Addiction vs. Obsession: What’s the Difference?

Karen Eisenbraun Info icon
Calendar icon Last Updated: 05/3/2022
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Addiction vs obsession – what even is the difference? The two can often look the same, making it difficult for people to determine the correct treatment approach for their condition. While addiction and obsession can lead to behaviors that appear similar from the outside, the underlying motivating factors are different.

About Addiction

There are many different definitions of addiction, but most medical associations recognize it as a chronic disease. Addiction is a complex disorder that is characterized by several different elements, including:

  1. The desire to change how you feel, for example, to reduce pain or feel pleasure
  2. Preoccupation with the addictive behavior, which could include excessive time spent thinking about or planning to engage in the behavior
  3. Temporary satiation after engaging in the behavior, when urges or cravings are sated
  4. Loss of control over the behavior
  5. Continued engagement in the behavior in the presence of adverse consequences

Addiction leads to changes in brain function, altering how the brain registers pleasure and processes information. As a result, quitting drugs or alcohol is often tricky and requires more than just willpower.

Addiction can be treated, but the process is typically complex and multi-faceted. To be effective, addiction treatment must address all of an individual’s needs, not just substance use. Addiction treatment typically includes individual counseling, group therapy, and other therapeutic approaches, such as family therapy or training in various life skills. A treatment period of three months is generally necessary to see results, with extended treatment periods leading to better outcomes.

About Obsessive Behavior

On the other hand, obsessive behavior results from obsessive thoughts—usually unpleasant or rooted in fear. For example, the fear of being contaminated by germs can be repetitive, compulsive behaviors; it may be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

However, having obsessive thoughts or engaging in compulsive behaviors does not necessarily mean someone has OCD. In people with OCD, obsessions and compulsions are severe enough to cause considerable distress and interfere with day-to-day life.

Most people with OCD fall into one of four categories:

  • Compulsive washers, who are afraid of contamination
  • Individuals who repeatedly check things, such as making sure doors are locked, or the oven is turned off
  • People who are afraid that if they don’t do everything perfectly, they will somehow be punished
  • People who count or arrange items who may also fixate on certain colors, numbers, or arrangements

While addictive behavior is often driven by a desire to feel pleasure, the same is not true of obsessions or compulsive behaviors. Engaging in compulsive behaviors doesn’t lead to any sense of pleasure, although it may temporarily relieve the anxiety associated with the obsessive thought.

OCD is often treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps teach people healthier responses to obsessive thoughts. Medication, such as antidepressants, may also be used in conjunction with therapy but is rarely effective on its own.

Still not sure about addiction vs obsession? If you require treatment for addiction or obsessive thoughts, our specialists can help. Contact us today for assistance finding the right treatment program for yourself or your loved one by calling 800-926-9037 (Info iconWho Answers?) .

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