Addictive vs. Compulsive vs. Obsessive: Mental Health Issues

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Difference between Addictive, Compulsive and Obsessive

Everyone is driven by various modes of behavior, some of which may become habitual or recurring over time. Among the most common types of these habits are those that are classified as addictive, compulsive or obsessive. Although they may seem quite similar to each other–and they indeed, do have similar characteristics–there are clear differences between each type of behavior. Let's take a look at what their most significant characteristics are.

Compulsive Behavior

Compulsive people tend to perform actions that provide them with some measure of relief from anxieties. These anxiety triggers may themselves be the result of obsessions. People who wash their hands compulsively for instance, may have an obsessive fear of germs. Compulsive behavior may so be manifested in nail biting, picking the skin or pulling out hair by the strand. In extreme cases of compulsive behavior, the person affected may experience severe disruption of his or her daily routines due to the time consuming nature of the compulsive actions. Compulsive behavior may also trigger or be a sign of anxiety disorder.

Obsessive Behavior

Obsessive behavior may be beneficial or not, depending on the motivation behind the specific action. While going to the gym may be considered obsessive behavior, it isn't necessarily harmful if the objective is to become healthier and stronger. If working out is performed in order to address an emotional issue however, then the reasons for doing so may have to be examined, lest working out results in more harm than good. Obsessive tendencies may also lead to compulsive actions, as in the above example, in which case working out is performed as a means to alleviate unfounded stress or anxiety.

Addictive Behavior

Addictive behavior is often associated with drug dependence, which manifests itself as difficulty in quitting a particular substance despite the physiological damage that it is causing. There are also certain non-drug-related habits or actions that may be considered addictive, in the sense that the afflicted person would have little or no control over the actions being performed. Such actions may also fall into the category of obsessive or compulsive behavior, and the person afflicted may even experience symptoms of withdrawal if the addictive activity is ceased. This is typically the case with people who are addicted to gambling or sexual acts or situations.

Similarities

All these actions are quite similar in that they often involve a misuse of the brain's pleasure centers. In such cases, these behaviors and actions function as shortcuts or stopgap measures against feelings of anxiety, stress, or insecurity. Almost everyone is susceptible to one or all types of these behaviors to varying degrees, and while many can function–or seem to function–normally, the underlying causes should be examined in the course of treating what has become disruptive behavior.

Summary

Addictive

  • Often associated with drug dependence
  • May also be non-drug-related habits or actions

Compulsive

  • Tend to perform actions that provide them with some measure of relief from anxieties
  • Person affected may experience severe disruption of his or her daily routines

Obsessive

  • May be beneficial or not, depending on the motivation behind the specific action

 
 

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