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Addiction and compulsion. Side by side, these two terms sound closely alike. Anyone who has experienced either of these behaviors understands how it can significantly impact that person’s life and the lives of loved ones. But as much as these two words are closely defined as being the same, they are not. Which is why it is important to understand the difference between the two in order to move forward and seek the best possible treatment.

One major difference between the two is understanding the concept of urge vs. need. A compulsion is an insatiable urge to do something. An addiction is a need to do something in order to remove discomfort or experience pleasure.

What is Addiction?

Addiction can be described as the process an individual becomes dependent on a behavior or particular substance. This dependence becomes so important to the individual that the person will persist in engaging in this behavior even though it can cause harm to different areas of the person’s life. Actions associated with addiction usually revolve around the desire to experience pleasure.

When a person becomes addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, the primary goal is a need to feel good. But along with the need to feel good, a person can experience numerous problems. That is because a chemical dependency has developed where the cravings for the substance are high and the withdrawals can make the person physically ill. The person will then return to using substances to combat the feelings of withdrawal and recapture the feelings of euphoria that come with the substance being used.

What is Compulsion?

Compulsion is an intense urge to do something that can sometimes lead to a behavior. Usually compulsive behavior is associated with feelings of fear and anxiety of what will happen if they do not follow through on their urge. This fear is often vague in nature and not based on reality.

Compulsive behavior is usually identified as a symptom of someone dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). A person diagnosed with this issue may end up engaging in a behavior like washing their hands excessively and locking the front door of the house multiple times at once to make sure the house is secure. These behaviors are a way to relieve anxiety in the individual. In an individual with OCD, compulsive behavior is often related to obsessions which are repeated thoughts that create distress.

What Are Other Differences?

People struggling with compulsion feel a sense of relief when engaging in compulsive behavior. However, that person does not feel pleasure. Also compulsive behavior develops a way to alleviate anxiety and fear that are being created by obsessions. In addiction, the desire to use substances comes with an expectation that the substance will create pleasure and euphoria. That expectation of pleasure becomes so strong that it will take precedence over everything else in life. That includes the family, job, finances, and personal health.

Another difference to notice between these two has to do with the awareness and acceptance of reality. Some people struggling with compulsive behavior may be aware that the obsessions they possess are not realistic. They may also believe that their compulsions are too much or make no sense at all. They may even feel annoyed by their thoughts or the need to act out compulsive behaviors. However, they go ahead and do it anyway because they are looking for a way to relieve the distress they are experiencing. In addiction, people are often detached from the reasoning behind their actions. They may not recognize how their addictive behavior is creating negative consequences all around them. This is what is known as denial and it is a central component of the addiction process. Recognizing the fact that this is problematic on so many levels can be difficult for someone in the process of addiction to do. But if the person in addiction is able to do so, that person has made a very crucial step towards their recovery.

How to Treat Compulsive Behavior?

There are many types of treatment options available for people struggling with compulsive behavior. Some of the treatment available are the following:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – This type of therapy can help change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.
  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) – This is a form of CBT where people are exposed to situations that lead to compulsive behaviors but learn to decrease and eventually stop engaging in them.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – This type of therapy helps people take an acceptance approach to the urges that lead to compulsive behavior.
  • Mindfulness Practice – This is a process that helps people to be more aware of their bodies and thoughts without acting on them automatically.

How to Treat Addiction?

Just like with compulsive behavior there are many ways to treat addiction. In addition to seeking professional help through a treatment program, there are other ways people dealing with addiction can work to overcome their addictive behavior. Some of these include the following.

  • Find new hobbies – Investing time and energy in a new and productive hobby can help reduce the cravings to seek alcohol and drugs as a way to pass the time.
  • Exercise – Doing this for at least an hour a day can help take your mind off using drugs and help relieve stress. Also, physical exercise releases dopamine and serotonin, two chemicals in the body that improve a person’s mood.
  • Eat well – By eating healthy a person can help reverse the damage that was caused by past drug and alcohol use.
  • Talk it out – Keeping uncomfortable emotions and thoughts inside is dangerous. As those intense feelings mount up, the need to use substances as a means of escape to experience pleasure intensifies. Learning to talk with someone you trust about these intense and uncomfortable feelings can go a long way in experiencing a sense of calm and eliminating the need to cope with substances.
  • Volunteer – Giving your time to something you are passionate about is not only a good thing to do, but it is also therapeutic. This is because it develops a sense of belonging that was lost while in addiction. It provides a boost in self-esteem and a sense of purpose.
  • Meditate – This is important to practice. Meditation provides calmness and can help in the ability to cope with triggers that can lead to relapse.

Final Thouhgts

Regardless of what the issue is, the sooner the issue is addressed the better it will be for all involved. The consequences of both compulsive and addictive behavior can become so severe, not seeking the appropriate treatment for these problems can lead to long-term effects that could damage the individual, family, and close friends to the point where it is beyond repair. Being able to recognize these behaviors at their onset and demonstrating a willingness to do something about it, can lead to a restoration of relationships and work toward establishing wholeness in all relationships.