Addiction and Compulsive Behavior

“That which we try to control, really controls us.”  Compulsive behavior is sometimes categorized into two broad areas:

Ingestible Addictions (taking a substance into our bodies)

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Cigarettes
  • Food
  • Caffeine
  • And more

And Behavioral Addictions

  • Gambling
  • Sex / Masturbation
  • Shopping
  • Relationship Obsession / Codependency
  • Fantasizing
  • And more

One theory of addiction is that it is a way for a person to distract from deeper feelings that we may be reluctant and afraid to experience. We are compelled by our addictions so we can avoid reality and not have to feel pain, sadness/depression, hurt or anxiety. For example, we may stay in a relationship too long, drink, constantly fantasize or engage in reckless behavior because we don’t want to feel lonely, isolated or without purpose. Sometimes addiction arises out of a desire to control something that is not controllable – we become attached to that addiction and “hold onto the steering wheel for dear life.” However clinging only make the ride all the more dangerous.

The serenity prayer puts it beautifully, asking for “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The last part about “having the wisdom to know the difference” may be one of the hardest, yet greatest skills that anyone can learn in order to be free from compulsive behavior and build lasting emotional health.

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