the game to sleep and possibly going to work. This individual consciously knows that he is neglecting his health by not exercising and only eating fast food. He dedicates as much time to his game but continues to play during almost every waking hour. He finds that escaping to another reality in the game and isolating himself from everyone allows him to ignore how dysfunctional his family is and how low he feels about his weight, appearance, and life goals. 

Our brains are hard-wired to seek pleasure and escape the pain. Unfortunately, some people have become programmed to believe that the small amount of joy they can instantly obtain from these behaviors is worth neglecting other parts of their lives. Even more so, initially, some people cannot see the negative consequences of these behaviors until something remarkable happens. Even when we see them, it can be difficult to stop once the behavior has already taken over.  

Once a person realizes that their behaviors have gone too far and want to stop engaging in the behavior but can’t, it is time to seek help. If you or a loved one needs process addiction intervention or treatment, we have 30+ therapists and a team of nurse practitioners to help. 

Getting Treatment for Your Process Addiction or Behavioral Addiction. 

If you are suffering from a process addiction or behavioral addiction, there are effective treatments available. Studies have shown that the same treatment plans developed for substance use dependencies and addictions have also had success with a behavioral addiction. Some treatments include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral TherapyMotivational Interviewing, Group Therapy, Individual Therapy, and Medication Management. 

We have a team of 30+ therapists, and several are experienced in addiction treatment. Additionally, we have a team of nurse practitioners available to help ensure we are conducting whole-body care. 

Contact us to set up your appointment.

About the Contributor

Mandy Paysse

Proofed and Verified by: Erica Aina, LCSW

Erica is the Clinical Supervisor and one of many therapists at Elliott Counseling Group. As the Clinical Supervisor she supports clinical growth, oversees protocols, and provides mentorship, monitoring, support, and supervision to therapists. As a therapist, she specializes in trauma work, depression, children/teen issues, and crisis management.


We offer medication management, therapy, and counseling services in Champaign, Urbana and Mattoon. There are no long wait lists and we are accepting new clients. We would love to see if we fit your needs well. Contact our client care team to get started.