Why Are Process Addictions Treated Differently From Chemical Addictions?

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Process addictions are difficult to understand and undergo great scrutiny as they are frequently weighed for validity. Sex addiction, for example, is a process addiction, which recently lost its viability as a diagnosable disorder. Process addictions describe compulsive disorders which involve a specific process, like exercise, gambling, and sex addiction. What causes such controversy with process addictions is the way they compare to chemical addictions. Chemical addictions like drug addiction and alcoholism have a specific source: drugs and alcohol. It is more difficult to examine and understand an addiction disorder which does not include the ingestion of substances.

Yet, process addictions and chemical addictions act in a similar way. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter in the brain which produces signals of pleasure and reward, is produced in both. For example, when a gambling addict goes to place a bet, they experience a surge in the production of dopamine, despite not having ingested any mind altering chemicals. Additionally, those with process addictions do experience a similar rewarding of the brain, yet not to the extreme of chemical addictions. For example, both sex and gambling addiction experiences a dependency upon their processes to stimulate any pleasure. Likewise to chemical addictions, both processes also create a reward system based on that pleasure. Interestingly, process addictions actually create a tolerance in a similar way to chemical addictions. What starts as a friendly wager on a football game between friends could end up meaning wagers of cars, high risk bets, compulsive gambling, and even lead to illegal bets. Sex addiction also faces a tolerance, needing more extreme forms of sexual pleasure to produce the same kind of thrill. Even compulsions like shopping addiction or exercise addiction are challenged when a tolerance is set. Since their reward system has become obsessed with as well as dependent upon their process, they have to engage in more to achieve the same effect.

Unfortunately, process addictions are treated differently than chemical addictions primarily because there is a severe lack in research on them. Most studies done on chemical addiction involve the use of animals like mice and rats in a laboratory. Mice and rats can’t exactly be trained to go to a casino and hit the slot machines or max out a credit card with a shopping problem. For those who struggle with process addictions, their issues are anything but illegitimate. Many treatment centers continue to provide treatment for process addictions because they too tend to have underlying issues and co-occurring mental health disorders.

Avalon Malibu is committed to providing quality mental health treatment to those with primary issues needing the loving care and clinical compassion of rehabilitation. For a confidential assessment and more information on our primary mental health residential treatment programs, call 1 888-958-7511.

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