Behavioural and Process Addiction

What is a Behavioural or Process Addiction?

Behavioural addictions are a growing phenomenon, where there is an increasing reliance on certain activities to obtain an emotional high or escape from reality. Individuals can get addicted to activities that we all commonly engage in in our daily lives, and find it difficult to stop engaging in the behaviour. This can include behaviours such as:

  • Over-eating
  • Workaholism
  • Exercise
  • Gaming
  • Internet or smartphone usage
  • Shopping

What contributes to the rise of Behavioural Addictions?

  1. Technological advancements. With the increasing accessibility of information, items and social interaction, it has accustomed many of us to instant gratification and self-soothing, where everyday impulses are quickly and easily satisfied through delivery apps, quick searches or online chats. This weakens our self-control as well as the ability to endure temporary discomfort. Over time, the individual can become habituated to the emotional high or gratification with having their desires fulfilled so seamlessly, thus leading to a cycle of obsessive or compulsive behaviours.
  2. Unrealistic expectations based on inaccurate online impressions. The constant exposure to idealistic images of others’ seemingly perfect lifestyles can affect one’s sense of self-worth and expectations, even if it’s based on a tiny sliver of another’s existence. This can fuel the need to achieve a perfect lifestyle, or to showcase a particular online presence or persona. Not only can this lead to compulsive scrolling and comparison online, but also to depending on excessive behaviour to feel a sense of self-worth, for instance owning expensive items that one does not really want, or overcommitment to work or exercise that begins to infringe on one’s mental health and other aspects of life.
  3. Gamification mechanisms. Designed to elicit continual satisfaction-seeking behaviour, this can contribute to addictive cycles. In addition to being a form of escapism, gaming reward systems can incentivise individuals to keep returning to a particular store, app or activity, and over time lead to habit formation and poorer impulse control even if the individual wishes to discontinue.

Signs and Symptoms of a Behavioural and Process Addiction

  • Feeling guilty or ashamed after engaging in the behaviour, but not being able to stop
  • Easily getting annoyed, nervous or angry, possibly throwing tantrums or being argumentative
  • Experiencing strong impulses to engage in the activity when under stress, experiencing boredom or looking to avoid unpleasant tasks
  • Spending excessive amounts of time thinking about the activity
  • Depending on the behaviour to cope with difficult emotions
  • Experiencing difficulty handling frustration and responsibility
  • Requiring more of the same behaviour to feel satisfied, or feeling distressed when not engaging in the activity
  • Experiencing negative consequences in one’s personal or professional life due to engagement in the activity
  • Neglecting responsibilities or relationships due to the activity
  • Increased financial strain

Indicators of additional risk

  • Depression / Isolation
  • History of trauma, abuse or neglect
  • Other addictions
  • Family members with addictive personalities or histories

Treatment Process

An addiction issue is not just a matter of self-control; addictive disorders involve the physical creation of neural pathways that connect the brain’s reward centres to the individual’s sense of survival, making it harder to break the addiction cycle. However, rest assured that it is a treatable condition.

Treatment by therapists trained in addiction focus on breaking this connection and forming new neural pathways in its place. Psychotherapy can help address not just the process addiction itself, but the underlying factors which may have led to it, thus equipping the individual with better skills and stronger self-awareness to face life’s challenges.

The Intake Assessment (Usually a 1 hour session)

The therapist will take a thorough history of the individual’s issues, circumstances, and family or relationship history, as well as any contextual information which may be helpful and relevant. Thereafter, a formal treatment program will be developed based on the client’s situation and needs, and may entail individual therapy, group counselling or where appropriate, medication. The therapist may also make referrals if needed should there be other risk factors to be addressed.

First Stage of Recovery

A treatment plan will typically span a minimum of 3 months, with the first stage focused on stabilising the individual and addressing underlying factors which have led to, are sustaining or contributing to the condition. A therapist trained in addiction recovery can help the individual understand the factors and triggers underlying their behaviour, and work with them to develop strategies and skills to manage their compulsions.

Second Stage of Recovery

With the client’s consent, family members may also be involved to enable better mutual understanding and a conducive environment beyond the treatment room, as well as to address any negative impact the behaviour has had on relationships. The therapist will work with the individual and loved ones to prepare for potential relapses, and develop longer-term systems and skills to enable them to manage and thrive.

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