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There is a common misconception that addiction must involve a physical dependence on one or more substances. Nevertheless, addiction can occur in many forms, which are typically divided into two categories: substance addiction and process addiction, also known as a behavioral addiction. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines addiction as “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.” The critical difference between substance addiction and behavioral addiction is that process addictions do not involve a physical dependence on a substance. Research shows process addictions mirror substance use addictions in their comorbidity, symptom presentation, neurobiological mechanism, and response to treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

An individual struggling with a process addiction will experience various negative effects that have been caused specifically by continued, elevated or chronic engagement in the behavior. Some of the most common symptoms of behavioral addiction include, but are not limited to the following examples, provided by Verywell Mind:

  • Spending most of the time engaging in the behavior, thinking about, or arranging to engage in the behavior, or recovering from the effects of the behavior
  • Relying on the behavior to cope with difficult emotions and feelings
  • Neglecting work, school, or family to engage in the behavior more frequently
  • Developing a tolerance to the behavior, so that the individual needs to increase the frequency or intensity of the behavior to continue to achieve pleasure and fulfillment from it
  • Reduced ability to control the behavior
  • Having trouble cutting back despite wanting to stop
  • Minimizing or hiding the extent of the problem
  • Continuing despite physical and/or mental harm
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal (for example, depression or irritability) when trying to stop

Process addiction involves an overwhelming impulse to engage in a certain behavior despite negative consequences. When the behavior is abruptly stopped or avoided, an individual with a process addiction will experience withdrawal symptoms (e.g., anxiety, irritability, depression, etc.).


The primary feature of process addictions is “the failure to resist an impulse, drive, or temptation to perform an act that is harmful to the person or to others.” Each behavioral addiction is characterized by this recurrent pattern of behaviors within a specific domain. Examples of common behavioral addictions include:

The current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), has been updated to include a process addiction category. However, the only DSM-5 behavioral addiction currently listed is gambling disorder. Although a person with a process addiction will continue to partake in a behavior despite the adverse outcomes that it may cause, which is a hallmark of addictions, many behavioral addictions still need to be officially classified as mental health disorders.


Further Information and Support

Navigating the challenges that arise from living with mental illness, struggling with substance abuse, and/ or addiction can not only be all-consuming but are often impossible to effectively handle without proper support. If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding mental illness, substance abuse, and/ or addiction we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. Bear in mind that you do not have to be on this journey alone. At Upwell Advisors, we offer unique, customized concierge therapeutic services to provide our clients with unparalleled support throughout every step of the recovery process.

If left untreated, substance abuse, addiction, and/ or mental illness can result in long-lasting and potentially life-threatening consequences. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. Please do not hesitate to reach out for guidance. We welcome the opportunity to discuss how we might best be able to help you or your loved one in the recovery process.

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