Substance use disorder (SUD) is caused by physiological changes in the brain that limit a person’s ability to make healthy choices. Although compulsions are a symptom of SUD and other conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), they do not necessarily indicate a disorder. A mental health professional can help families determine if an individual’s compulsions need treatment.

Compulsions can involve maladaptive behaviors, including process addictions like gambling. However, not everyone who experiences compulsions will develop addictive behaviors. Early intervention is key to ensuring compulsions do not evolve into habits or addictions.

What Is a Compulsion?

According to Addictive Behaviors Reports, compulsions can lead to a “loss of control” that can cause maladaptive behavioral patterns. Individuals who experience compulsions may feel unable to stop intrusive thoughts or anxiety until they complete a specific action. In addition, they often have difficulty controlling their behaviors at will. Some individuals might feel severe anxiety if they do not follow an established routine. Not everyone with a compulsion realizes how much it controls their thoughts and actions.

Some signs that someone has a compulsion include: 

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Repeated or obsessive thoughts
  • Superstitious thinking
  • Unusual anxiety, panic, or depression related to specific actions or inaction
  • The need to follow a strict routine
  • Decreased productivity due to repetitive behaviors or routines 

Changes in behaviors like the ones listed above may indicate that someone has a mental health issue like OCD. However, that is not always the case. When in doubt, reach out to a professional for assessment and possible treatment. 

Warning Signs of Disruptive Compulsions

In most cases, compulsions start small. Friends and family may not even notice at first. However, if the compulsions begin to interfere with day-to-day life, there might be a danger of dependency developing. Recognizing the signs of compulsions will help you monitor your loved one’s recovery.

Common signs that someone is struggling with a compulsion include:

  • Avoiding necessary tasks and responsibilities to participate in the compulsion 
  • Mental obsession with the subject of the compulsion 
  • Social or emotional isolation and withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities to focus on the subject of the compulsion
  • Embarrassment or shame related to the subject of the compulsion

Do Compulsions Always Lead to Addiction? 

Compulsions often follow from intrusive thoughts. Many people with compulsions believe that performing their compulsion will diminish their anxiety regarding a specific outcome or give them relief from a distressing repetitive thought.

Compulsive symptoms exist along a spectrum. Some people find them only mildly annoying, while others might have difficulty functioning or performing daily tasks. Compulsions are disruptive, and depending on the context, they can significantly impact personal and professional relationships. However, compulsions do not always lead to dependency or addictive behaviors.

According to Frontiers in Psychiatry, addiction “involves a transition from voluntary . . . to non-voluntary compulsive” behaviors. The shift is often gradual and involves noticeable mood changes, including unusual irritability, depression, or anxiety.

How to Help Family Members Cope With Compulsions

Since many people sometimes experience compulsions, they do not necessarily indicate a problem. However, if a loved one begins to obsess over them or act out of control, they might need help. Below are four ways families can support loved ones experiencing non-addictive compulsions.

#1. Seek a Professional’s Opinion

If your loved one appears unable to control their behaviors, get a professional assessment. Untreated maladaptive compulsions increase the risk of process addictions and substance misuse.

#2. Consider Your Loved One’s Mental State

Monitor your loved one’s emotional and physical responses to the compulsion. If their intrusive thoughts or compulsions leave them feeling physically or mentally unwell, reach out to a mental health professional. In some cases, an intervention may become necessary if your loved one does not believe they have a problem.

#3. Observe Your Loved One’s Habits

Pay attention to how your loved one spends their free time. You may notice before they do if certain hobbies or other activities begin to interfere with their everyday life. Revealing their obsessive behaviors may motivate them to get help or make healthy changes to their routines.

#4. Be Supportive

You may notice relationship issues caused by compulsive behaviors. Instead of blaming or making ultimatums, offer support and resources to help your loved one.

A New Hope Recovery Helps Families Navigate Recovery

The dedicated team at A New Hope Recovery can provide essential resources like assessments, mental health interventions, and case management. If you are worried that someone you love has developed an unhealthy compulsion, we can help. Preventative measures can stop compulsions from causing further disruption to the family unit. A mental health intervention can ensure your loved one gets the help they need. 

Compulsions do not have to reach a point where they interfere with a person’s ability to function. We understand that every case is unique, and we can help you navigate the treatment and recovery process. Your loved one will have access to high-quality personalized management and care services.

Compulsions play a significant role in the development of addiction. However, they are not necessarily an indication that someone has developed an addictive behavior. Compulsions usually involve some aspect of personal choice. Individuals who struggle with them may experience intrusive thoughts or emotional distress. Usually, they still have a choice in whether they give in to the compulsion. However, dependency can form over time if a person chooses to repeatedly act on the compulsion. Early intervention and mental health treatment will help individuals with compulsions learn healthy ways to cope. Untreated compulsions can potentially lead to addictive behaviors like substance misuse. The mental health professionals at A New Hope Recovery can help families intervene on behalf of loved ones who might struggle with compulsions or OCD. We can provide assessments, intervention support, counseling services, and consultations. To get help for your loved one, call us at (407) 501-8490.