Compulsive behavior can have serious consequences that impact important life decisions, so it’s a good idea to learn more about what can be done. While compulsive behavior is an aspect of addiction, the two terms actually describe different problems, which will be covered in more detail below.

Compulsive behavior can be physical, such as repeatedly washing hands or locking doors. It can also be mental, like memorizing telephone books or counting objects. Common compulsive behaviors include shopping, eating, hoarding, checking, sex and gambling. Even the constant seeking of reassurance or approval could be defined as a compulsion.

What is Compulsive Behavior?

Essentially, compulsive behavior can be defined as an action that someone feels compelled to do repeatedly. Although the actions might seem irrational and sometimes lead to negative results, a person experiencing compulsion cannot stop themselves.

When a seemingly harmless behavior begins to become so consuming that it has a negative impact on a person, it could be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Compulsions as a symptom of OCD are typically directly tied to obsessions, which can be defined as repeated distressing thoughts. Compulsions tend to develop to mitigate the anxiety caused by obsessions.

For example, a person who is obsessed with contamination might experience compulsions with excessive cleaning and washing.

Compulsive behaviors generally serve to reduce or prevent the distress of an obsession, at least temporarily. Compulsions could be directly related to a person’s obsession, or they could take the form of actions unrelated to the obsession.

Compulsions Versus Addictions

Although it is common for the terms “compulsion” and “addiction” to be used interchangeably, in reality, they have very different meanings. The key difference lies in that compulsions from addictive behavior lead to feelings of pleasure and a rise in dopamine. In contrast, compulsions in and of themselves only offer a sense of relief.

To understand this more in depth, it’s necessary to explore the overlapping features between the two types of disorders. Addiction is a general term that describes the process of becoming dependent on a specific behavior or substance. Drug abuse, alcoholism, gambling and smoking are among the most common addictions.

On the other hand, compulsion is a more specific term that describes an intense urge to take action. Compulsions play a role within the addiction process. For example, while an addiction is in the stages of development, it typically involves feelings of compulsion towards taking an addictive substance like heroin or alcohol or carrying out addictive behaviors like sex or gambling.

A person suffering from OCD might experience relief from carrying out compulsive behavior, but the behavior doesn’t bring them pleasure. However, a person with an addiction will experience pleasure from their behaviors – at least in the early stages of addiction.

Fortunately, there is hope in terms of healing from addiction, as long as you’re willing to seek and accept professional help. As side effects and symptoms to addiction, sleeping or anxiety disorders are common, so it’s recommended to receive a well-rounded approach to rehabilitation through benzodiazepine treatment in Boston, Massachusetts.

Denial Versus Reality

Another key distinction between compulsive behavior and addiction lies in the acceptance of reality and awareness. A person suffering from OCD might know that their obsessions and compulsions are irrational and excessive.

They could even experience distress at their thoughts and their desires to act on their compulsions. However, they will do it regardless in order to alleviate distress. On the other hand, a person suffering from an addiction typically has cognitive and memory impairment and therefore lacks a certain level of insight.

Often a person who is addicted to something will not realize the negative consequences that are caused by the addiction. This is referred to as denial, and it’s a key feature of the addiction process in the mind. It can be extremely difficult for people with addictions to realize that the behavior or use of a substance is causing issues in their life.

As a result, if an addict can recognize the consequences of their actions, it’s considered a major step towards recovery.

The Takeaway

At the end of the day, while addictions and compulsions are two different concepts, there are several overlaps to be aware of. Essentially, addicts experience compulsions, but not all people struggling with compulsive behaviors are addicts. The key difference is that addiction brings a sense of pleasure, but compulsive behavior only offers relief from distress.




By Anita Gale


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