It is commonly understood at this point that addictions now comprise a broader set of addictive issues than compulsive and self-destructive use of drugs and alcohol. Beyond the addiction to various chemical substances, including tobacco, alcohol, opiates, cocaine, met amphetamines, barbiturates and others, the public is increasingly aware of several behavioral addictions that can be equally harmful as their chemical counterparts.
Behavioral addictions are often referred to as process addictions because a specific set of psycho-social dynamics usually shapes each behavior. But the effect is the same, and the similarities to chemical dependence are absolute and complete. A gambling addiction can be just as hard to stop and just as dangerous as heroin addiction. Both lead to financial problems, relationship problems, legal problems, and even death. Gambling addictions can lead to suicide rather than an overdose, but you can still end up in a graveyard if the addiction isn’t stopped in time.
The same definition and the same rules apply to a behavioral addiction as they do to a chemical addiction. The criteria for each include the following:
- The inability to stop even after the decision to do so has been made
- The continuation of activity despite the negative consequences, whether they are financial, social, work-related, legal or tied to relationship issues
Process addiction also fit the same disease-model definition that chemical addictions do. You may consider this definition a convenience or a metaphor, or you may call this a scientific reality. Either way, the correlation remains intact. Chemical and behavioral addictions both include these disease model realities:
- There is a prognosis to the problem that says the addiction will not go away unless intervention or treatment is provided
- There is a marked difference in brain chemistry that makes stopping the behavior or chemical use impossible without intervention
- The prognosis includes jail, financial ruin, social isolation, and even death if the disease goes unchecked
- The disease is considered chronic, which is to say that even if the addiction is stopped, the danger of relapse is never entirely ended and relapse means a fast return to peak addiction behaviors
The bottom line:
The bottom line definition of addiction also fits both chemical and behavioral addictions. This definition is simply this: An addiction is a pathological relationship to a mood-altering substance or behavior.
With this in mind, the definition of addiction fits any number of human activities from jogging to computers to smoking marijuana to drinking alcohol. As such, smoking marijuana may not create a chemical dependency, but it can fit the definition of a behavioral addiction if the user has said it is time to stop, but cannot follow through on that desire.
While there are many process addictions, the more common ones in modern society reflect the options for mood-altering experience available to people today. The ones most often listed include:
This includes addictions to pornography, prostitution, the pursuit of children or minors, and visiting strip clubs. Frequently, the mood-altering thrill of illicit sex starts with small risks – pornography. Over time it develops into increasing risks as the initial “high” takes increasing risks to reach the same effect.
High thrill games, including pinball (in the old days) and digital video games today, provide intense experiences, including rushes of pleasure from certain behaviors or outcomes. This can lead to addictions. In fact, many games designed for smartphones are now advertised based on their addictive properties, many of which are advertised as “The Most Addictive Game Ever!”
Shopping seems like a harmless enough addiction, but it can lead to financial stress and ruined relationships. Despite the negative consequences, many people find it impossible to stop binge spending.
Like shopping, it doesn’t seem possible that exercise can have negative consequences. The more you exercise, the healthier you are. Isn’t that right? Well, not always. You can overdo it. You can also go so far that the negatives outweigh the positives.
Gambling provides a lot of disappointments, but then, when you win, what an adrenaline rush! Gambling is one of humanity’s oldest addictions.