Compulsive behavior

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"Compulsive" redirects here. For other uses, see Compulsion (disambiguation).
Dermatophagia - extreme nail biting / biting of skin to point of an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or other condition leading to self mutilating behaviour such as autistic spectrum disorders (as is the case in this example) or Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome.

Compulsive behavior is defined as performing an act persistently and repetitively without it necessarily leading to an actual reward or pleasure.[1] Compulsive behaviors could be an attempt to make obsessions go away.[2] The act is usually a small, restricted and repetitive behavior, yet not disturbing in a pathological way.[1] Compulsive behaviors are a need to reduce apprehension caused by internal feelings a person wants to abstain or control.[3] A major cause of the compulsive behaviors is said to be obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD).[2][4]"The main idea of compulsive behavior is that the likely excessive activity is not connected to the purpose to which it appears directed.".[1] Furthermore, there are many different types of compulsive behaviors including, shopping, hoarding, eating, gambling, trichotillomania and picking skin, checking, counting, washing, sex, and more. Also, there are cultural examples of compulsive behavior.

Disorders in which it is seen[edit]

Addiction and obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) feature compulsive behavior as core features. Addiction is simply a compulsion toward a rewarding stimulus, whereas in OCD a compulsion is a facet of the disorder.[5] The most common compulsions for people suffering from OCD are washing, and checking.[4]

While not all compulsive behaviors are addictions, some such as compulsive sexual behavior (intercourse) have been identified as behavioral addictions.


About 50 million people in the world today appear to suffer from some type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Sufferers are often more secretive than other people with psychological problems, so the more serious psychological disorders are diagnosed more often. Many who exhibit compulsive behavior will claim it is not a problem and may endure the condition for years before seeking help. [6]



Compulsive shopping is characterized by excessive shopping that causes impairment in a person’s life such as financial issues or not being able to commit to a family. The prevalence rate for this compulsive behavior is 5.8% worldwide, and a majority of the people that suffer from this type of behavior are women (approximately 80%). There is no proven treatment for this type of compulsive behavior.[7]


Main article: Compulsive hoarding

Hoarding is characterized by excessive saving of possessions and having problems when throwing these belongings away. Major features of hoarding include not being able to use living quarters in the capacity of which it is meant, having difficulty moving throughout the home due to the massive amount of possessions, as well as having blocked exits that can pose a danger to the hoarder and their family and guests. Items that are typically saved by hoarders include clothes, newspapers, containers, junk mail, books, and craft items. Hoarders believe these items will be useful in the future or they are too sentimental to throw away. Other reasons include fear of losing important documents and information and object characteristics.[8]


Compulsive overeating is the inability to control the amount of nutritional intake, resulting in excessive weight gain. This overeating is usually a coping mechanism to deal with issues in the individual’s life such as stress. Most compulsive over-eaters know that what they are doing is not good for them. The compulsive behavior usually develops in early childhood. People who struggle with compulsive eating usually do not have proper coping skills to deal with the emotional issues that cause their overindulgence in food. They indulge in binges, periods of varying duration in which they eat and/or drink without pause until the compulsion passes or they are unable to consume any more. These binges are usually accompanied by feelings of guilt and shame about using food to avoid emotional stress. This compulsive behavior can have deadly side effects including, but not limited to, binge eating; depression; withdrawal from activities due to weight; and spontaneous dieting. Though this is a very serious compulsive behavior, getting treatment and a proper diet plan can help individuals overcome these behaviors.[9]


Main article: Problem gambling

Compulsive gambling is characterized by having the desire to gamble and not being able to resist said desires. The gambling leads to serious personal and social issues in the individual’s life. This compulsive behavior usually begins in early adolescence for men and between the ages of 20-40 for women. People that have issues controlling compulsions to gamble usually have an even harder time resisting when they are having a stressful time in life. People that gamble compulsively tend to run into issues with family members, the law, and the places and people they gamble with. The majority of the issues with this compulsive behavior are due to lack of money to continue gambling or pay off debt from previous gambling. Compulsive gambling can be helped with various forms of treatment such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Self-help or Twelve-step programs, and potentially medication.[10]

Trichotillomania and skin picking[edit]

Main article: Trichotillomania

Trichotillomania is classified as compulsive picking of hair of the body. It can be from any place on the body that has hair. This picking results in bald spots. Most people that have mild Trichotillomania can overcome it via concentration and more self-awareness.[11]

Those that suffer from compulsive skin picking have issues with picking, rubbing, digging, or scratching the skin. These activities are usually to get rid of unwanted blemishes or marks on the skin. These compulsions also tend to leave abrasions and irritation on the skin. This can lead to infection or other issues in healing. These acts tend to be prevalent in times of anxiety, boredom, or stress.[12]

Checking, counting, repeating, and washing[edit]

Compulsive checking can include compulsively checking items such as locks, switches, and appliances. This type of compulsion usually deals with checking whether harm to oneself or others is possible. Usually, most checking behaviors occur due to wanting to keep others and the individual safe.[13]

People that suffer from compulsive counting tend to have a specific number that is of importance in the situation they are in. When a number is considered significant, the individual has a desire to do the behavior such as wiping ones face off the number of times that is significant. Compulsive counting can include instances of counting things such as steps, items, behaviors, and mental counting.[14]

Compulsive repeating is characterized by doing the same activity multiple times over. These activities can include re-reading a part of a book multiple times, re-writing something multiple times, repeating routine activities, or saying the same phrase over and over.[15]

Compulsive washing is usually found in individuals that have a fear of contamination. People that have compulsive hand washing behaviors wash their hands repeatedly throughout the day. These hand washings can be ritualized and follow a pattern. People that have problems with compulsive hand washing tend to have problems with chapped or red hands due to the excessive amount of washing done each day.[16]

Sexual behavior[edit]

Main article: Sexual addiction

This type of compulsive behavior is characterized by feelings, thoughts, and behaviors about anything related to sex. These thoughts have to be pervasive and cause problems in health, occupation, socialization, or other parts of life. These feelings, thoughts, and behaviors can include normal sexual behaviors or behaviors that are considered illegal and/or morally and culturally unacceptable. This disorder is also known as hypersexuality, hypersexual disorder, nymphomania or sexual addiction.[17]


Main article: Compulsive talking

Compulsive talking goes beyond the bounds of what is considered to be a socially acceptable amount of talking.[18] The two main factors in determining if someone is a compulsive talker are talking in a continuous manner, only stopping when the other person starts talking, and others perceiving their talking as a problem. Personality traits that have been positively linked to this compulsion include assertiveness, willingness to communicate, self-perceived communication competence, and neuroticism.[19] Studies have shown that most people who are talkaholics are aware of the amount of talking they do, are unable to stop, and do not see it as a problem.[20]


Main article: Dietary Changes

Dietary changes alone or among other forms of therapy have been found to be effective in managing OCD/compulsive behaviour symptoms, this is due to the fact that Glucose plays an important role in those suffering from OCD.

Foods that help manage OCD include Whole grains (which help your body produce serotonin). Examples include oats, barley, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa and popcorn. Low-fat dairy products such as milk and yogurt. These play an important role in promoting blood sugar balance and the amino acid tryptophan, which promotes calmness. Fruits and vegetables are top sources of antioxidants, such as beta-carotene and vitamin C, which support your body's ability to resist infections and disease. These include berries, cherries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, leafy greens, broccoli, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts and squash. Fish, walnuts and flaxseed are probably the most effective with OCD symptoms. These are known as “brain foods”, they provide a variety of essential nutrients for the brain . Examples include salmon, herring, lake trout, halibut and mackerel, ground flaxseed and walnuts. These foods are prime sources of omega-3 fatty acid (fat that plays an important role on brain function) According to the ACNT, omega-3 fats may provide exceptional benefits for people affected by nervous disorders. For best potential results, regularly incorporate cold-water fish into balanced, healthy meals.

Foods that aggregate OCD include sugary foods such as soda, candy and other sweets. Sweets raises blood glucose levels, resulting in a temporary, mood-elevated high. Sugary foods may contribute to anxiety/OCD especially in people who are very sensitive to the effects of sugar, including individuals with hypoglycaemia or other blood glucose disorders. Avoid caffeinated foods such as coffee, tea, chocolate or sodas. Caffeine may increase anxiety in some people due to its stimulating effects on the nervous system. According to the Edmund J. Bourne's "The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook" published in 2005, people with anxiety disorders should evaluate all forms of caffeine in their diet and strive to reduce caffeine consumption to 100 mg/day or less. Avoid alcohol, as it may cause temporary relief from symptoms, however makes them worse in the long run by triggering panic attacks or OCD behaviours. In addition to its profound psychological effects, alcohol also destabilizes blood sugar and interferes with sleep, possibly further contributing to anxiety. Alcohol use may also interact with medications used to treat anxiety disorders, rendering them less effective or causing a dangerous sedative effect. Avoid processed foods such as frozen dinners and fast food, they may cause nervousness and malaise, according to an article on nutrition and anxiety by Ilyne Sandas, M.A., L.P. and Christine Siegel.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ a b "Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Symptoms, Behavior, and Treatment". Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  3. ^ "Addictive Behaviors, Compulsions and Habits". Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  4. ^ a b (1996). Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Decade of the Brain. National Institutes of Health.
  5. ^ "International OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) Foundation - What Is OCD?". Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  6. ^ Toates, Frederick (2002). Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Class Publishing. pp. 88–89. ISBN 9781859591413. 
  7. ^ "A review of compulsive buying disorder". 2013-08-12. Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  8. ^ "International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) - Hoarding Center". Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  9. ^ "Compulsive Eating". 2013-01-24. Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  10. ^ "Pathological gambling - National Library of Medicine - PubMed Health". Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  11. ^ "What Is Hair Pulling? | About Hair Pulling & Skin Picking | Trichotillomania Learning Center". Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  12. ^ "What Is Skin Picking? | About Hair Pulling & Skin Picking | Trichotillomania Learning Center". Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  13. ^ "Compulsive Checking in OCD". OCD Types. Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  14. ^ "Counting Compulsions". OCD Types. Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  15. ^ "Repeating". OCD Types. Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  16. ^ "Washing and Cleaning Compulsions". OCD Types. Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  17. ^ "Compulsive sexual behavior". 2011-09-15. Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  18. ^ Bostrom, Robert N.; Grant Harrington, Nancy (1999). "An Exploratory Investigation Of Characteristics Of Compulsive Talkers". Communication Education 48.1: 73–80. 
  19. ^ McCroskey, James C.; Richmond, Virginia P. (1993). "Identifying Compulsive Communicators: The Talkaholic Scale". Communication Research Reports 10.2: 107–114. 
  20. ^ Walther, Joseph B. (Aug 1999). "Communication Addiction Disorder: Concern over Media, Behavior and Effects". Psych Central. Retrieved 21 Oct 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Sándor Ferenczi, 'The Compulsion to Symmetrical Touching', Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psychoanalysis (1926)
  • A. J. Lewis, 'Obsessional Illnes', in Inquiries in Psychiatry (1967)
  • Rob Long, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (2005)
  • Lennard J. Davis, Obsession; A History (2008)

External links[edit]