What You Need to Know About Process Addictions

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Many addictions involve no substance abuse, but rather compulsive behaviors that are self-defeating and self-destructive in nature. These dependencies – such as gambling addiction, sexual addiction, eating disorders or self-harm – are clinically known as process addictions. At Avalon Malibu, we work closely with those suffering from process addictions to break negative behavioral patterns through mindful, healing therapies that bring insight and lasting change.

Over time, behavioral addictions often worsen due to the neurochemical reactions created by sensations of stimulation, euphoria and the cycle of stress and relief. Because of these reactions, the dynamic, successful treatment of process addictions involves intensive psychotherapy, deepened self-awareness and the establishment of healthy behavioral patterns. At Avalon Malibu, we also provide accessible, expertly guided psychoeducation to help clients better understand both the chemical and psychological processes that take place in the presence of addictive behaviors.

What Is a Process Addiction?

A process addiction is a compulsive behavior that leads to unhealthy patterns, resulting in negative consequences in various areas of life. Unlike substance addictions, which involve dependence on drugs or alcohol, process addictions involve behaviors or activities that provide an emotional or psychological reward. These behaviors can release dopamine in your brain, creating a sense of pleasure or relief, which reinforces the urge to repeat them.

Common Process Addictions

Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is characterized by the uncontrollable urge to gamble, leading to adverse effects on your personal, professional, and financial well-being. It involves persistent thoughts about gambling, an increasing need to bet larger sums of money, unsuccessful attempts to stop or cut back and continued gambling despite negative consequences.

Food Addiction

Food addiction is a process addiction that involves an unhealthy relationship with food. Individuals with food addiction may experience compulsive overeating, a loss of control around food, emotional eating, and preoccupation with thoughts about food and body weight. This addiction can lead to significant physical health issues and emotional distress.

Video Game Addiction

Video game addiction refers to the excessive and compulsive playing of video games, often to the detriment of other important aspects of life. People with video game addiction may neglect their responsibilities, experience difficulties in relationships and exhibit withdrawal-like symptoms when unable to play. It can negatively impact mental health, academic or professional performance and overall well-being.

Sex Addiction

Sex addiction involves engaging in excessive and compulsive sexual behaviors that are difficult to control. People with sex addiction may spend excessive amounts of time seeking out sexual experiences, viewing pornography or engaging in risky sexual behaviors. This can lead to strained relationships, emotional distress and a negative impact in other areas of life.


Self-harm or intentional self-injury is another form of process addiction. Often, it is often used as a coping strategy to deal with emotional pain or distress. Individuals who struggle with self-harm may find it difficult to stop the behavior and may require professional help to address the underlying issues and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Internet Addiction

Internet addiction is characterized by excessive and compulsive use of the internet, to the extent where it interferes with daily life and functioning. Individuals with internet addiction may spend excessive time online, neglect responsibilities, experience withdrawal-like symptoms when not online, and have difficulties controlling their internet use. This addiction can negatively impact relationships, work or academic performance, and mental well-being.

How Do I Know If I Have a Process Addiction?

Determining whether or not you have a process addiction can be a complex process that requires careful consideration, self-reflection and professional insight. Although nearly everyone engages in activities such as eating, sex and using the internet, these behaviors aren’t considered an addiction unless they interfere with daily life. According to the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the diagnostic criteria for non-substance-related behavioral disorders such as gambling addiction includes:

  • A persistent and problematic behavior that impairs the ability to function
  • Mental or emotional distress caused by the compulsive behavior
  • Restlessness, irritability and other symptoms when attempting to curb the behavior
  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop or control the behavior
  • Personal, professional or relationship problems due to the behavior
  • Engaging in the behavior when distressed as a coping mechanism

Considering these criteria and reflecting on your own experiences can provide insights into whether you may be dealing with a process addiction. However, it’s essential to remember that a formal diagnosis should come from a qualified healthcare professional or mental health provider. They can conduct a thorough assessment, consider your specific circumstances and guide you toward the most appropriate treatment options.

How Avalon Malibu Treats Process Addictions

Treating process addictions typically involves a combination of therapy, medication, support groups and lifestyle changes. However, the specific approach may vary depending on the individual’s needs, the severity of the addiction and any co-occurring mental health conditions. At Avalon Malibu, we use a variety of holistic techniques to help individuals identify the root of their problematic behaviors and develop healthier coping strategies that serve them better.

Mindfulness-Based Therapies for Behavioral Addiction

Through focused awareness, mindfulness practice provides a powerful tool for changing negative behavioral patterns. Using nonjudgmental, meditative techniques, clients can leverage observation and intention to guide behavioral change. Because compulsive behaviors often involve both a biological and emotional component, process addictions often leave individuals on autopilot, deferring to coping mechanisms reinforced over time. Mindfulness-based therapies (MBT) allow clients to consciously experience and re-examine these automatic behaviors, providing the insight necessary to initiate lasting change.

Uncovering Core Issues Behind Process Addictions

For many clients, process addictions take root early on, usually originating back to young adulthood or even the early childhood years, in an attempt to cope with fears, negative belief structures and traumatic events. At Avalon Malibu, world-class clinicians work closely with clients in private therapy sessions to uncover sources of anxiety, depression and avoidance that set the stage for process addictions to take hold. Specializing in anxiety reduction, psychological disorder treatment, and trauma recovery, our clinical staff guides clients in identifying and healing primary causes of compulsive behaviors.

Present-Centered Recovery for Behavioral Addiction

In a safe, compassionate setting, our clinical experts remove the fear around nascent experiences that pull clients toward their unresolved pasts. In addition to well-established cognitive-behavioral and trauma-focused therapies, our highly trained clinicians employ emergent psychotherapy tools such as expressive arts and experiential and biofeedback, allowing clients to move from repression to progress. By focusing on the experience of the present moment, our goal is to help clients move toward healing and resolution, enabling them to create the lifestyles they desire and deserve.

Contact Avalon Malibu

If you’re ready to regain control of your life and break free from compulsive behaviors, we’re here to help. Reach out to us today to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our specialists. Our team will listen to your concerns, answer any questions you may have, and guide you toward a personalized treatment plan that suits your unique needs. To get started, call Avalon Malibu at 1-888-732-0463 or click here to complete our online contact form.

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