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OCD and Addiction: Key Differences to Keep In Mind 

addiction vs compulsive behavior

While many people use the words “addiction” and “compulsion” interchangeably, they aren’t the same.

The misuse of these words causes a lot of confusion for everyone involved. These are two separate conditions that, while they may coincide, are very different. Banyan Treatment Centers looks into OCD and addiction, focusing on their similarities and differences. 

What Is Compulsion? 

A compulsion can either refer to a strong urge to do something or a force that makes someone do something. In psychology, it refers to repetitive behaviors bound by rules the individual feels must be performed to avoid distressing situations. Repetitive behavior is a common trait in individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a mental illness characterized by behaviors that can include excessive cleaning and handwashing or repeatedly checking locks, doors, and appliances. These intense urges often lead to certain behaviors. Compulsive behaviors in people with OCD are often related to obsessions, which are repeated thoughts that cause distress. These individuals often require treatment for their disorders. Banyan Treatment Centers provides mental health programs that can assist patients struggling with disorders like OCD, depression, anxiety, and more. 

What Is Addiction? 

Unlike compulsion, addiction refers to a chronic and progressive disease defined by the uncontrollable use of drugs and alcohol despite the repercussions. People with substance use disorders usually have an intense focus on these substances to the point where they are hindered in their ability to function and carry out basic responsibilities. This dependence on drugs or alcohol becomes so severe that the person will persist in using them even if it causes harm to themselves or their loved ones. While addicts may understand the repercussions of their substance abuse, they may require residential drug treatment to quit. People can develop addictions to things like drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, and technology. 

What Is the Difference Between Compulsion and Addiction? 

The major difference between compulsion and addiction is urge versus need. A compulsion is an insatiable urge to do something, while addiction is a need to do something, experience pleasure, or avoid discomfort. Another difference between addiction vs. compulsive behavior is that the latter is often done out of fear or anxiety. People with OCD or other compulsion-related disorders may engage in compulsive behavior because they are afraid or anxious about what will happen if they do not give in to that urge. This fear is not always specific but a general sense of anxiety. 

Addiction, on the other hand, is mostly associated with pleasure, not fear or anxiety. Individuals who begin abusing drugs or alcohol or engage in gambling and frequent sexual activity all do so for pleasure. Most substances of abuse target the central nervous system and affect the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, both of which play a role in pleasure and reward. Similarly, gambling and sex can also influence the release of these chemicals, contributing to addiction. Additionally, those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using these substances. As a result, they may continue abusing them to avoid these side effects. 

Likewise, when comparing compulsion vs. addiction, there is also the matter of reality and denial. Many individuals who engage in compulsive behaviors are aware that their obsessions aren’t realistic or that their compulsions are excessive and even illogical. They may even feel disturbed by their thoughts and their need to carry out these behaviors, yet they still do so to feel relief. People with addictions do not always understand the logic behind their actions. They may not recognize the consequences of their substance abuse and may fail to realize this is an issue, known as denial. Denial plays a significant role in addiction and can make it difficult for someone to realize their drug or alcohol problem and seek out addiction treatment. 

Is There a Connection Between Compulsive Disorders and Addiction? 

Although compulsive behaviors and addiction are different, sometimes they are connected. Many individuals who struggle with mental illnesses like OCD may begin using drugs or alcohol to alleviate the fear and anxiety associated with their condition. Both an untreated addiction and mental illness like OCD can also disrupt a person’s life, making it difficult for them to keep a job and maintain healthy relationships. Luckily, several of our Banyan locations offer dual diagnosis programs designed to encompass multiple afflictions patients may struggle with. Not only do we offer mental health programs to assist those struggling with a mental disorder, but we also offer OCD and addiction treatment that assists individuals who are struggling with both conditions. 

Recovery is possible. To learn more about our addiction treatment facilities and the levels of care we offer, call us at 888-280-4763. 


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Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.