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Process Addictions and Shame

Thanks to COVID, mental health issues are higher than ever. Of course, it was a life changing situation for a lot of people, bringing isolation, stress and lots of situations where people had to re-evaluate their relationships with work and even families and friends.

We all know about addiction, but sometimes we forget about things that aren’t substance addictions. The other type of addiction is called a process addiction, which involves some type of behavior rather than consuming a substance. For example, something like alcoholism (which increased dramatically during COVID as well) is a substance addiction.

Think about things that you perform or do compulsively, rather than consume them. Video games, gambling, pornography, sex, eating. These are all under the heading of process addictions, and can often be just as bad mentally and physically as any other addiction.

The situation with these types of addictions is often they are not noticeable on the surface. The effects of them lie underneath slightly, but like any other issue they create a situation where the addict is possibly losing control over their life somehow.

An example of this would be a gambling addict hiding his addiction from his family – at least until it’s impossible to hide anymore because of debt. A sex addict may act out and cheat on a partner or put themselves into compromising positions, which can make personal relationships or work relationships suffer. The effects are just as devastating, it just may not affect their physical health as much as other areas of their life.

Therefore there is a lot of hidden shame around these actions. Being able to process this shame is an important step in recovery, along with having practical ways to combat impulses.

When I’m working with any addict, it is important to recognize triggers and environments where the chance of acting out with your compulsive behavior is high enough to be what we call a risk environment. However, this may also include even just being alone. There is an acronym we often use to identify main triggers, and it can be condensed into one word: BALT.

This stands for: BORED, ANGRY, LONELY, TIRED.

All of these situations that an addict may find themselves in create a mental space where it’s easy to succumb to an addictive behavior. During COVID times, things like loneliness were extremely high, and stress levels were as well. Being angry and frustrated can cause a situation where you simply want to dull or remove negative thoughts, so you fill them with your addiction. Being bored gives your mind lots of time to get you into trouble. Fatigue can easily lead to a lack of resiliency.

The point of this is to narrow down triggers, and sometimes that means specific situations or even people that an addict should avoid. An example of this might be when a partner or spouse goes away on a business trip – somebody who often acts out when they are lonely needs to make sure they have strategies in place to be around others.

Another strategy I have found works quite well is pretty extreme in today’s world, but it is getting rid of your cell phone, or at least putting it somewhere else. Things like gambling and sex can be found with a simple app on your phone, and not having access to it can make a big difference. In fact, cell phone use is another process addiction that many people have but don’t even realize it.

Shame is something that can easily spiral. We have a trigger – we act out – we feel guilty – we are triggered by the guilt. Being able to interrupt that pattern before it begins and also get into a place where you’re able to talk about your shameful activities is vital towards recovery. Many people I deal with don’t even know why they do things, but once we dig into past behaviors or even things like how they grew up, it can give insight and help them realize that what they are dealing with is controllable.

With mental health there are so many factors that can come into play. Having someone on your side who can break down your situation and help to manage it is important. If you know anybody with a process addiction, I welcome you to send them to my web site and see if I might be somebody that can help them improve their situation.

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