Addiction or Compulsion: The Difference Between the Two

More and more people seem to be claiming they have an addiction. However, they might actually have a compulsion. Nowadays it has become difficult to understand the difference between the two terms and find out whether something truly is an addiction or a compulsion. The two terms are very similar but also have very different meanings. An addiction is caused by the brain chemical dopamine. When someone has an addiction, he or she will act upon it in order to reach the state of euphoria that addiction has given them. A compulsion is a behavior that comes from a continuous thought that will not cease until the behavior is acted out.

Common acts that are perceived as addictions, such as sex, hording or tanning, are actually compulsions. People are very loose with the term “addiction” and will often throw it around before wondering if this can actually be controlled or not and what the reasons are that the act is being done for. The biggest giveaway on whether something is an addiction or a compulsion is due to the reason it is being done for. An addiction will be done to acquire a certain high that comes with completing that act, and a ¬†compulsion will happen because of a persistent thought that will not go away. Having an addiction means being completely dependent on that specific thing to the point of acting it out even if it is dangerous. An addiction actually¬†involves the compulsion to perform a specific act or consume a certain substance.

Another key factor of determining whether something is an addiction or a compulsion is to decide whether or not it causes pleasure. Having an addiction usually gets to that point because it is pleasurable for the person to perform or consume what he or she is addicted to. A way to know that something is a compulsion is to understand that something lacks reality. Often a person who has a compulsive disorder will understand that the obsession is fake and while it is very unsettling for them to know something that is not real is giving them so much anxiety, they have to continue through with it anyway. It can be very confusing to understand how to understand the difference between whether something is an addiction or a compulsion, as the two can be very similar.

Addictions do not have to be limited to simply drug or alcohol abuse and compulsions do not have to solely involve checking whether or not the door is locked multiple times. Anything that requires having an immediate reward constitutes as an addiction and any thought that will not go away until acted upon can be considered a compulsion.

The two terms get confused with one another at times because both ideas are thrown around in society very often and very lightly. People will casually say someone has OCD when it comes to cleaning, or enthusiastically claim they are addicted to the latest coffee flavor. These minute uses of the words are what confuse those who are actually trying to understand which category they fall under. Addictions and compulsions are similar yet very different and the small differences are what need to be recognized in order to grasp the difference between the two.

Opinion By Amena S. Chaudhri

Psychology Today
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