Chemical Addiction vs Process/Behavioral Addiction

Dr. Patrick Carnes is the founder of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) and Gentle Path Press. His extensive background in the field of addiction therapy led him to develop multiple cutting-edge recovery programs and specialize in sexual addiction.

In this video, he breaks down the difference between chemical addictions and process/behavior addictions (gambling addictions, eating disorders, and sexual addictions).

Both addictions tap into the same parts of the brain by using the same chemicals (ie: dopamine). 

Dr. Carnes explains that addictions involving food and sex are far more challenging to recover from because:

  • The brain categorizes these items (food & sex) 20% faster because they are imperative to our survival. We need both of them in order to survive as a human race. 
  • Both are “sensate,” meaning they appeal to our senses in a unique way in which the presentation of the item is important to the addict (unlike chemical addictions). Ultimately, food and sex are regarded as two of the toughest addictions to recover from due to how they are wired. 
  • They are both connected to trauma and/or sexual abuse. 

Ultimately, all addictions are based out of fear to one extent or another. If you or someone you know is suffering from any type of addiction, seek support!

Dr. Carnes discusses in a second video the importance of establishing safety in order for the brain to be capable of change. This can occur faster by implementing the following things: 

  • Attend local AA, NA, SA meetings in your area. This creates a safe environment with others who have experienced the same struggle. It is important in these meetings to work through the steps, gain a sponsor, and participate in service work.
  • Working with a counselor individually who has experience in working with addiction.
  • Attending group therapy.

Written by: Betty Gebhardt