Compulsion? Habit? Addiction? What’s The Difference?

58 points
Three people wondering

Confused about your habits and compulsions? Are they addictions? If you’re wondering about the too-muchness in your life, definitions might help. After awareness, you can create an action plan to make changes.


A habit is something we do over and over that may be unconscious and automatic. Everyone has a wide variety of habits, some of which like washing up or turning off the lights, or checking emails are harmless, beneficial, or necessary. Others like nail biting or drinking to excess can have negative consequences. But if someone can stop from repeating the action, it’s not considered an addiction.


An addiction is an extreme habit. Addiction is a continued behavior, activity, intoxicant, or substance use despite ongoing and increasingly negative consequences. That means you can’t stop no matter what. An addiction to substances, or behaviors, tends to get worse over time. Addiction is chronic and progressive.


Compulsion is an uncontrollable urge to do something, and when considerable discomfort is experienced if the action is not performed. With addiction there is a loss of control of actions and a compulsion to do something or use a substance no matter how dire the consequences may be.

Compulsion And Addiction Go Together

When someone suffers from an addiction, they cannot control their compulsion, no matter how hard they try or how determined they are to stop. Even though the person may know the devastating effects of their addiction, they do not have the means to stop. Either the person’s mind is so attracted to the substance or the activity, or the person may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms (if they abuse drugs or alcohol) if they stop.

How Addiction Begins

Often the first steps to addiction are habits or behaviors that give pleasure like Tuesday night gambling, or snacking at night that someone does without knowing it can get out of control. This is especially true about process addictions. Addictions such as gambling, compulsive overeating, excessive exercise, and Internet overuse are called process or behavior addictions. These activities often begin as a habit, but progress into an addiction. Instead of chemical dependency that people addicted to drugs and alcohol experience, individuals suffering from process addictions are addicted to repeating an action. The action is more than a habit, because the person cannot stop doing it.

What Causes A Behavioral Addiction

Process addictions often meet a need for the individual, such as managing stress, relieving emotional pain, or helping the person cope with negative thoughts. However, both process addictions and chemical addictions cause serious effects, such as health issues, mental health problems, strained relationships, loss of productivity, and financial issues. Even though addiction has such negative consequences, the person is powerless to end the addiction on their own.

How To Choose The Therapy You Need


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58 points
Leslie Glass

Leslie Glass is the founder of Reach Out Recovery and the winner of the 2016 ASAM Media Award. Leslie is also the creator of Recovery Guidance, the information website for those seeking addiction and mental healthcare for professionals nationwide. Leslie is a journalist, director/producer of award-winning documentaries, and the author of 15 bestselling novels. Leslie has served as Chairman of the Board of Plays For Living, was a member of the Board of Directors of Mystery Writers of America. She has served as a Public Member of the Middle States Commission of Higher Education, as a VP of The Asolo Theatre, and was a Trustee of the New York City Police Foundation.


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