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The link between compulsion and addiction

By Tim Woodley

Many of us can relate to compulsive behaviour and thoughts. At times, any reasonable adult will struggle to control their actions or to delay gratification. The fact remains, though, that some of us have a greater tendency towards compulsive behaviour – and it makes those people more vulnerable to falling into addiction to drugs and alcohol.

What causes compulsive behaviour, then? How does it relate to drug use and can it be resisted successfully? We’ll be talking about this in today’s article.


What causes compulsive behaviour?

In many cases, compulsive behaviours are used as a coping mechanism with which to avoid anxieties and activities that make us anxious. Drawing on the release of dopamine centre and the reward centre of the brain, which we discussed in this article on alcohol addiction, the urge to act impulsively and consume drugs and alcohol is a simple and immediate way to avoid anxiety-inducing obligations and negative emotions.

For many who struggle with compulsive behaviour, trauma experienced in childhood and adolescence can lead to more triggers and stressors in adult life that produce a compulsive, avoidant response. These can vary wildly from person to person, and it’s incredibly important that you never judge yourself for struggling with those that affect you.

There is no such thing as a perfect or even truly ‘normal’ life, and more adults than we know face and struggle with their anxieties and fears every day. For many clients of Help Me Stop, attending our Dayhab programme is illuminating: they quickly realise that the problems they previously considered unique to them are shared by many others. With this comes the lesson that through the intensive psychotherapy of our Dayhab programme, they can learn to do something about this that does not result in them turning to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. If you’d like a simple chat about this and your issues, you can always reach our team at no obligation at 0208 191 8920.


Compulsivity and addiction

It’s important to remember that some compulsions aren’t necessarily damaging; a person can have a compulsive urge to exercise, for instance. While these can be taken to extremes, such as a person afflicted by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) being compelled to clean things repeatedly, many are benign.

The danger? When a person who has a tendency towards compulsive behaviour turns to drugs and alcohol. For these people, the way their brains operate makes them far more likely to fall into problematic drug and alcohol use. What can begin as recreational use will more easily develop into uncontrollable addiction, spiralling quickly into the destructive deterioration of quality of life.

The initial euphoria or ‘high’ of taking drugs or consuming alcohol is usually positive and memorable in of itself, making it difficult for a person who struggles with compulsive behaviours to resist the urge to continue using and consuming substances.

 

Managing life and substance use as a compulsive person

It’s important to be honest with ourselves about our compulsive or addictive behaviour. This tendency is common in adults, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of in of itself. Instead, we can identify and accept how our brain works and seek to plan and structure our lives in such a way as to avoid falling into addiction – or further into it.

Consider your past behaviours and the patterns in your life that have led you to where you are today. If you see patterns of compulsion, particularly drug or alcohol use that holds you back from achieving and maintaining positive things in your life, you may be a compulsive person. Knowing this, you can manage your tendencies and plan your life better.

For some adults, this means making choices that involve sacrifice. If you struggle to manage your alcohol use, you may need to consider avoiding excessive social nights out with colleagues or friends that lead to clubs, bars and the drinking that comes with them. Cutting out activities that involve heavy substance misuse may be necessary, and you might also benefit by thinking about activities that make you feel anxious – these can lead towards compulsive substance misuse in a bid to alleviate that anxiety. Instead, consider replacing them with activities that are better for your wellbeing.


The path ahead

This will be a journey of discovery, and you may benefit from professional help in learning to understand yourself better. If you have not already, consider seeking the support of a therapist to help you separate and understand your patterns of behaviour and their origins. We’ll help you to change your coping mechanisms so that you are no longer relaying on drugs or alcohol to alleviate or manage your behaviour.

If you are struggling right now with substance misuse or addiction, please reach out to us immediately. You can call us on 0208 191 8920 or get in touch via our contact form.

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