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Compulsive Behaviors and Addiction: Different Disorders, Similar Treatment Options

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If you or anyone close to you suffers from compulsive behavior and/or addiction, you have witnessed the significant impact these ailments can have on your life. A compulsion you are internally driven to do without regard to the outcome it may have. Even if you are able to control yourself from acting on the compelling feeling, it feeds your anxiety and you can’t seem to rid yourself of the thought. 

There are many compulsions that encourage people to engage in behaviors that others may deem odd. For instance, hair pulling (also called trichotillomania) is a compulsion. Continuously checking locks, stove burners, or other behaviors that might be a sign of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These actions would not be considered addictions

Compulsion or Addiction?

The difference between compulsive behaviors and addiction is urge versus need. 

  • A compulsion is an insatiable urge to do something. 
  • Addiction is a need to do something to experience pleasure or remove discomfort.


One way of differentiating a compulsive act from an addictive one is separating fear/anxiety from pleasure. 

The actions associated with addiction are usually associated with pleasure in healthy individuals (i.e. sex, casual drinking, gambling) but they become debilitating when crossing into addiction.

For instance, a person who has a substance use disorder such as alcoholism has developed a chemical dependency. When they are not using or still drunk/high, they always crave their drug of choice. The withdrawals will often make them physically ill. They may experience headaches, nausea, vomiting, tremors, sweating, racing heart, and many others. They will return to substance use in order to stop feeling the symptoms of withdrawal or to experience the feelings of euphoria that are associated with their substance of choice.

However, behaviors associated with compulsion are usually associated with feelings of fear or anxiety of what will happen if they don’t follow the urge. Oftentimes, the fear is non-specific nor rooted in reality.

Someone who hoards useless items may fear that if they throw something away, that they’ll immediately need it. People who pull out their hair or pick at their skin usually do it in response to anxiety or fear. Reportedly, the pulling of hair makes you feel a bit of relief from the situation, but the action does not generally bring pleasure and most people are embarrassed by these compulsions.

One thing is true of both, however –  addiction and compulsive behaviors have negative effects on you and those around you.

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Treating Compulsive Behaviors and Addiction

It is possible to treat both compulsive behaviors and addiction at our dual diagnosis treatment center. However, each situation is different and requires an individual assessment and customized treatment plan. 

Both compulsive behaviors and addiction respond well to treatments such as psychotherapy and medication.

Treatment for Compulsive Behaviors

Many clients who struggle with compulsive behaviors find antidepressants or anxiety medications such as Anafranil, Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, or others helpful. These drugs have a calm and relaxing effect on the brain. Medications such as these, combined with psychotherapy, have proven highly effective in the management and treatment of compulsiveness. Together, medication and psychotherapy address the physical and biological side of behavioral issues as well as the mental. Psychotherapy used to treat this disorder includes:

CBT engages the client with a solution-focused mindset and does not generally focus on the past. The clinician will help the client differentiate between rational beliefs (ex. I should wash my hands before eating) and irrational beliefs (ex. I must wash my hands every time I touch a surface or I will catch a virus). The clinician and client will also come up with ways to combat and overcome the irrational beliefs as they arrive.

ERP is the specific type of CBT most used to treat Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This therapy should be completed with a licensed clinician. This type of therapy consists of exposure to the thoughts or situations that result in the compulsive behaviors and the response prevention is learning to refrain from acting on the compulsive behavior when triggered.

Treatment for Addiction

Psychotherapy and medication are also beneficial in treating substance use disorder. Treatment for addiction has been studied thousands of times on many different demographics. As a result, there are many additional approaches that have proven effective in recovery from addiction. These include:

  • Holistic therapy
  • Mindfulness
  • CBT and DBT
  • Equine therapy
  • Adventure therapy
  • Group and family counseling

The best treatment for you may not be the best treatment for another as they are not one-size-fits-all. Most clients have more than one mental health need as addiction is not generally something a person willingly jumps into. There are often traumas or mental health concerns involved. Treatment must address all concerns. As a client, you must be willing to stay in treatment long enough to overcome the addiction – not just until you feel better. Similar to taking a course of antibiotics, you must take the entire course or you risk re-infection. 

Treatment must also adapt to the changing needs of the client. We must treat you where you are and not where you were when you came to us. Treatment plans will be continuously reviewed and modified to your changing needs.

If you or a loved one suffer from substance use disorder or compulsive disorders, Integrative Life Center in Nashville, Tennessee will help you find the best treatment plan for you to improve your quality of life.

Treatment at Integrative Life Center

Clients who choose to recover from substance use disorder or mental health conditions such as compulsive behaviors and/or addiction will find hope at Integrative Life Center in Nashville. A quiet respite from the stress of everyday life, recovery at Integrative Life Center affords you luxurious accommodations and the highest level of behavioral health care. 

Your healing will begin in a beautiful wooded setting with unparalleled views, shimmering sunsets, and miles of wooded trails that make recovery feel like home.

When you’re ready to reach out for treatment for substance use disorder or mental health care, Integrative Life Center will be there for you. Contact us today at 615.891.2226 to begin your journey to a highly manageable life.


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