Mythbusting: Four Common Misconceptions About Process Addictions

As human beings, we all like to feel good. It’s simply in our nature. That’s why a big hug after a bad day can feel so nice, and why nuzzling a puppy can make us melt. Even common, natural, and seemingly harmless activities like sexual/physical intimacy, eating, and shopping can give us a rush, or emotional high–but what happens when you actually become addicted to that feeling?

It may be hard for others (or even yourself) to understand that what you’re struggling with is actually a process addiction, which can be just as painful and as detrimental as addiction to a substance. Maybe you’ve heard others say yours isn’t a “real addiction,” or that you’re simply making bad decisions. It can be isolating to struggle with unstoppable compulsive behavior (which is at the root of any process addiction), especially when there are so many stigmas surrounding phrases like “sex addiction,” or “shopping addiction.” It can even make you feel guilty and shameful about not being able to control your behavior.

It is important that in addition to seeking treatment for your specific process addiction, you are gentle and compassionate toward yourself. Understand that the majority of people who dismiss your struggle may simply not have the experience or knowledge to respond in a respectful way–and that you deserve a chance to recover just as much as anyone who has faced an addiction. There are many myths surrounding process addictions–you may find yourself confronted with some of the following falsehoods.

“It isn’t a real addiction.”

A process addiction is defined as a “condition in which a person is dependent on some sort of behavior, such as love, sex, gambling, or shopping, or any other behavior that does not involve drugs or alcohol.” The key word there is dependent. When someone is dependent on something, it means they rely on it to a degree which is unhealthy and unnatural–regardless of what the it is.

While someone with a process addiction is not addicted to a chemical substance, the irony is this: fulfilling that action produces a chemical reaction in the body which is very similar to that in someone who abuses hard drugs or alcohol. Certain behaviors can produce beta-endorphins–chemicals that can be stronger than morphine–in the brain that cause the subject to feel “high,” and result in a crash or withdrawal afterward, just like a “real addiction.” It may be difficult for others to conceive that this is the case, but the science doesn’t lie.

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“Process addictions are less important than substance addictions.”

Not only is this thought hurtful, but it is simply untrue. Imagine someone telling you that the way you were feeling was wrong, unjustified, and not as “important” as the way that someone else was feeling? Perhaps you’ve actually had someone tell you that before, and you’ve lost respect for the turmoil that goes on inside your mind and heart due to your process addiction.

An addiction is an addiction, no matter what way you look at it. Whether it is to a substance, activity, or behavior, the bottom line is this: you still lack control over your actions, and that is a viscerally hurtful thing to cope with, no matter what. Someone who is addicted to gambling may rely on tossing dice to feel good during times of stress, sorrow, or any other negative emotion, just as a cocaine addict relies on the high of a hard drug to cope with difficult circumstances or feelings.

Treating your process addiction is just as crucial to your overall health and lifestyle as it would be for someone with an addiction to a substance–and it is important that you know you are no less important.

“But everyone has the power to control his or her behaviors.”

This may be the most difficult for people to understand, because ultimately people are “in control” of their behaviors. That being said, those whose lives are complicated by addiction, or are the loved one of an addict know that isn’t always the case. Think about it this way: our bodies are literally driven by our chemical makeup. Our metabolisms, our physique, certain abilities and talents all fall into this category–as do the centers in our brains that control impulsive behaviors.

Because everyone is completely individual, all of our hormonal and chemical levels are not the same. If certain behaviors produce happiness or release “feel-good” chemicals in people with levels that aren’t “normal,” the body will want to continue the action/behavior in order to feel that way–normal. Sometimes this up and down can result in impulsive behavior, making it very difficult for physical actions to be controlled. The chemistry drives the addiction, and intensive work is required to retrain the brain.

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“Process addictions don’t need intense treatment like other addictions.”

Remember: process addictions are addictions. They need to be handled with love, care, and compassion as with any other disease or illness, and those that suffer from them should seek out quality treatment just as anyone else would. Alta Mira’s individualized treatment program can give you a chance to get the care that you deserve in order to have a successful recovery emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Just because it may seem to others that your addiction is not “the same” or “as real” as one to a substance, does not make it any less difficult to cope with, or any less worthy of treatment. Know first and foremost that you are not alone, and that you, just as anyone else, deserve to overcome your personal struggles.


If you or someone you know struggles with a process addiction, know that seeking treatment is the first step in any recovery, and takes courage. At Alta Mira, alongside committed and qualified specialists, you can work to become the best, healthiest version of yourself. For any questions about our center or programs, please contact us today.