Differentiating between a Substance Addiction and Process Addiction

Because the chemical processes that occur during the activities of a process addiction are similar to the chemical processes that occur during substance abuse, it is challenging to differentiate between the two. Although there are similarities, there are also clearly defined differences. Substance addiction occurs from the abuse of alcohol, drugs, or any mind altering substance. Process addiction occurs from engaging in activities or behaviors and is not dependent upon substances.

What is a Process Addiction?

A process addiction is a condition in which a person is dependent upon an activity or behavior, such as sexual activity, overeating, gambling, or shopping. The reward or relief a person gets from engaging in one of the activities listed above is what he compulsively pursues, despite negative consequences. Process addiction does not involve any addictive chemicals or substances. However, there are chemical processes which occur during the activity which are similar to chemical changes that take place during substance abuse. (Smith, 2012). Process addictions are often overlooked or overshadowed by substance addictions as not being “real” addictions. This is unfortunate as the negative consequences of process addictions are no less than the consequences of substance addictions. Negative consequences include everything from loss of significant other, home, or family to loss of self-esteem, confidence, job, or money.