Your Path To Healing Starts at Mt. Sinai

Addiction: When an Impulse Becomes a Compulsion

Every person on earth has impulsive and compulsive behaviors hardwired in their DNA. Simply put, they are essential for our survival. Impulsivity encourages us to act on instinct, and compulsivity is acting upon an irresistible urge. While they may sound similar, one is an action taken without thought (impulsive behavior) while compulsive behavior is premeditated.

If you are worried about a potential substance use disorder or if you are in the midst of recovery from substance abuse, it helps to understand how impulsive and compulsive behaviors marry and become an addiction that leads to severe mental health crises that take control of your life. By recognizing these behaviors and what causes them, you can resist your temptation to use or to relapse.

How Can I Recognize My Impulsive and Compulsive Behaviors?

Impulsivity is guided by the need to experience pleasure. This may be as benign as reaching for that candy bar and tossing it on your pile of groceries in the checkout lane or far less wholesome, such as having your first hard liquor shot at a high school party. This impulsive behavior in either situation is characterized by a feeling of anticipation and arousal before using which is then met with pleasure and gratification, and finally release.

Compulsive behavior varies from impulsive behavior because the individual who engages in it does so for a very different reason. They aren’t acting on a whim, as most are who act on impulse, but rather, they do so to minimize negative feelings and alleviate anxiety and stress. Their compulsive acts are using habitually done, occur repeatedly, and continue to happen regardless of the problems the behaviors cause. An example of compulsive behavior would be feeling the need to “pregame” and have 3 or more drinks before leaving for a party because you know you won’t be able to let loose and minimize your awkward feelings of social anxiety without being drunk first.

What Is the Link Between Impulsivity & Compulsivity for Addicts?

Simply put, impulsivity comes before compulsivity and is what kickstarts an addiction or also the beginning of a relapse. Later on, the shift is less guided by pleasure-seeking as the primary motivator, and pleasure takes a backseat. By this point, using the substance of choice becomes a compulsive need to minimize negative feelings and to stave off the physical and emotional toll of withdrawal.

Addicts may continue to partake in impulsive behaviors apart from substance abuse. For instance, many may engage in:

  • Excessive shopping
  • Unsafe sex
  • Gambling
  • Driving under the influence
  • Overdosing

You Can Control Your Impulses & Compulsions. Contact Mount Sinai Wellness Center for Lasting Sobriety.

Regardless of whether it was an impulse/compulsion problem or something more layered and complex that led you to abuse drugs and/or alcohol, obtaining long-term recovery is definitely possible. You can learn delayed gratification and how you can wait before acting on impulses, employ mindfulness strategies so you won’t have to fully anticipate stress or pain, and create a plan to deal cope with temptation to use in a more and healthy positive way. Try working with a therapist or asking those who are close to you to point out to you any of the undesirable behaviors you have for which you may have blinders on so you can get control of your impulses.

To get control of your impulsive and compulsive behavior surrounding addiction, you’ll need help from addiction specialists. Contact our team at Mount Sinai Wellness Center to get started on your journey to a brighter future.

Reach out to our team for healing from addiction. You can hit us up online or call (800) 353-4673 to speak to a member of our friendly team.