Addiction Or Compulsive Disorder? Is There A Difference?

Compulsive Disorder | Just Believe Recovery PA

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Addiction Or Compulsive Disorder? Is There A Difference?

Gambling Disorder as included in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is defined, in part, as “persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress”. But is it an addiction, or just another compulsive disorder? Is there a difference?

And gambling disorder is just one of many like it. How about eating disorders? Or sex, porn, and Internet “addictions”?

There has been ongoing debate as to the difference between substance abuse (often considered “true” addictions) and other pathological behaviors, commonly known as compulsions or habits.

In any case, whether addiction or compulsive disorder, these conditions can wreak havoc on relationships, careers, families, and overall health and psychological wellness.

Addiction or Compulsive Disorder?

Addiction is a word used to describe a repetitive behavior that is not wanted, yet cannot seem to be stopped by logic or willpower. It is not the same as physical dependence, which is based on an addictive substance and requires detoxification as treatment. While compulsions stimulate the brain in similar ways, chemical dependency is not actually a factor.

Psychological addiction manifests itself as a mechanism to manage difficult feelings and emotions, but is independent of physical drug effects. True addiction may therefore be defined identically to compulsive disorder, or undesirable repetitive behaviors.

Moreover, there’s a physical component to substance addiction, but the psychological component is the same as with any behavioral addiction. The fact that people often shift through compulsive behaviors, such as drug addiction, alcoholism, and other compulsions such as gambling, is more evidence of this idea. It is also common for substance abuse to be co-occurring with obsessive-compulsive disorder and other behavioral addictions.

Addictions and compulsions are therefore similar psychologically. However, we call some compulsive behaviors “addictions” since throughout human history addiction was thought to be caused by drugs only.

A habit is something else entirely. A habit does not need be destructive. In fact, a behavior is only “compulsive” or “addiction” if it is presenting a problem. I have a habit of going to the gym four days a week, but it’s not compulsive behavior unless it interferes with my life, relationships, or my mental well-being in any way.

Bottom line: addiction is a compulsive disorder, but a compulsive disorder does not necessarily mean there is a chemical dependency. With many substances, this dependency is there (in addition to the psychological attachment) thus making substance addiction more complicated to treat that other compulsions.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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