Obsession vs. AddictionHelping  your clients discern between an obsession and an addition can be quite a challenge. They may believe their behavior is obsessive when in reality it is addictive. The distinction between the two determines they type of treatment necessitated.

An obsession and an addiction can look the same but the root is different.  For instance, they gamble every week spending approximately $10 on lottery tickets. Gambling in this example is the behavior that can be obsessive, addictive or both.

The obsessive part of the behavior is gambling at the same store, on the same day, with the same numbers and if it is not done in this manner then there is no winning.  It does not matter if there is evidence of past wins; it only matters that things be done a certain way.

The addictive part of the behavior is dreaming of how the money will be spent, what will be bought, and who will benefit from the winnings.  The dreaming is active, enticing, exciting, and consuming an entire day of thinking about the possibilities.

Obsessive Behavior.  When obsessing, their ritualistic routines become part of everyday life. Perhaps they comb their hair as an adult the same way as they did as a teenager. Or they recheck all of the doors at night several times even though they have been told it is already locked. Or they replay the same conversation over and over again just trying to figure it out. Or they wash their hands after anyone touches them. Or they clean with bleach because that is the only way to get things truly clean. Or they straighten things up and like things in neat rows. Or they count the number of beeps on your car door lock before believing it is locked.

All of these behaviors have roots in fear.  Fear that if they don’t follow the routine, they will have a negative consequence. Outcomes like a headache, burnt down house, missing something important, infection, death, other’s negative opinions, disorganized life, or loss of something they love.  Fear, either real or imagined, leads to obsessive behavior.

Addictive Behavior.  When addicted, a person never feels satisfied unless using the substance.  Perhaps they drink alcohol to relax. Or they take prescription drugs to numb the pain. Or they shop for clothing to feel better about appearances. Or they gamble to hopefully earn quick easy money. Or they exercise to get the adrenaline high. Or they look at porn to feel desirable. Or they smoke to unwind. Or they watch soap operas to feel romantic. Or they play video games to feel successful. Or they eat sugar to get energy.

All of these behaviors have roots in escaping from an undesirable place to a desirable place through fantasy living.  Daydreaming about life with less stress, without pain, having a desirable body, lots of money, feeling excited, less anxiety, a romantic relationship, being the best or limitless energy.  Your fantasy life, either from real experiences or imagined, leads to addictive behavior.

Combination.  Putting obsessive and addictive behavior together can intensify both the desire to avoid fear and the desire to escape. They may clean with bleach because of fear that something is too dirty and become addicted to the smell of bleach while fantasizing about living dirt free. Or they can fantasize about being the best video game player and insist that no one can be successful until a certain level is reached three times.

This is why it is hard to recover from obsessive and addictive behavior because they can be co-mingled rather easily.  The key is separating out the behaviors and tracing them back to the root of the problem in order to stop doing the undesirable behavior.

It takes time and energy to do this process and even in recovery of an addiction or obsession, new issues often emerge to take the place of old ones.  Go back to each individual root and address the underlying problem to aid in rehabilitation.  While it is a hard journey, it is well worth the time and effort.