The Difference Between Compulsion and Addiction

Many people use the terms compulsion and addiction interchangeably to describe either their or another person’s behavior, however, they are not the same thing. The interchangeable use of these terms also causes confusion with those seeking treatment for specific conditions. Both compulsion and addictive tendencies can have a significant impact on your mental and physical wellbeing. Finding the proper diagnosis is key to effective treatment. Let’s look at the differences between compulsion and addiction to help you better identify what you are experiencing and the kinds of treatment options available.

Addiction vs. Compulsion

Addiction is a general term used to identify dependency on a particular substance or behavior. Over time, this dependence becomes the focal point of your day, interfering with your lifestyle to the point that you engage in addictive behavior. When addiction takes over, you might neglect family, friends, and work responsibilities to fulfill the need to feed your addiction – even if it is harmful to you and your loved ones.

In contrast, compulsion is a term used to describe intense urges to do something, which sometimes leads to compulsive behavior. However, compulsions do play a role in addiction. If you have a budding addiction, you may feel compelled to take an addictive substance such as alcohol or drugs to carry out the behavior. Compulsions are also symptomatic of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). If you exhibit OCD behaviors, you may have compulsions to wash your hands frequently or check if the stove is on or off often. These behaviors occur as a result of reducing anxiety. Compulsions in OCD are often directly linked to obsessions, which are repeated thoughts that generate stress.

Pleasure vs. Relief

A significant distinction between compulsion and addiction is the way each is perceived. If you are managing OCD, you might feel a sense of relief when taking part in compulsive behavior; however, you will likely lack the sensation of pleasure. Alternatively, if you are partaking in addictive behavior, you probably do experience pleasure through those behaviors. Therefore, compulsions develop as a way to mitigate the anxiety or fear that your obsessions are causing. For example, if you stress about contamination, you might develop compulsions that involve excessive cleaning. Remember, compulsions often cause emotional distress when carried out, even if they do offer temporary relief.

With addiction, the motivating factor is the desire to use the substance or engage in behavior that involves an expectation of pleasure. Such expectations can become so strong that if you have an addiction, it will persist regardless of the consequences, such as:

  • Financial problems
  • Mental and physical health issues
  • Hurt relationships
  • Legal consequences
  • Decreased self-esteem

If you have an addiction, there will often come the point where you might not even enjoy the addictive behavior and therefore only seek relief from the urge to engage in it. Such feelings relate to the experience of withdrawal, which often occurs when you stop using substances. While this can resemble how someone might engage in OCD compulsions because the pleasure is gone, the original motivation was to feel good.

Denial vs. Reality

Another distinction between compulsion and addiction has to do with the acceptance and awareness of reality. If you are experiencing compulsive behavior, you might be aware that your worry and obsessions are not realistic or that your compulsions are excessive or illogical. You might even feel disturbed by your thoughts and your need to carry out a compulsive behavior, yet you do it anyway to relieve your distress.

Alternatively, if you have an addiction, you might become detached from the logic behind your actions, and you might not even recognize the negative consequences that your addiction is causing. Such behavior is known as denial, and it is a core component of the addictive process. It can become challenging to realize that your substance use or behavior is contributing to and even causing problems in your life. Identifying this factor is an essential step towards recovery.

Finding Treatment

Both compulsive and addictive behaviors can cause significant disruptions in your life. However, both are treatable through professional care. Treatment for compulsions such as OCD typically involves a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps individuals recognize and change their thought patterns to develop healthy habits as a response to a compulsive urge. Exposure therapy is another effective therapy used to help manage OCD and other compulsive behaviors. Such therapy teaches you how to tolerate anxiety-inducing objects or thoughts without participating in compulsive behavior.

Addiction treatment can vary depending on whether a person seeks help for an addictive behavior or substance use. If your addiction involves a substance, depending on the severity, detox and residential treatment will help you safely deal with symptoms of withdrawal. There are also an array of effective therapies that will support the long-term management of your addiction, such as:

Being able to identify the driving source of your behaviors is essential for getting a proper diagnosis. On the other hand, it can be challenging to determine an appropriate diagnosis on your own. At Choice House, we offer various therapy and treatments to help men identify their behaviors and locate the source of their addiction or compulsions. Our professional staff can provide an appropriate diagnosis. While our approach to care incorporates both conventional and alternative methods, we have also refined our approach to speaking directly to men’s needs. Our group therapy, family therapy, and outdoor adventure therapy programs help men make connections with themselves and others while expressing their feelings in ways they never imagined. If you are currently struggling to overcome compulsive or addictive behaviors, then the time to seek help is now. To find out more, reach out to Choice House today by calling us at (720) 577-4422

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