Addiction is a complicated issue for many people. Add into that behavioral challenges like impulsivity and compulsivity, it can feel like there is a lot to tackle in recovery. Many people with addiction have difficulty with emotional regulation, behavioral traits they need support to work out, and tools for learning how to manage a situation better. The journey of recovery is about discovering the challenges you face while seeking ways to make them better, a little bit at a time.

Impulsivity and Compulsivity

The quick definition of impulsivity is acting quickly without thinking through the end response. A person who acts impulsively does not think of consequences in the moment they act. There is a predisposition to look at smaller rewards over delayed gratification along with not being able to stop the behavior once they start. Compulsivity, on the other hand, are behaviors a person does that ward off negative feelings. These may continue even when negative consequences come their way. This results in doing the same thing over and over again and become habitual. Think of it this way:

  • Compulsive people try to avoid pain
  • Impulsive people try to seek pleasure

People who do compulsive acts are usually driven by pleasure-seeking or feeling arousal from a stimulus. Compulsive behaviors are driven by a desire to avoid discomfort and feelings of anxiety and stress that come before a habitual compulsive act, along with relieved feelings after stress.

Where Addiction Comes Into Play

These ways of behaving while addicted, or in recovery, occur because the cortex in the brain changes and is no longer able to regulate behavior or override negative impulses. This results in challenges for people’s behavior. Here are some ways it impacts people with addiction:

  • Early addiction: overloaded motivation circuits in the brain, excessive dopamine, and diminished capacity to regulate impulsive behavior
  • Late Addiction: on the spectrum from early to mid and late addiction, people become more habitual in their behavior. The motivation shifts towards avoiding negative consequences of not using substances
  • Responses to stress and anxiety are habitual so people feel they need to drink or use drugs or they will face negative consequences (when the opposite may be true)

Seeking Help

Although impulsivity and compulsive behaviors can be part of being addicted to drugs or alcohol, it does not have to have the last say in a person’s recovery. Learning how the body and mind respond to substance use is one piece of a much larger puzzle. You need to learn skills and tools that help you navigate the loss of behavioral inhibitions. Once you recognize what you need to feel successful in recovery, you can work to heal those spaces and begin the journey forward. Once you learn to recognize cues that trigger impulsive or compulsive impulses, you can work to reduce exposure to these triggers by minimizing their impact and learn strategies to overcome those urges.

A Step in the Right Direction understands the challenge you face mentally and physically moving forward in recovery. You are not going to change everything overnight but working one day at a time you can become more successful in healing from addiction. For more information sober living programs for men and women as well as recovery programs, call (877) 377-3702.