Compulsive behaviours are actions a person takes that are disruptive to themselves and sometimes others. People who behave compulsively either do so because their brains are wired for such behaviour or because they feel an intense urge to do so and cannot simply stop the behaviour. They are often repetitive and don’t make sense within the context of the environment.
This article will provide symptoms and examples of compulsive behaviour, causes, treatment options, and information about when to seek professional help.
Symptoms of compulsive behaviour
Compulsive behaviours are often associated with mental health disorders, and the behaviours themselves can vary greatly. Still, not all of them are concerning. Some daily routines, like eating a meal at the same time or doing the same activity every evening, have compulsive elements but are not signs of an illness.
Related psychiatric disorders
Compulsive behaviours can be associated with several mental health-related illnesses or other diseases. Examples of these conditions may include:
- Substance use disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Eating disorders
- Neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease
- Autism spectrum disorder
Examples of compulsive behaviour
Compulsive behaviours are usually repetitive, occur habitually, continue in situations where they would be characterised as inappropriate or out of context, and lead to functional impairment.
Nearly any type of behaviour can be compulsive. Here are a few examples of more common ones:
- Compulsive movements, such as tremors or shaking
- Compulsive actions, like locking and unlocking a door over and over or washing hands immediately after touching a public door handle
- Compulsive sexual behaviour
- Compulsive buying
- Compulsive use of smartphones
Causes of compulsive behaviour
There are different reasons why someone might exhibit compulsive behaviours, either neurological or to avoid some negative consequence. People who behave compulsively are likely to:
- Have little ability to control or refrain from the behaviour
- Feel that the uncontrollable behaviours are unpleasant
- Feel like they are losing control if they don’t do the behaviour
- Have an internal feeling that they can’t stop doing the behaviour
Many times these issues are caused by OCD. OCD mainly affects people between the ages of 15 and 44 and is highly debilitating. OCD can be more disruptive than other non-fatal mental illnesses, including depression.
Neurologically related compulsive behaviour
Research indicates that uncontrollable compulsive behaviours are often associated with abnormalities in different brain regions where learning and behaviour occur. People who behave compulsively usually have brains that are overly active in habitual learning or underactive in goal-directed control.
Compulsive behaviours to avoid negative consequences
Some people behave compulsively to avoid feelings of stress or distress and to gain a sense of control. This is common in people with OCD and eating disorders like anorexia nervosa. In these situations, the person usually avoids something fearful or unpleasant.
For example, a person with OCD might compulsively check the locks on their doors to avoid having someone break into their home. A person with anorexia might not eat to avoid the unwanted result of gaining weight.
How to treat it
Compulsive behaviours related to mental illness are most successfully treated through mental health therapy. The specific type of therapy depends on your situation and symptoms. Some of the most effective types of treatment for compulsive behaviours related to mental illness include:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT): This type of therapy asks you to pay attention to your thoughts and identify any that are unrealistic or unhelpful. Over time, you work with your therapist to learn how to challenge these thoughts and change your behaviours to healthier, better-serving ones.
- Exposure therapy: This type of therapy exposes you to the thing or event that causes distress, such as touching a public doorknob, to reduce it. After the exposure, you’re asked to refrain from your normal compulsive response, such as washing your hands.
- Medication: Medication may be a helpful addition to therapy and will depend on your illness. For example, someone with OCD may be prescribed a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), whereas someone with Parkinson’s disease may be prescribed beta-blocker medications or dopamine replacements.
When to seek professional help
Anytime someone experiences repetitive behaviours they cannot control, whether it’s due to behavioural or neurological reasons, it’s essential to see a healthcare provider. Getting a diagnosis is the first step in determining the cause of compulsive behaviours and will help determine an effective treatment plan.
Compulsive behaviours are actions that are disruptive, often repetitive, and recurring. Many compulsive behaviours are related to a mental illness, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, and substance use disorders. Some compulsive behaviours are neurological and are symptoms of other conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease.
People who behave compulsively are likely unable to control the behaviour, feel that it’s unpleasant, feel a loss of control if they don’t do it, and/or feel that they cannot stop doing it. Examples of these behaviours include compulsively buying things, locking and unlocking a door before bed, and compulsive hand-washing after touching something in public.
Treatment for these problems depends on their cause but might include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. Though not all compulsive behaviours are cause for concern, you should consult a healthcare provider whenever you cannot control your behaviour or feel that the behaviour is disruptive.
A word of wellness
Feeling like you cannot control or stop certain behaviours can feel unpleasant and concerning. Whatever the cause of your behaviours, there are treatment options available. Seeking support from a medical and/or mental health provider can bring comfort and effective treatment to help you cope with and effectively manage your compulsive behaviours.
This story first appeared on www.verywellhealth.com
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: Compulsive behaviours can result from a disorder, such as Parkinson's disease or autism spectrum disorder, or a mental health disorder, such as a substance use disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or an eating disorder.
Answer: Different treatment options are available depending on the cause of your compulsive behaviour. Some therapy options include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. Medication may also be advised, depending on your symptoms and condition.