Chemical and Process Addictions – Simalarities

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By Terence. T. Gorski

Addictions can be organized around different triggers that activate the Core Addiction Syndrome. These activating triggers have one  thing in common – they activate an addictive brain response. This means that the brain is flooded the brain with pleasure chemicals that create a unique sense of euphoria while being inhibiting form producing warning chemicals which cause the feelings of stress, anxiety, fear, and panic.: As a result when people expose themselves to addictive triggers, their brain responds with an addictive brain response which positively reinforces them to keep hitting the addictive trigger. When people stop hitting the addictive trigger they experience dysphoria,  The triggers for the addictive brain response can be classified into two major groups:

  • Chemical Addictions to mind/brain altering substances (which include alcohol, illegal/illicit drugs, prescription medications, and over-the-counter medication)
  • Process Addictions to mind/brain altering behaviors (which includes food, sex, gambling, work, and money).

A large number of people switch from one addiction to another. This often goes unnoticed because of problems with language. Most people, even most professionals, think only of chemical addictions when they hear or read the word addiction. Many people describe process addictions as compulsions or else describe them in the contet of DSM using words like sexual disorders, eating disorders, etc. The idea of a process addiction doesn’t even come into mind.

Most people have an addiction of choice. In other words, they receive treatment for a chemical addiction, and then in sobriety, they crossover or migrate to another addiction, often a process addiction. The negative consequences of the process addiction causes pain and problems in “sobriety” that can lead back to the use mind/brain altering chemicals. This progression of pain and problems in sobriety are often called Early Relapse Warning Signs.

The switching of addiction –from chemical to process and then back to chemical –is a common but not universal phenomena. This raises the questions of whether chemical dependent people with a process addiction have independent and co-existing disorders, or if there is an underlying core addiction syndrome that drives them both. This is, of course, black-and-white thinking, which is not always helpful. Perhaps chemical addictions and process addiction share some things in common yet have significant difference.  This is a reasonable position, especially in light of a long history in the addiction field of defining different types of addiction.

Let’s begin by looking at some things that chemical and process addictions share in common. This will allow us, in the next blog, to look at the differences between the two. For the purpose article the shared characterizes will be called The Core Addiction Syndrome. The critical differences will be described in the next blog as Addiction Specific Symptoms.

The features of the Core Addiction Syndrome are:

1,. Need driven use (The person feels a strong and sometimes uncontrollable urge or desire to use the drug or the behavior.)

2. Euphoric response when the chemical or behavior is used.

3. Tolerance (It takes more and more of the chemical or behavior to get the release of the euphoria).

4. Dependence (People come to rely on the chemical or the behavior in order to function or get relieve from pain.)

5. Pattern 0f Compulsive Us leading to social or occupational dysfunction or severe subjective distress.

6. Repeated failure to stop using of the addictive chemicals and behaviors.

7. Denial, resistance and psychological defenses.

8. Shame, Guilt, Acting Normal: Attempts to hide the chemical or process addiction I order to appear normal. The addiction is usual drive by shame, guilt, and stigma based upon a personal and social lack of understanding the disorder.

These traits can be summarized as using for relief, dependence, obsession compulsion, addiction seeking behavior, using in spite of commitments not to, low self-esteem and self- efficacy.

The next blog will explore the idea of significant difference between chemical addiction and process addictions.

Terence T. (Terry) Gorski

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4 Responses to Chemical and Process Addictions – Simalarities

  1. In my personal experience, food is an interesting addiction. I think there are 3 facets to it: 1) the chemical addiction to certain substances in food (for me it’s sugar) 2) the process addiction to the activities around food – looking at cookbooks, shopping for the freshest food and cooking (of course degree and times are the determinants with this) and 3) the addiction to quantity and the resulting feeling of being full. So many of my clients have more than one of these elements of food addiction.

    • Terry Gorski says:

      Food addiction is also caused by the way food is manufactured to keep you hungry and want more. It is scandal worse than cigarettes. The obesity epidemic is caused by food additives that make people want to buy and eat more junk foods. It’s hard to find anything worth eating in the grocery store. The least expensive foods are the least nutritious and the most addictive. Welcome to the modern world.

  2. Margherite Williams says:

    In my experience power is the most subtle and pernicious process addiction. It is referenced in 12-Step groups as “hostage taking” and “self-willing results” in politically correct, but not necessarily core components of an addictive syndrome. The saddest examples I’ve seen in working with newcomers and sponsees is that depression and suicide have regularly followed letting go of power-driven behavior.

    p.s. My obsessive internal editor wants you to fix the typo in your headline – “similarities”, not “simalarities”.

  3. mw says:

    I like what you have to say it makes logical sense. I picked up a legal glass of wine 5 years ago while going through a difficult divorce. I never dreamed right now that have alcohol addiction. What is the best line of defense? AA? Have been going there. I am very scared.

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