Addiction A-Z

Compulsive behavior

Compulsive behaviors are actions that people feel driven or “compelled” to do. While they may be able to resist the urge for a short period of time, they ultimately cannot resist or control it. These compulsions may become significantly disruptive to their life and can be very distressing. Compulsive behaviors may be associated with a specific psychiatric disorder, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). However, they may also occur in the absence of a disorder. A compulsive behavior may involve a physical act, such as ordering or straightening, or it may be a mental activity, such as counting. The behavior is often irrational, and the person feels driven to do it even if it may result in negative consequences. Compulsions are usually performed in an attempt to alleviate or avoid negative emotions, such as anxiety or distress. These undesirable feelings typically intensify significantly if the person is unable to carry out the compulsion. Compulsive behaviors can begin to control a person’s life. They can lead to a vicious cycle – the person engages in the behavior and feels good for a brief period, only to end up feeling self contempt for giving in to the urge or for the actual act itself. He/she then seeks relief from that negative feeling and engages in the behavior again in order to feel better. This type of pattern is more likely to occur with compulsive behaviors that involve eating, shopping or sex.

While almost any behavior could potentially become compulsive, there are several that are more common. These include:

  • Eating
  • Cleaning
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Shopping
  • Gambling
  • Sexual activity
  • Stealing
  • Lying
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