Because the chemical processes that occur during the activities of a process addiction are similar to the chemical processes that occur during substance abuse, it is challenging to differentiate between the two. Although there are similarities, there are also clearly defined differences. Substance addiction occurs from the abuse of alcohol, drugs, or any mind altering substance. Process addiction occurs from engaging in activities or behaviors and is not dependent upon substances.

A process addiction is a condition in which a person is dependent upon an activity or behavior, such as sexual activity, overeating, gambling, or shopping. The reward or relief a person gets from engaging in one of the activities listed above is what he compulsively pursues, despite negative consequences. Process addiction does not involve any addictive chemicals or substances. However, there are chemical processes which occur during the activity which are similar to chemical changes that take place during substance abuse. (Smith, 2012). Process addictions are often overlooked or overshadowed by substance addictions as not being “real” addictions. This is unfortunate as the negative consequences of process addictions are no less than the consequences of substance addictions. Negative consequences include everything from loss of significant other, home, or family to loss of self-esteem, confidence, job, or money.

Substance addiction is the repetitive use of mind-altering substances, despite negative consequences, which can produce a feeling of pleasure, relaxation, or relieve negative feelings. Mind-altering substances include alcohol, drugs, and any other substances that alter a person’s state of mind. As use and abuse continues to progress, the effects of using substances diminishes and more drugs or alcohol are needed to achieve the same feeling of pleasure, reward, or relief. Vulnerability to substance addiction depends upon the individual and his genes, the environment, and social factors. The more risk factors present is a person’s life, the more likely that substance use will result in addiction. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, genetic factors account for up to 60% of an individual’s susceptibility to addiction. (SUBSTANCE USE, ABUSE AND ADDICTION: PART 1 OF 2, 2012). According to Alcoholics Anonymous, substance addiction is a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease.

The Genetic Model of addiction is a biological model. It is a medical approach which supports the fact that people are predisposed to develop an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Although it has never been proven that genetics are the cause of alcoholism or drug addiction, there is a strong positive correlation between the two. For instance, it has been found that adopted children more closely resemble their biological parents than their adoptive parents when it comes to alcohol consumption and use. If a parent is an alcoholic, their child is seven times more likely to have an addictive personality than the child of a non-alcoholic parent. Studies of twins, adopted children, kids of alcoholic fathers, and animals all supported the idea that addiction is a genetically based disorder leading to a susceptibility to developing the disease of alcoholism or drug addiction. (Margolis, 2011)

The Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) was started in 1989 by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The COGA has changed their focus from attempting to determine whether or not genetics plays a part in addictive behavior to figuring out which specific genes are responsible. In other words, according to COGA genetics do play a part in addictive behavior. (Margolis, 2011)

Margolis, R. D., & Zweben, J. E. (2011). Models and theories of addiction. In , Treating patients with alcohol and other drug problems: An integrated approach (2nd ed.) (pp. 27-58). American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/12312-002

The Personality Theory Model is a psychological model. It attributes the causes of alcoholism and substance abuse addiction to a person’s personality traits. Generally speaking, alcoholics are selfish, self-seeking, dependent, immature, impulsive, emotional, controlling, and intolerant. The assumption is that alcoholics have certain personality traits and that the resolution of alcoholism requires a restructuring of the personality. (Choosing a Model of Addiction, 2004). The Personality Theory Model overlaps the Twelve Step approach to recovery in many ways. According to the Twelve Step approach of Alcoholics Anonymous, drinking is only a symptom of the disease of alcoholism. Through working the Twelve Steps, an alcoholic changes their personality from the inside. This includes believing that one’s life has become unmanageable, surrendering to a Higher Power, doing one’s inventory, asking God to remove defects of character, making amends and clearing away the wreckage of the past, conscious contact with God, and giving back. In the rooms of AA, if a person does not go through the steps and change their personality, they are said to be a “dry drunk”. I have personally witnessed the personality change that occurs when a person works a solid Twelve Step Program. Working the Twelve Steps causes a person to be outward focused, present, more mature and last but not least, the obsession to drink and do drugs is removed. Working the Twelve Steps leads to the pathway of becoming happy, joyous, and free.


Chapter TWO: CHOOSING A MODEL OF ADDICTION. (2004). Addictions Counseling (pp. 20-28). Crossroad Publishing Company.