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Process Addictions in Teens

Teenager with an internet process addiction on their smartphone

Addiction is not restricted to drugs or alcohol. A process addiction, also known as a behavioral addiction, is typically considered to be when someone compulsively partakes in a particular activity or behavior. This addiction makes it difficult for them to stop this behavior and provides an emotional high when they partake in the behavior. People with process addictions will likely continue in the behavior even though it may be detrimental to their well-being. Process addictions are especially common in teens.

What Is a Process Addiction?

A process addiction is an addiction to certain behavior and an inability to stop participating in that behavior. People with process addictions will continue to engage in the behavior even if it is physically, emotionally, socially or financially harmful. Engaging in the behavior leads to a high and causes rewiring of the brain, making it difficult or impossible for the person to stop the behavior. When the behavior is stopped, the person who has the process addiction may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

While process addictions are considered to be addictions by many, they do not meet the medical and psychological criteria for being considered a medical addiction, with the exception of gambling addiction, which is considered to be an addiction in the medical sense. However, many researchers still consider these behavioral addictions worthy of being considered an addiction.

Common Behavioral Addictions

There are several types of behavioral addictions that may be experienced, and some behaviors are more likely to result in process addictions. Some common behavioral addictions include:

  • Sex & love addiction: There is an increase in teens addicted to sex and sexual activities. Someone who spends excessive amounts of time involved in sexual activities or pursuing intercourse may have a sex addiction
  • Video game addiction: While teens typically like to play video games, some teens may engage in video games at the expense of relationships or academics and may allow their future to be disrupted by gaming. Teenage video game addiction treatment can become necessary in these severe cases
  • Food addiction: Many processed or fast foods are created to satisfy the natural cravings in the body. The increasingly appealing content in foods, especially junk food, can lead some people to develop processed food addictions
  • Exercise addiction: While exercise is normally healthy, it does release a chemical in the brain called dopamine and cause a high. This can lead some people to become addicted to exercise and lead them to exercise an unhealthy amount, even when it becomes physically harmful
  • Internet addiction: Teenage internet addiction has become an increasingly prevalent issue with easy access to the internet using smartphones. Someone with an internet addiction compulsively spends time on the internet at the expense of other important areas of their life
  • Porn addiction: Teen porn addiction has become an increasingly prevalent addiction given the easy access to online pornography. Someone with a porn addiction views pornography compulsively at the expense of relationships and other important areas of their life
  • Gambling addiction: Gambling addiction has become more common with online gambling options, and occurs when someone gambles against their better judgment or even when they cannot afford to

There are other actions or behaviors that people may become addicted to, and any behavior could, in theory, become addictive. With the exception of gambling, the term “addiction” is subjective when applied to behaviors and is not a medical term in these instances.

Teen Behavioral Addiction Statistics

4-5% of teens have a gambling addiction, while another 10-14% are considered to be at risk of developing a gambling addiction.

Because the other behavioral addictions are not technically considered addictions in the medical sense, there are no reliable statistics for these behaviors. Without a strict medical definition of what constitutes an addiction versus a problem that might not actually be at the level of an addiction, it would be impossible to collect data on who has an addiction to these behaviors and who simply engages in these behaviors to excess.

As more process addictions become classified as medical addictions and criteria are developed to define what these addictions are, more statistics will likely be available.

Signs & Symptoms of Process Addiction

The only process addiction that can be medically diagnosed is a gambling addiction. To diagnose someone with a gambling addiction, doctors look for four or more of the following signs:

  • Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement
  • Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling
  • Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling
  • Is often preoccupied with gambling
  • Often gambles when feeling distressed
  • After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even
  • Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling
  • Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job or educational or career opportunity because of gambling
  • Relies on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling

A doctor will also rule out other psychiatric conditions that may be causing these signs. A diagnosis of a gambling disorder should only be made by a doctor.

Because none of the other process addictions in the United States are considered to be medical addictions, there is no process for defining what symptoms and signs someone with one of these addictions will have and it is subjective whether someone has an addiction or not. People may be considered to have an addiction by others when the person with the behavior engages in it, even though they have tried to stop or even when it disrupted their normal lives.

How Do Process Addictions Differ from Substance Use Disorders?

In substance use disorders, a drug or alcohol chemically changes the brain and creates a high that leads to addiction. In process addictions, the high occurs from a behavior and the craving that develops is for more of that behavior in the future.

Substance use disorders are considered medical addictions requiring treatment that may involve medications or therapy. Except for gambling addiction, process addictions are not considered true addictions by the medical community, and these addictions may be treated by a therapist or may require interventions by a psychiatric doctor if they are becoming disruptive to everyday life.

Treatment for Process Addictions

Someone who is seeking behavioral addiction treatment should speak with a doctor who specializes in mental health treatments. They will be able to evaluate the severity of the process addiction and will be able to recommend medications and therapies that can help with these addictive tendencies.

These behaviors may be the result of an underlying mental health condition, such as an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or a number of other mental illnesses. Seeking prompt professional advice will provide the best outcome for someone who may have a process addiction.

If you or someone you love is struggling with process addiction, substance abuse or a co-occurring disorder, contact Next Generation Village today to explore treatment options and get the help you deserve.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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