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Process Addictions

For most parents, an addiction to drugs or alcohol is a primary concern. These dangerous substances hold many risks for developing teens, creating a deeply dangerous cycle of abuse that may have lifelong ramifications.

However, an addiction to dangerous substances isn't the only threat facing today's adolescents. Process addictions are nearly as dangerous as drug or alcohol addictions, minus the risk of overdose or life-threatening withdrawal complications. These challenging disorders can create just as much chaos, posing problems for interpersonal relationships, academics, and so much more.

if you believe your teen is addicted to an activity or behavior, like eating food, gambling, or video games, quitting may not be as easy as it sounds. As with other addictions, like drugs or alcohol, professional assistance is absolutely necessary to control and treat a behavioral compulsion.

What Are Process Addictions?

Process Addictions - Teen and MotherProcess addictions refer to any addiction that is not physical in nature, or any addiction in which an individual is dependent on a behavior.

For most people, living normally involves a series of logical and necessary activities. For example, eating when hungry or shopping when out of life essentials, like food or clothing. Some tasks, like watching television or going out with friends, are done out of pleasure rather than necessity, but the ability to adequately control actions is a normal part of living as an autonomous human.

However, those with process addictions cannot control their behavior, like choosing to eat and continue eating despite not being hungry or having already finished three meals in one day. They may shop online and in person for hours every day, or dedicate dozens of hours a week playing video games. The inability to control behavior is at the root of process addictions, with common symptoms including:

  • An inability to abstain from certain behaviors
  • An impairment in behavioral control
  • A deep desire for a behavior, similar to cravings felt for drugs or alcohol
  • An inability to recognize the severity of issues that arise from repeated behaviors
  • An irrational or dysfunctional emotional response to being ask to cease behaviors

Why Are Process Addictions Serious?

Physical addictions are extremely familiar to most people, parents included, but process addictions aren't always. In fact, to many, process addictions are little more than bad behaviors enjoyed at will that can be quit at any time.

Despite common misconceptions, this is not the case. Process addictions are just as real and legitimate as physical addictions and are owed the same level of concern and treatment. Just as quitting drugs is almost impossible to do alone, quitting the object of a process addiction is an extreme challenge, especially for teens who cannot recognize the depths of their issues.

Some of the activities common to process addictions, like shopping and eating, may seem innocuous. After all, these are normal parts of life that many people enjoy, so what's the harm?

This way of thinking can be extremely toxic, making excuses for addicts with true problems. Furthermore, these compulsions can indeed become problematic over time. For example, a shopping addiction can lead to excessive debt that may stand in the way of buying a car or home while a food addiction can lead to rapid weight gain, obesity, diabetes, or heart disease.

Process Addictions - Video games

How Process Addictions Affect Teens

Process addictions come in many forms, and there's no concrete list of activities and compulsions that apply. Virtually any enticing activity can become addictive, especially when participation results in a rush of endorphins. In many ways, the sensations of pleasure and excitement that come with a beloved hobby mimic the release of dopamine and serotonin that accompany doses of a drug.

If you've ever watched your teen play video games in his room for hours at a time, you likely understand the ways in which a desire for pleasurable activities can affect teens. An adolescent who loves video games may not be at risk, of course – he may just enjoy shooting robots or playing with friends – but any prolonged activities that seem to border on obsession can pose a problem.

The development of process addictions creates many challenges. As a parent, it's important to realize that a process addiction isn't something that a teen will "get over" or control independently. In reality, it's more likely that the problem will worsen without help. These kinds of addictions can interfere with academic performance, relationships with friends and loved ones, athletic performance, and even career prospects.

Without help, it's likely that teens will never recover, or will suffer for years before seeking help on their own terms. The sooner you act, the more likely it is that your teen can break free of a behavioral compulsion before it's too late.

Types of Process Addictions

For teens, some process addictions are more common than others. While this list is by no means comprehensive, these are the behavioral addictions that are most likely to occur in teens.


Video games are extremely popular with young people, but most can identify when it's time to turn the console off. A few late nights gaming isn't necessarily a problem, but when gaming begins to interfere with normal obligations, an issue might be afoot. Those with gaming addictions may have a hard time stopping to eat, attend school, do homework, or spend time with friends.


Teens aren't old enough to gamble, but online sites and poker games with friends are rarely regulated. In general, gambling is only legal for those 21 and up for good reason – to prevent against loss of money and to minimize irresponsible behavior – but 4% to 5% of teens display signs of a gambling addiction.


Food is a popular compulsion for individuals at all ages. While it's natural to like food, most people can stop eating when they are full. Binge eating disorder is a form of process addiction and may stem from using food as a form of comfort or security. As a natural part of life, an addiction to food can be very hard to control as there's no way to go cold turkey; even addicted teens need to eat.


Process Addictions - Shopping AddictionShopping is an activity many people find fun, especially when shopping for clothing, games, or other leisure activities. However, shopping too much or using shopping as a coping mechanism can easily transform an enjoyable pastime into an addiction, leading to the potential for debt, theft, lying, and more to continue to fund shopping trips.


Exercise is an important part of life, especially for those who want to be healthy or lose weight. However, a prolonged pattern of exercise as a way to achieve goals can transform into something unhealthy, forcing teens into workout habits that go above and beyond acceptable levels. Too much exercise can be very dangerous, with ties to eating disorders and serious physical harm.


Whether parents like to admit it or not, sex is a big driver for many teenagers. Most teens are curious about sexual intercourse and are eager to try for themselves. The pleasure connected to sex can be too much for some teens to handle, turning into a dangerous addiction that puts teens at risk for STDs and encounters with dangerous people. Some young women especially begin to tie sex to worth, creating a serious pattern of abusive behavior.

Treatments for Process Addictions

Like drug and alcohol addictions, process addictions require professional interference to properly address.

In many cases, treatments for process addictions are similar to physical addiction, without the detoxification stage. Behavioral therapy is a big part of treating compulsions, working with addicts to target the path that led to addiction, the root causes, and what steps can be taken to minimize negative ramifications. For some teens suffering from process addictions, intense psychotherapy and prescription medications may be used to address or mitigate symptoms.

Inpatient treatment for process addiction isn't always necessary – some behaviors, like gaming or gambling, can be addressed in an outpatient setting – but others, like food addictions, may require time in a treatment facility.

Process Addictions- Exercise ADdiction

Process Addictions and Substance Abuse

Process addictions can be independently damaging, but for many teens, these inappropriate behavior patterns walk hand in hand with substance abuse. For those having trouble controlling behavior, a foray into drugs or alcohol isn't hard to understand. Some teens begin using drugs to attempt to amplify the pleasure received from a process addiction, while others turn to illicit substances to try to quit without professional help.

If your teen shows signs of process addictions, searching for signs of drug abuse is equally important. An addictive personality is likely to develop compulsions related to numerous outlets, and for teens feeling the pressure to experiment, it's highly likely that substance abuse isn't far behind.

Get Help Today!

Process addictions are extremely serious, creating the potential for issues in many aspects of a teen's life. If you have seen both signs of process addiction and drug or alcohol addiction, Teen Treatment Center can help. With a wealth of resources related to addressing substance abuse as well as co-occurring disorders, we are able to assist teens facing a wide range of struggles.

To learn more about what we are able to accomplish, please contact our intake team today at (844) 319-5239. All consultations are completely confidential.

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