How Residential Treatment Supports Recovery from Process Addictions When Abstinence Is Impossible

Contrary to what cultural perceptions might have you believe, process addictions can be just as serious as drug addictions and often occur concurrently with them. In order to recover from these struggles, you must replace your addictions with balance and address their root causes, goals that can be achieved in a residential treatment setting that understands their importance for successful recovery and personal growth.

In the field of mental health, addictions are often treated as lifelong challenges—even after detoxification, recovery is a road that continues on for the remainder of your life. Relapses might happen, and sometimes mistakes are inevitable, but ultimately learning from these experiences can be used to give you the motivation to keep pushing forward.

“For the past 26 years I’ve thought of heroin every day,” wrote James, a recovering heroin addict. “Every junky wants to be clean. Every using junky also wants more heroin. Call it a contradiction, call it what you want. But no junky wants the life they have.”

James’ struggle conveys the contradictory struggle of addiction—to constantly be faced with desires for something, despite knowing that it’s the opposite of what’s best for your life. But what about people who struggle with process addictions, where giving the activities up for life is impossible? What about the sex addict who wants to have a normal romantic life, the shopaholic who still needs to buy gifts for his or her loved ones, or the person living with food addiction who, obviously, needs to continue eating?

It’s a unique battle that only those living with process addictions will understand—despite not wanting the life you have, the life that you need will require you to indulge in controllable amounts of the behaviors that you’re addicted to engaging in. If you’re in the midst of a process addiction and struggling to envision a future where you can still benefit from the positives of the behavior and avoid it spiraling into overindulgence, the first step toward recovery is realizing that you are not helpless—it’s entirely possible to live your life with these behaviors in moderation.

Replacing Addiction with Balance


Like psychoactive substances, behaviors can create a feeling of short-term pleasure and reward in your brain, one that you will come to crave. These feelings stem from activity in regions of the brain that regulate reward and have constantly been implicated in addiction—the ventral tegmental area, nucleus accumbens, and orbital frontal cortex. And, just like drugs, the behaviors at the core of process addictions are typically preceded by “tension or arousal before committing the act” and “pleasure, gratification or relief at the time of committing the act.” Over time, this cycle becomes commonplace, and the way that your brain interacts shifts into a maladaptive state, as is the case with drugs.

Given the overlap in the pathophysiology of substance abuse disorders (SUDs) and process addictions, it’s no surprise that co-occurrence is common. But the exact relationships that cause this co-occurrence will vary depending on the person. For example, alcohol leads to a disinhibition of many kinds of behaviors in humans, including those lying at the root of process addictions such as sex. In some cases, the root of the addictions is this disinhibition and the sexual addiction is a byproduct, whereas in others, sexual addiction might follow alcoholism treatment as a substitute. Understanding the primary root of co-occurring process and SUDs is critical in order to properly address them both at the same time and ensure that symptoms of one are never exacerbating those of the other.

Regardless, therapies for treating SUDs and process addictions are similar—all of them will focus on determining the underlying cause of the addiction and addressing them. However, with process addictions, therapy requires an understanding that the behavior at the core of the addiction will need to be reintegrated back into your life in a healthy, adaptive way, rather than cut out altogether. Thus, more focus is put on accepting the good and bad of the behavior and developing a plan that allows for moderation.

Consider this: if you have a shopping addiction, your treatment will focus on creating a spending plan that you will adhere to in order to provide a sense of control that minimizes the chances of compulsive shopping. At the same time, you’ll still have enough leeway within it to shop for the necessities that you need for everyday life.

“It is essential to validate both the destructive and the useful sides of compulsive shopping to help a person discover how the behavior serves the self,” said therapist Angela Wurtzel. As in the case of any process addiction, shopping or otherwise, “Ultimately, the goal is to incorporate more adaptive skillsover time that lead to a more balanced and less self-destructive lifestyle.”

This focus on acknowledging the good and bad of your addictive behavior is something unique to process addictions. Whereas recovery from addictions like heroin and cocaine will never focus on finding the positives of using, process addictions like sex and shopping require this focus in order to restore balance to these behaviors and help you engage in them without them having destructive effects on your life.

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Addressing Root Causes


The complex nature of both SUDs and process addictions, especially when they’re intertwined, can make breaking free from them especially difficult to do on your own. With proper residential treatment, you can address the hurdles of drug withdrawal and receive the monitoring needed to control your process addiction simultaneously, ensuring that the behaviors and urges linked to both struggles never feed into one another.

These plans will include a unique weekly schedule designed to help you learn how to reward yourself in healthy, adaptive ways. At the same time, you will benefit from tools like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to unearth the pain that is the primary driving force behind your co-occurring addictions. Ultimately, you will leave with the tools needed to control your addictive urges on your own, outside the walls of a treatment center.

Cultural perceptions might have you believe that process addictions aren’t as serious as SUDs, but this is a myth that downplays the detrimental effects that they can have on people that struggle with them. By harnessing the support of a treatment plan that takes the unique nature of co-occurring SUDs and process addiction recovery into consideration, you can pave the way to a life free from the addictive nature of the behavior at the core of your process addiction, ultimately learning to engage in it in a way that has beneficial effects on your life.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive addiction rehabilitation for people struggling with a number of process addictions and co-occurring substance abuse disorders. Contact us today to learn how you learn to control your addictive behavior and integrate it into your life in an adaptive way.