Process addictions are largely misunderstood. Many people are under a false impression that an addiction has to be to a substance, such as alcohol or drugs, and that any other compulsive behaviors must simply be a bad habit. This is not the case. Addiction can apply to a process, or a behavior, just as easily as it can to a physical substance. The addiction may be to gambling, to sex, to internet browsing or to any number of other activities. What is difficult for people to grasp is that the addictive activity actually gives the addict the same high that an addictive substance would to a substance addict.
The way that process addictions work is as follows. When the addict discovers that a certain action or series of actions that they take gives them immense pleasure, their brains make a particular note of how that pleasure was achieved so that they can return to the process repeatedly. The scientific explanation of their pleasure feeling is the brain chemical dopamine. This chemical is released in the brain every time a person experiences pleasure. The interesting part is there is very little difference between the dopamine release achieved through substance use and the dopamine release achieved through acting on a process. Though people’s addictions are diverse, what they are addicted to on a chemical level is dopamine, and there is equal potential for addiction to substances and to processes.
Process addictions, like substance addictions, are more harmless when they begin than they are when they have really taken a hold of a person’s life. A severe process addiction can jeopardize a person’s finances, health, relationships and vocations. For instance, say someone is addicted to shopping online – the combination of an internet addiction and a shopping addiction. They are going to wreck their finances with their inability to control their spending. They are going to isolate themselves from their relationships due to their undependable nature. They are going to damage their posture and their muscles sitting in front of a computer screen constantly. And they are going to lose respect of their colleagues because of their mental unhealthiness.