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Published: November, 2008; Vol 5, Num 6

 

Sex, Gambling, Food, Shopping and the Internet –

What’s the Problem?

By Jamie Becker

This is the last article in a three-part series. Last month focused on substance addictions, drugs and alcohol.

This new poster from the LHSFNA Health Promotion Division can be ordered online.

Sex, gambling, food, shopping and Internet addictions are known as process addictions. These addictive behaviors can be as debilitating as those associated with substance addictions.

The behavior of people with process addictions is comparable to that of alcoholics and drug addicts, with the behavior serving the same functions as the alcohol or drugs. Like substance addicts, process addicts' lives rotate around the constant desire for their "drug" of choice and an inability to reduce or control their desire. Over time, the addict has to intensify the addictive behavior to achieve the same results.

The behavior usually begins when people are trying to deal with some kind of stress, depression or boredom.  When they try one of these behaviors, they experience exhilaration, and that eases their discomfort.  Afterwards, they associate the behavior with relief and pleasure.  So, they do it again.  Every time they feel discomfort, they seek out the behavior that makes them feel better.  Some people get addicted very rapidly, and some take much longer to lose control. These individuals often have poor coping skills and unmet needs.

Just like a substance addiction, a process addiction usually starts out small, and people who suffer from such addictions often have an illusion of self control. That's part of the denial.

Process addictions can also be very harmful and may be linked with a social stigma. Chronic gambling and spending, for example, can generate large amounts of debt and eventually lead to bankruptcy. Compulsive eating can lead to health problems and a host of psychological problems, in addition to being very expensive. The consequences of sex addiction are not just emotional, but can continue into medical, financial and legal realms as well.

The advent of the Internet has contributed to an increase in process addictions. The ease of access to gambling and gaming sites, retailers, pornography and chat rooms has greatly increased the chance that what might once have been merely an occasional diversion will now turn into a destructive habit. For example, many couples now find one partner’s viewing of online pornography or participation in chat rooms a time-consuming distraction that is a detriment to their relationship. The Internet is forcing us to redefine when certain behaviors become problematic and at what point they become addictions. 

Process addictions are real, and we suggest seeking support if your life is impacted by your own or someone else’s addiction.  Most process addictions generally require mental health treatment.

You may have a process addiction if any of the following are occurring due to a particular behavior:

  • Neglecting work or family to engage in the behavior
  • Feeling guilty about engaging in the behavior
  • Feeling out of control with the behavior
  • Engaging in the behavior to escape worries
  • Being secretive about the behavior
  • Thinking or talking about the behavior constantly
  • Increasing the amount of time spent on the behavior in order to achieve satisfaction

Help Resources:

Fortunately, many help resources are available in most communities and within the Laborers’ Union that can help. The following resources are examples of help that may be available:*

  • Laborers’ Member Assistance Program (MAP)
  • Labor Assistance Programs (peer-based assistance through the union)
  • Self-help groups
  • Outpatient counseling
  • Day treatment programs
  • Residential programs

Following is a list of self-help groups with their websites. These groups tend to be a good resource for people interested in getting help.

[Jennifer E. Jones]

*Each LIUNA Health and Welfare Fund determines the extent of programs as well as the mental health and substance abuse benefits available to its participants. We encourage you to follow-up with your health and welfare fund or to call the phone number on your insurance card to learn more about your benefits.