Addiction and obsession are often two words used interchangeably in everyday conversation. Someone may say, “I’m addicted to morning lattes,” or “I’m obsessed with morning lattes,” and mean the same thing – they really cannot get enough of their morning lattes. 

At the root of the words, however, addiction and obsession refer to different things. This is incredibly important to note as treatment for addictive behaviors versus obsessive behaviors is different from each other and proper healing and recovery is determined by the proper diagnosis. 

What is addiction?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Addiction is a chronic (lifelong) condition that involves compulsive seeking and taking of a substance or performing of an activity despite negative or harmful consequences.” 

Harvard Health goes on to say, “Clinicians and scientists alike now think that many people engage in potentially addictive activities to escape discomfort — both physical and emotional. People typically engage in psychoactive experiences to feel good and to feel better. The roots of addiction reside in activities associated with sensation seeking and self-medication.”

Addiction is more than just substance abuse, although that is one of the top forms of addiction. Gambling can become an addiction; shopping may become an addiction; habits of playing video games may turn into an addiction. All of these activities include a release from reality and a goal of pleasure-seeking to feel better. 

This is what characterizes an addiction – a behavior that people engage in repeatedly to feel sensation, to feel better or to escape from reality, or to self-manage stress (often in an unhealthy way).

What is obsession?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Obsessions  are repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that are intrusive, unwanted, and make most people anxious.” This is where addictive behaviors and obsessive behaviors have their key difference – while addiction is rooted in a desire for pleasure, obsession is rooted in fear.

Oftentimes, those engaged in obsessive behaviors are doing so out of fear for one reason or another. Examples of this obsessive behavior may include checking the locks in the house repeatedly for fear that if they do not, someone will break in; washing their hands obsessively out of fear of germs or contamination; checking the oven or other hot tools/appliances even if they know they’ve been turned off. 

These behaviors are not performed because the individual feels good doing it (although there may be small, temporary relief from the obsessive thoughts when the behavior is done), but because the individual is concerned they will be punished or suffer some sort of severe consequence if they fail to follow through. Ultimately, obsessive behaviors are rooted in fear and not a desire for pleasure-seeking.  

Am I obsessed or addicted?

When determining whether the behaviors you are engaging in have a root in obsession or addiction, it is important to take a look at what is motivating the behavior. Are you seeking it out to feel a pleasurable sensation or a release from reality? Or, are you performing these actions out of fear of what the consequences may be if you don’t?

To better determine what is driving your behaviors, consider the following: 

Signs of addiction:

  • Feeling the need to engage in the behavior daily or multiple times a day
  • Planning the time you will set aside to engage in the behavior
  • Needing more of a drug, betting higher amounts, spending more while shopping, etc. to feel the same “high” over time
  • Experiencing financial difficulties as a result of addictive behaviors
  • Continuing to engage in these behaviors despite negative social, occupational and financial consequences 

Signs of obsession: 

  • Fear of contamination and refusing to touch things others have touched or that they may touch out of fear of potentially contaminating them
  • Distress when objects are not set up in an orderly manner 
  • Intense, unwanted intrusive thoughts of violent behavior or sexual behavior that cause the individual much stress
  • Thoughts of behaving inappropriately in public 
  • Avoiding certain situations that may cause obsessive thoughts, like declining to shake hands with people 

Not everyone who shows these signs is guaranteed to be diagnosed with an addiction or obsession, respectively. But if you feel that you are repeatedly engaging in behaviors that do not seem healthy or are otherwise unwanted (but you feel that you cannot control them on your own), it may be time to consider pursuing professional help for the sake of mental well-being.

Addiction and obsession help 

If you feel like your life has been consumed with the pursuit of addictive or obsessive behaviors and you desire to refocus your health and well-being, help is available

To begin your journey to freedom and recovery, contact Real Recovery by calling 855-363-7325 or by contacting us online to get in touch with a certified therapist today.