The Difference Between an Obsession and an Addiction

parentAn obsession and an addiction can look the same but the root is very different.  For instance, you gamble every week spending approximately $10 on lottery tickets; gambling in this example is your behavior that can be obsessive, addictive or both.  The obsessive part of your 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 you cannot win.  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 your 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 and an entire day can be spent just thinking about the possibilities.

Obsessive Behavior.  When you obsess, ritualistic routines are part of your everyday life.  Perhaps you comb your hair the same way you did as a teenager, you recheck all of the doors at night even though you have been told it is already locked, you replay the same conversation over and over again just trying to figure it out, you wash your hands after anyone touches them, you clean with bleach because that is the only way to get things truly clean, you straighten things up and like things in neat rows, or you 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 you don’t follow your routine you will get a headache, fear that if you don’t recheck things the house will burn down, fear that you will miss something important if you can’t figure out the conversation, fear that you might get infected and die, fear that if things aren’t clean someone might think badly about you, fear that if things aren’t straight your whole life will be out-of-order, or fear that if you don’t hear a certain number you will lose the car.  Fear, either real or imagined, leads to obsessive behavior.

Addictive Behavior.  When you are addicted, you never feel satisfied unless using the substance.  Perhaps you drink alcohol to relax, take prescription drugs to numb the pain, shop for clothing to feel better about how you look, gamble to earn quick easy money, exercise to get the adrenaline high, look at porn to feel desirable, smoke to unwind, watch soap operas to feel romantic, play video games to feel successful or eat sugar to get energy.  All of these behaviors have roots in escaping from an undesirable place to a desirable place and in fantasy living.  Fantasizing about a life with less stress, fantasizing about a life without pain, fantasizing about a body that you want, fantasizing about having lots of money, fantasizing about feeling high all the time, fantasizing about being desirable, fantasizing about less anxiety, fantasizing about a romantic relationship, fantasizing about being the best or fantasizing about 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.  While you may clean with bleach because you fear that someone might think you are dirty, you can also become addicted to the smell of bleach and fantasize about living dirt free.  Or you can fantasize about being the best video game player and insist that you can’t be successful at video games until you reach a certain level three times.  This is precisely 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 addictions or obsessions often emerge to take the place of old ones.  By recognizing what is obsessive and what is addictive however, you can go back to each individual root and address the underlying problem.  While it is a hard personal journey, it is well worth the time and effort.

 

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

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7 thoughts on “The Difference Between an Obsession and an Addiction

  1. Pingback: The difference between obsession and addiction | Harper Donohue

  2. Pingback: Addiction in Gaming | Stephen-Terepaii's blog

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