Compulsion: see what it is, what are the types and how to treat

It is normal to have some habits or habits, as long as they do not compromise well-being and mental health . When an action occurs intensively, causing damage to the routine, it can be a compulsion.

The condition is diagnosed and treated, but it must be taken seriously, as it has great impacts on personal and professional life.


What is compulsion and how to identify compulsive behavior?

Compulsion is repetitive and excessive behavior, usually done in order to relieve discomfort such as anxiety and distress.

In short, every behavior that a human being emits has a consequence, be it good or bad. Much of the behavior we have is aimed at alleviating some unpleasant feeling.

When we are thirsty, we drink water to relieve it. After taking a few sips, we are already satisfied and no longer need to drink water, so we stop the behavior.

A person with some type of compulsion may never feel satisfied after performing the compulsive action.

A person with a craving for coffee, for example, will drink several cups a day, even if he has already gotten the effects of caffeine on the body – the person just doesn’t feel satisfied.


Compulsion is behind a series of addictions and does not necessarily occur only with chemicals. It is possible to have compulsion for food in general, for games, for sex, among others.

Identifying compulsive behavior may not be so easy, as there is a fine line between repeating an action out of liking and repeating out of compulsion.

However, the main way to identify whether a behavior is compulsive is to pay attention to the following signs:

  • The action is carried out with the intention of relieving anguish or anxiety;
  • Performing the behavior brings temporary relief, but it soon passes, making the person need to repeat the behavior in a short time;
  • If the person is unable to perform the compulsive act, the feeling of anguish and anxiety increases significantly;
  • The performance of compulsive acts causes damage to personal life, finances, relationships, career, among others.

What is the difference between compulsion and obsession?

Obsession is an intrusive thought, that is, one cannot get rid of. Obsessions often cause significant distress, which can lead to compulsive behaviors.

In general, compulsions are linked to obsessive thoughts. A person with sex drive, for example, may have an obsession that is not wanted, and to alleviate the anguish caused by that obsession, he ends up getting involved in compulsive sex.

However, obsessions can exist without leading to compulsions. A person may have obsessive thoughts, but not use compulsions to relieve the tension caused by those thoughts.

What are the types of compulsion?

Some of the most common compulsive behaviors are:

For purchases

The compulsion to buy occurs when the person starts to buy frequently, even if he does not need and does not have money to pay.

Often, the person with this type of compulsion will buy until the credit card limit is reached and ends up creating huge debts.

By food (food)

Binge eating can be so damaging that it even has its own diagnosis: binge eating disorder.

People with this type of compulsion are affected by compulsive episodes in which they eat much more than normal within a period of 2 hours, and can even purge their food when their stomachs are full to continue eating.

One of the most common types of binge eating is binge eating, characterized by cases where the individual eats more than normal in a short period of time.

This type can cause harm not only to physical health, such as overweight, high cholesterol, among others, but also to social relationships.

Some people who suffer from binge eating avoid eating outside the home so as not to be “embarrassed” by eating too much.

By organization or cleaning

The craving for cleansing is often accompanied by obsessions related to germs. The person fears that if he doesn’t keep everything clean, he will be increasing the chances of coming into contact with bacteria that can cause diseases.

In the organization, on the other hand, people often feel very strong anguish when seeing things “out of place”, needing to organize them according to their sense of organization.

By sex

Although interest in sex is normal and even healthy, some people can take that interest far, developing a real compulsion.

This compulsion is characterized by thoughts and actions related to sex in general, including masturbation. It can be a compulsion for normal sexual behaviors or even illegal or morally condemnable behavior.

The problem is that this can expose the person to certain risks, such as unprotected sex, as well as it can hinder interpersonal relationships, career, among others.

Sex drive is also known as nymphomania, in the case of women, or hypersexuality, hypersexual disorder and even sexual addiction.

By games

In the compulsion for games, it is possible to talk about gambling as well as electronic games.

Gambling is characterized by betting, in which the person can lose or win a large amount of money.

Often, people who have a compulsion for this type of game end up ruining themselves financially, which can bring family, relationship, and other problems.

Electronic games, on the other hand, can also cause compulsion, causing damage to social, academic, professional life, among others, as the person spends much more time than the adequate playing.

How to get rid of compulsive behavior?

Getting rid of compulsive behavior can seem impossible, especially without expert help.

In general, when experiencing a compulsion, it is recommended to seek help from a mental health professional. In this way, it is possible to obtain an accurate diagnosis and indication of the appropriate treatment for the case.

Often, cognitive-behavioral therapy is well-suited for the treatment of compulsions. This is because it helps both in the behavioral component (compulsive act) and in the cognitive component (obsession) of compulsions.

Some techniques that can be applied by the therapist to deal with compulsions are:

Prevention of rituals

Not infrequently, compulsions are called rituals, and the ritual prevention technique is nothing more than an attempt to prevent compulsive behaviors.

For this, the therapist will approach situations that can increase obsessive thoughts, and at the same time will help the patient not to perform the compulsive act.

Gradually, the patient begins to realize that he can get rid of anxiety in ways other than compulsion, failing to perform compulsive acts.

Increased behavioral repertoire

Sometimes a person who deals with a compulsion does so because he does not know other ways of dealing with his own anguish.

With that in mind, learning other ways to deal with these unpleasant feelings can help you get rid of the compulsion.

Increasing the behavioral repertoire means having more behaviors available as resources to deal with anguish, avoiding the repetition of a specific behavior.

It is important to understand the differences between behaviors that are repeated for pleasure and those that result from compulsion. Therefore, in the Healthy Minute you will find more information about well-being and mental health.