Behavioural Addiction (Process Addiction)

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In a world of instant gratification, repetitive and compulsive behaviours have become somewhat normal in recent years. With the rise of the internet, smartphones and social media have brought new ways to distract ourselves through likes, pornography and free online bets.

And yet, despite the normalisation of these compulsive behaviours and interfaces that keep us distracted by design, the negative implications on our mental health are to be fully explored. Struggling with a process addiction, another name for a behavioural addiction is a growing concern with the introduction of faster, more accessible technologies. Many experience daily struggles with compulsions and cravings for online gambling, shopping, and social media use.

Behavioural addiction can be just as damaging to one’s life as substance use disorders. Yet, there is still little awareness and adequate research – except problem gambling – on the implications and consequences of these compulsive behaviours.

With over 40 years of experience treating individuals and their loved ones, we recognise that compulsive behaviour disproportionately affects those with pre-existing psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression. Often, treating both concurrently is an essential part of the recovery process, and having access to high-quality care from our trusted mental health professionals can significantly improve treatment outcomes.

Defining a Behavioural Addiction

A behavioural addiction is characterised by compulsive, persistent and repeated patterns of behaviour towards activities that do not involve substances. However, in the wider context of addiction, individuals struggling with process addictions often struggle with substance abuse issues concurrently.

How They Affect the Brain

Like all forms of addiction, pleasure-seeking behaviours release high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which alters the natural state of the brain’s reward pathways. This phenomenon is also linked to alcoholism but occurs in all compulsive and drug seeking behaviours.

Behavioural Addiction

Types of Process Addictions

Behavioural addiction can fall into various subcategories, including gambling addiction, eating disorders and impulse control disorders.

Pathological Gambling

Problem gambling is one of the most common behavioural addictions, affecting over two million people in the UK. Gambling addiction can lead to financial problems, family dysfunction, and social isolation and is linked to higher rates of male suicide.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are both mental health disorders and behavioural addiction that can affect men and women of all ages. Eating disorder sufferers often have distorted views about their body image resulting in disordered eating habits. Binge eating or compulsive overeating differs in that the individual may not necessarily display body dysphoria but instead may use food as a coping mechanism for stress or to hide difficult emotions. If left untreated, these behaviours can lead to significant emotional stress and physical health issues.

Impulse Control Disorders (ICD)

ICDs are characterised by difficulty controlling urges leading to impulsive actions such as stealing (Kleptomania), compulsive shopping, or engaging in risky sexual activities without considering the consequences (sexual compulsions).

Hoarding is another form of compulsive behaviour closely linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mood disorders. A hoarding disorder is a compulsive urge to buy and store items, often presenting difficulties in discarding them.

More recently, WHO International has reviewed internet addiction as a significant public health concern, which may open the door to additional subcategories, including social media addiction. Additionally, evidence shows a strong link between ADHD and Impulse Control Disorders, further highlighting the relationship between behavioural addictions and co-occurring mental disorders.

Other Forms of Behavioural Addiction

  • Social media
  • Porn
  • Shopping
  • Exercise  
  • Work
  • Love and relationships
  • Codependency 
  • Plastic surgery 
  • Self-harm

Causes And Risk Factors

Behavioural addiction is a complex mental health issue that causes significant distress in a person’s life. Understanding the causes and associated risk factors is essential for prevention and treatment.

People who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, or other mental illness may be more prone to developing other process addictions, as may those who have experienced physical or emotional trauma in childhood.

In addition, those who abuse drugs or alcohol may be at greater risk of developing other compulsive behaviours. Experience has shown that many variables determine why some people develop behavioural addictions while others do not. However, recognising the signs of a problem sooner rather than later, and accepting that a problem exists, will help reduce harm significantly.

Signs of a Problem

Like all forms of addiction, several signs may indicate a behavioural problem and/or a compulsivity:

  • Engaging in behaviours or activities that you feel compelled to do, despite harmful consequences to physical health or mental wellbeing
  • Experiencing emotional and psychological withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, irritability and difficulty sleeping
  • Lying or concealing compulsive behaviours from friends and family members
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Trying to rationalise compulsive behaviours as normal
  • Financial problems and challenges in maintaining relationships
  • Feelings of guilt or shame surrounding these compulsions.

If any of the above resonates with you and you’d like to talk to a mental health professional who understands your situation, don’t hesitate to contact our team at CATCH Recovery today for a free, confidential assessment.


The Impact of Compulsive Behaviours on Others

Addiction is a progressive illness with far-reaching consequences if left untreated. Compulsive behaviours can lead to severe financial hardship and relationship breakdowns with other family members.

Certain behaviours may have different or broader implications:

  • Sexual compulsions, including sex addiction and porn addiction, prevent individuals from forming close, meaningful relationships with others and can lead to higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Gaming disorders or gaming addiction can interfere with relationships and work performance and are linked to poor mental health and sleep.
  • Social media addiction is also linked to poor mental health as individuals seek validation from external influences. Studies suggest that problematic social media use in teenagers is linked to increased rates of depression and suicide, a concern for many parents.
  • Gambling disorders are linked to higher rates of bankruptcy and family breakdowns.
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Substance abuse and addiction may also co-exist in those with a behavioural addiction, further exasperating the negative impact on loved ones and broader communities. If you or someone you love is struggling, we understand this may be causing you considerable distress and worry. With the right help and support, we can help you to regain control of your life by working through those difficult emotions.

How We Can Help

CATCH Recovery is part of Castle Health Heritage, one of the UK’s most established addiction treatment providers. Our multidisciplinary approach to treating compulsive behaviours is founded on a wealth of expertise and over four decades of experience.

Regardless of your circumstances and past experiences, we believe you can overcome the difficulties and challenges of your behavioural addiction. As an individual, your treatment plan with us will be unique to you and your needs and will be provided in a way that fits your busy lifestyle and daily commitments. Our flexible treatment services do not compromise on quality or efficacy, utilising the latest evidence-based therapies provided by our mental health professionals skilled in their field of expertise.

We recognise that addiction is a family illness. As part of the recovery process, we invite family members to participate in our treatment offering online or in-person here at CATCH Recovery London.

Your treatment involves:

  • A free, confidential assessment to better understand your specific needs, family history and medical background
  • An in-depth consultation with one of our dedicated therapists
  • A comprehensive and individualised treatment plan consisting of evidence-based therapies
  • Post-care treatment services to help you stay on track

Take the first step today by booking your free, confidential telephone assessment. Our treatment team will gladly discuss the different options with you.

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