Select Page

Addiction and compulsion are two terms commonly used incorrectly by people. They may look similar, but they are not. Addiction is a habit of dangerous behaviors or the consumption of certain products, especially drugs, which cannot be dispensed with or which is very difficult to do for reasons of psychological or even physiological dependence. This implies an inability to control the behavior, as well as a difficulty in achieving and maintaining permanent abstinence since an urgent desire to consume appears, and there is a decrease in recognition of significant problems caused by the behavior itself and in interpersonal relationships. As well as a dysfunctional emotional response, the result is a decrease in the affected person’s quality of life, generating problems in their work, their academic activities, in their social relationships, and in their family or partner relationships.

On the other hand, a compulsion is an exaggerated and impetuous propensity towards something. It can be said that compulsion is an obsessive or addictive behavior that develops from a stimulus that is overwhelming for the individual. Compulsions appear in people who, in appearance, are healthy but who cannot stop the inclination towards the object that excessively attracts them. In general, this psychological disorder appears in subjects who do not find stimulation in their daily activities or who have repressed anguish. That which triggers the compulsion appears to them as an outlet and gives them a pleasure that they want to experience repeatedly.

Key Differences Between Addiction and Compulsion

Although addiction and compulsion are two easy terms to confuse, two key differences clarify why we should not use each name interchangeably. One of them is a reality since when a person presents an obsessive-compulsive disorder, they become aware that the compulsion they present is not real. They are upset that they feel that carrying out a behavior is necessary even when it defies logic. While people who have an addiction are very far from the lack of meaning in their actions, since they are having a good time, other concerns are not so important. This leads to denial because the addicted person denies that using the substance or performing the behavior is a problem. The other key difference between addiction and compulsion is the sensation of pleasure. A compulsion does not produce pleasure, whereas an addiction does. A compulsive person may not feel pleasure from the behavior he performs, and it may even be a reason for feeling distressed.

Symptoms of an Addicted Person

Woman suffering from symptoms of addiction

The symptoms of this disorder vary according to the addiction suffered by the patient and their personality characteristics. However, there are several common signs in most cases of addiction:


  • Loss of control due to drug use, with episodes of use that affect the person’s life in general.
  • Sad mood
  • Irritability
  • Impaired quality of life
  • Denial or self-deception
  • Anxiety
  • Obsession
  • Excessive restlessness or worry
  • Insomnia
  • Guilt

Symptoms of a Compulsive Person

Paper clips and pencils all lined up, which is a symptom of Compulsion

The symptoms of the compulsive patient are translated into specific attitudes that are included in international clinical guidelines:


  • Intolerance to uncertainty: everything needs to be under control. Control is the only way to obtain security as a lack of control causes great difficulties when facing unexpected situations or coping in ambiguous situations.
  • Threat overestimation: the probability of a catastrophe occurring is magnified.
  • Perfectionism: mistakes are not accepted, and everything has to be perfect, so things are checked over and over again.
  • Excessive responsibility: patterns and rules of conduct are built based on the responsibility always to do the right thing.
  • Beliefs about the importance of thoughts: the importance of one’s own thoughts is magnified, especially their meaning, which is none other than what one attributes to them.
  • The importance of controlling their own thoughts: they need to be able to control their thoughts so that they cannot think about particular things.
  • Rigidity of ideas: immovable ideas, without attending to any argumentation that may modify them.

Why We Should Never Confuse The Two

It may be that addiction and compulsion are terms that you have in your everyday language, like several words that are in common use, although they can be misused and understood. Using addiction and compulsion in the wrong place will cause confusion, especially for those who suffer from addictions or compulsions.