Differences Between Compulsion and Addiction

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Compulsive behaviors and addictions often co-exist and share similar characteristics: they start as normal activities but later become problematic. Therefore, it is important for individuals struggling with these debilitating disorders to seek help.

Addiction vs. Compulsion

The term ‘compulsion’ describes the intense urge to do something. Often, compulsions produce a negative emotional or psychological impact on the individual who engages in compulsive behaviors. People with a compulsion present symptoms associated with obsessive thoughts. These obsessive thoughts unfold in behavior, beliefs, and intentions that motivate compulsive behavior. Often, compulsions manifest themselves as a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Compulsion in OCD often creates varying obsessions. These obsessions lead to repeated thoughts that generate anxiety in someone suffering from OCD. These thoughts often involve irrational ideas and actions. Some common compulsive or OCD behaviors include:

  • Compulsive washing (e.g., pulling out a wet wipe after touching anything)
  • Compulsive cleaning (e.g., compulsively scrubbing one’s bathroom until all the walls are clean and shiny)
  • Compulsive shopping (e.g., buying items in the most expensive or perfect packaging)

Now, addiction or SUD refers to the process of a person developing an increased chemical dependence on a particular substance or behavior. The intensity of such a dependence interferes with their relationships, careers, health, and other aspects of their life. Yet, despite these ramifications, individuals with a behavioral addiction or SUD persist in repeating these behaviors or actions.

Notably, addictions and compulsions share a bond. When addiction develops, the urge for compulsive acts intensifies. For example, a person with a SUD often holds profound cravings or compulsions to return to that substance. With such a powerful compulsion following them, these individuals return to using substances like alcohol or heroin or carrying out an addictive behavior, like gambling or shopping. They repeatedly engage in these obsessions without thinking about the consequences.

Consequences of Compulsions and SUD

Both disorders hold detrimental consequences to a person’s well-being. One study found that those who commit compulsive acts report higher levels of social isolation, distrust of others, and lower levels of subjective well-being. These people with OCD or issues with compulsions report higher levels of perfectionism, interpersonal difficulties, and social isolation. The consequences of addiction or SUD vary, too. Because of these consequences, SUD requires great effort to overcome.
Essentially, these compulsions and addictions produce the following negative consequences:

  • Physical or mental health problems
  • Ruining your finances
  • Decreased productivity
  • Isolation
  • Damage to relationships

Seeking More Control Vs. a High

An individual with OCD or issues with compulsions does not seek pleasure from compulsions. On the contrary, many individuals with OCD view their compulsions as particularly distressing. As a mental disorder, OCD causes people to think obsessively about a specific fear or worry. Like compulsions, OCD stems from the brain’s desire to control circumstances, people, one-self, etc. Essentially, compulsions relieve the brain’s need for reassurance, especially regarding uncertainty. Uncertainty often increases stress and anxiety in people. Yet, the compulsions often help to ease that anxiety, providing a temporary feeling of control over the situation.

With SUD, the brain seeks a high or dopamine hit from the substance. In the case of SUD, the stimuli equate to using substances like drugs or alcohol.  Consuming said substance creates a chemical reaction in the brain that will make them feel euphoria or high. This rush helps people escape from reality and the pain they feel in their lives.  With greater amounts of dopamine released in their system, the craving to use substances intensifies even more so for these individuals.

Although SUD and compulsion offer momentary escapes, they provide it through different means and for different reasons. Compulsions provide relief by giving the individual the reaffirming their sense of control, especially over their lives. The person with a SUD seeks an escape through pleasure. They use the pleasure of being high to cope with or avoid emotional pain, mental health issues, challenging circumstances, etc. Yet, both can cause emotional distress, physical pain, or inability to handle situations. Both are problematic to a person’s well-being and call for treatment.

Treatment and Restoration Recovery Center

There are several options for treatment. This may include psychological counseling and medication, and behavioral treatments. Several nonpharmacological therapies, such as stress management, mindfulness, and self-awareness training, can help one manage compulsions and OCD. In addition, one can turn to behavioral therapies like dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat compulsive behavior, OCD, or SUD. At Restoration Recovery Center, we treat your SUD and other co-occurring disorders like anxiety, depression, trauma, OCD, or compulsions. Our treatment program includes DBT, CBT, trauma therapy, and other holistic therapies. We hope we can help you through this journey.

Most individuals struggling with compulsive behaviors or substance use disorder use them as a means to cope.  Compulsions or SUD often points to an underlying issue in said individuals’ life. Perhaps that individual is dealing with intense anxiety, depressions, loneliness, trauma, physical pain, or mental issues.  Unfortunately, they may turn their compulsions or substance use to gambling, sex, alcohol, or drugs. They use these substances or behaviors for relief, pleasure, or control of their emotions, mental health, or life in general. Seeking treatment can help them with life using healthy tools and behaviors. At Restoration Recovery, we want to help you overcome the challenges and find relief from SUD and comorbidities like OCD or compulsions. As a part of our compassionate and effective treatment program, we offer high-quality treatment options, including DBT, CBT, trauma therapy, and more. We specialize in residential and outpatient services. To learn more about our treatment program, contact us at (888) 290-0925.

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