Parenting in the digital age is no easy task. It comes with its own host of challenges. With the ever-expanding world of technology, there is no surprise that at the forefront of every parent’s mind is the wellbeing of their child's mental health. While we often hear about teenage substance addiction, there's another aspect of behavioral health that's finally gaining recognition: process addictions. Understanding what it is and how it affects your teenager is vital for parents who want to support their children in today's fast-paced world.
What is a Process Addiction?
Also known as behavioral addictions, process addictions are characterized by compulsive behaviors that, while providing a short-term reward, ultimately harm the individual's physical and emotional health, damage interpersonal relationships, and can even cause legal or financial problems. Process addictions differ from substance addictions in that they revolve around activities or behaviors instead of drugs or alcohol. For many teens process addictions manifest in the following ways:
- Gaming Addiction: Spending too much time online or involved in online games. While it may provide temporary escapism and fun, it can lead to social isolation, academic struggles, and exacerbate underlying social anxieties and depression. In severe cases, gaming addiction has led to medical complications due to lack of sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition.
- Social Media Addiction: Feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, anxiety, and depression are fueled by constant scrolling and comparison on social media platforms. Using social media provides an instant gratification dopamine hit which causes a lowered baseline level of dopamine when not on social media.
- Internet Addiction: Spending all their time browsing the internet or compulsively online shopping can strain real-life relationships, hinder responsibilities, and lead to financial issues.
- Gambling Addiction: While legally restricted for teens, the rise of online gambling platforms and online sports betting has made accessibility easier. Gambling is one of the most financially ruinous process addictions around and can lead to intense emotional distress.
- Eating Disorders: While not always recognized as a process addiction, binge eating or compulsive overeating involve addictive behaviors and can harm both physical and mental health.
Process Addictions Impact on Teen’s Mental Health
- Negative Self-Esteem: A lot of teens already struggle with self-esteem and self-confidence. Constant engagement in addictive behavior doesn’t feel good and can increase feelings of worthlessness. This effect is amplified when comparing themselves to others online and with social media.
- Social Withdrawal: Growing up is a difficult time. Finding a means of escapism can appear to be a relief but the addictive behaviors that led to that retreat from real-life can fuel loneliness. Spend enough time chasing escapism and you’ll forget how to forge genuine connections with other humans.
- Academic Decline: Whether a process addiction or a substance addiction, obsessive and compulsive behaviors rarely equal an increased ability to perform academically or otherwise. Teenagers caught in the grip of a process addiction regularly see their grades slip, attendance in class drop, and overall educational motivation nose down.
- Mood Disorders: Process addictions can be a form of self-medication. These addictions are often intertwined with mood disorders like anxiety and depression. The addictive behavior gives some relief to the mental health issue and creates a cycle of continued downward progress.
- Family Conflict: Excessive screen time and withdrawal from family life can strain relationships, leading to conflicts and breakdowns in communication.
Supporting Your Teen Through Process Addiction
Here’s how you can take proactive steps to support your teen:
- Open Communication: Foster a safe space for open, honest, and vulnerable communication. Encourage your teenager to talk openly about their experiences, feelings, fears, and dreams. If appropriate, relay some of your experience growing up as a teenager and how you can relate to what they’re going through. Offer support and understanding over judgment or blame.
- Set Boundaries: Get ahead of the problem and establish clear and firm boundaries around screen time, internet usage, and healthy body image expectations. Lead by example. We’d all benefit from less time online and more time in person.
- Seek Professional Help: It’s okay to admit when you’re out of your comfort zone. If your child’s process addiction is causing significant distress or concern, seek the guidance of a mental health professional who specializes in adolescent addiction and treatment.
- Encourage Alternative Activities: If you’re concerned about how your teenager is spending their time, encourage hobbies that explore physical activity, social connection, creativity, and provide healthier outlets for stress relief and relaxation.
- Promote Self-Care: As an adult I wish I’d been taught self-care practices earlier in life. Teaching your teens about the importance of getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly can help them naturally manage stress and improve their mental health.
If you believe your teenager is struggling with a process addiction, consider reaching out to Sustain Recovery. Our adolescent dual-diagnosis treatment program was designed with your child in mind. We are a family-focused program whose founders were once in your position with their own children. Call Sustain Recovery today and find beyond better adolescent treatment.