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Addiction Ain’t Just for Junkies

You know about Alcoholism. And probably familiar with Drug Addiction. So let us introduce you to Process Addictions. Read on for an overview of these sneaky compulsive "isms" wrecking homes across the land.

Alcoholism as a Medical Disease

Even though the American Medical Association categorized Alcoholism as a medical disease in 1956, it has taken us a lonnnnnnggg time in the general public to even begin to accept and understand this concept. Unfortunately, many people don’t fully understand. That’s ok. We’ll just have to keep talking about it and spreading the word that alcohol addiction cannot be cured. It can’t be stopped by willpower alone. (Although there are instances where addicts do stop using alcohol on their own. However, we find that unless this individual is also receiving support to heal their thoughts, feelings, and actions, the addictive behavior only transforms itself into something else destructive. Key phrase: “Dry Drunk” = pervasively cranky abstaining person who only quit using and never changed anything on their insides.)

So yes, Alcoholism is a medical disease. Incurable, progressive, chronic, primary, and left untreated, Fatal. “Primary” means addiction is not a secondary problem “caused” by another problem, such as a mental health issue. Mental health problems, poor friend choices, and unfortunate upbringings do not cause addiction. Although these factors do mix together to increase the chances someone will abuse substances. In short, Alcoholism is self-caused. It needs its own course of treatment, regardless of whatever co-occurring factors may be present. Accepting that alcoholism is a disease facilitated advances in treatment and reduced shame and stigma, thus reducing some barriers to treatment.

Substance Addictions and Consequences

Ok, so now that we’ve got that straight, lets slide over to other drugs. Just like our societal resistance to treating alcoholism as a disease, our nation was also resistant to addressing the opioid crisis, which has been on a sharp rise and has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives since the late 1990’s. Delaying large-scale measures to address a large-scale problem only delayed a collective prevention and treatment effort to save lives and their families.

So far, we’re just talking about substance addictions and the consequences to the individual using. There is So. Much. More. We can’t even get into it all in this piece. But, what about “process addictions”? What is a “process addiction” and how does it impact the addict and his/her family, friends, kids, spouse friends, coworkers, boss, etc.?

What is a Process Addiction

A “process addiction” functions the same way as a substance addiction: it is a behavior that a person engages in excessively and compulsively to alleviate mood. Not a big deal, right? A little video gaming never hurt anyone, right? Well, a “little” video gaming is not addictive. However, the gaming addict repeatedly spends excessive time playing the game at the expense of personal health, finances, personal responsibilities, relationships, and work or school performance. Process addictions are also progressive, chronic, and primary. They are “incurable” in the sense that a person typically cannot return to casual use of the behavior without significant intervention. Like a substance abuser, a process addict also cannot reliably stop and “stay stopped” on his or her own without outside help.

And process addictions are just as painful and destructive. We see spouses in tears because of untreated porn or gaming addiction. We see teenagers so angry and detached because they’ve grown up subject to the turmoil of a love addicted parent. We see parents distraught because their grown children aren’t motivated to move out.

To this parent’s dismay, we focus on the parent’s own process addiction of codependency that is contributing to their grown child’s “failure to launch”. We see people stressed the “F” out, working themselves to death under false beliefs that they will never have enough or never be enough. How long must people endure this suffering?

Ahhhhhh!!!!! So many vices!!!!!!!

How Addiction Disrupts Life

So here’s the point I want to get to: addictive behavior is jacking up our homes, our marriages, our kids, and our families. We are seeing it regularly in clients we treat at SoulSpring Counseling. We see food addiction disrupt emotional and physical intimacy and sends our addict client into a secret life of shame. There are process addicts struggling all around us, wreaking havoc on themselves and their relationships.

I will say it again, most addicts cannot experience sustained change without outside help. Therapy with a counselor trained in addiction is a great start.

Let us not scorn, shame, or ignore process addictions for the next 20+ years like we did with alcohol or narcotic addiction. Let’s learn from the mistakes of previous ignorance and get open now about the impact of process addictions on families. Online addictions of all types are festering in homes all around us. It’s just a matter of time until the secret behavior in front of a screen becomes the obvious reason why a family breaks apart. Let’s not just sit here in chosen ignorance and do nothing. Let’s start to take action now.

Even though I am a therapist, in my experience the best way an addict finds long term relief is through the often misunderstood and often maligned value of 12 Step fellowships plus therapy plus psychiatry plus lots of other helpful ancillary interventions. If you or someone you know may be struggling with a process addiction, here are some resources that can help:

These problems represent most, but not all, of the compulsive behaviors we see in outpatient counseling. Of course, we would be remiss if we did not mention the “Mothership”, Alcoholics Anonymous, and its sister program, Narcotics Anonymous. However, the purpose of this blog is to highlight the sneaky destructiveness of process addictions and where to start to get more information.

For Loved Ones of an Addict

One final suggestion before I close….If you have grown up in a home characterized by addiction or other dysfunction, chances are you are struggling greatly with your own cluster of addictive or dysfunctional behavior. May I refer you to the 12 Step Fellowship that I believe underlies most other addictions:

Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families: This fellowship is for anyone who wishes to recover from the effects of growing up in such a home. Many people, even those who have recovery in other fellowships, have said that they never experienced such an emotionally freeing and lasting recovery until they joined ACA. Look it up. See if it fits?

There are no quick fixes to recovery. It is an inside job that requires a lot of outside help. It takes time. It is the cumulation of many small changes over time. But recovery from ALL addictions is possible. Go check out any one of these fellowships and listen to the stories. People all around us are making it out of the chains of addiction. If you think you may be struggling, you can find a way out too. Check out a fellowship and if you want some extra help, give your favorite therapist a call. We at SoulSpring are down for it. Take our number -- (561) 223-8203 -- and call us when you are ready ;-)


Thank you so much to #teamsoulspring counselor Wynne Stallings for her contributions to the content of this article.


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