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Do We Need Our Compulsive Behaviors?

In any 12 month period, reports the National Institute Of Mental Health, 18%of adults in the united States will experience anxiety so severe it could be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder. About 7% of adults will experience major depression. Anxiety is a pervasive problem which threatens people’s sense of security. Anxiety causes us to feel that we are being threatened in some way if by nothing else than our own thoughts. Often, addictions and addictive behaviors are coping mechanisms for anxiety. New research suggest that the majority of our compulsions- from drug use to checking our social media sites- could be rooted in anxiety.

According to The Wall Street Journal, “…compulsions…are born in anxiety and remain strangers to joy. They are repetitive behaviors that we engage in repeatedly to alleviate the angst brought on by the possibility of harmful consequences.” Symptoms of withdrawal like obsession and craving, for example, can feel like harmful consequences because the brain is convinced that it cannot survive without drugs and alcohol. For other anxieties, however, the brain is convinced the absolute worst will be the result of not engaging in a compulsion. Not checking social media, for instance, could mean we miss out on important news from a friend.

Compulsions, the article argues, are a form of self-reassurance. “Suffused with and overwhelmed by anxiety,” the author explains,  “we latch onto any behavior that offers relief by providing even an illusion of control.” That is because “the roots of compulsion lie in the brain circuits that detect threats and generate a profound feeling of anxiety…” Meaning, that compulsions cause our anxiety and anxiety causes our compulsions. Compulsive behaviors are a form of self-soothing, self-care, and survival.

The Difference Between Compulsion And Addiction

Where does a compulsion become an addiction? As the author points out, compulsions are “strangers to joy” whereas an addiction is rooted in pleasure. Neuroimaging research of both addictive and compulsive behaviors shows a distinct difference in this way. Of course,someone receives a reward from feeling relieved from their anxiety. Such reward would stimulate the areas of the brain which process pleasure. But the greatest activity is in the anxiety circuitry. Behaviors are not the same as substances. Though they create pleasure, they satisfy a different need.

Enlightened Solutions is a certified co-occurring disorder treatment facility offering partial care programs of treatment for both anxiety and co-occurring anxiety. If you or a loved one are struggling to cope with anxiety and compulsive behaviors call us

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