Obsession & Compulsion


Obsession is intense focus or a mental lock on a particular thought or thought pattern. It is something like a tune you can’t get out of your mind. For most of us it is an occasional nuisance. In people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) it seems to be a severe thinking disorder that can make normal living almost impossible.

For most addicts, obsession falls somewhere between normal and the kind of abnormality we find in OCD. Obsession is only part of the addictive process, and whatever level of obsession (about alcohol, other drugs, cigarettes, food, diets, weight, body shape, etc.) you experience is magnified by the other elements of addiction to create the mental mismanagement characteristic of addiction.

This distortion of thinking can lead to mental fatigue, perceptual errors, and very poor judgment. In the earlier stages of addiction, it tends to be concentrated around the addictive substance and behavior directly involved with it. But later it seems to spill over into other areas of life.


Compulsion is the seemingly uncontrollable urge to do something. The combination of obsession and compulsion forms a very powerful part of the disease of addiction.

The key to understanding and coping with obsession and compulsion is to realize that there is no direct link between them and the behavior they seem to demand. The addiction keeps wanting to put a link between the obsession/compulsion and the behavior. The feeling is, “I just have to do it.” You don’t.

The trouble lies in remembering that when the obsession or compulsion is very strong. Pain does not require the application of drugs, but when you are in considerable pain it is hard to remember that you don’t need the drug to survive. When you are very angry, even enraged, you don’t have to attack anyone, although it is not always easy to remember that. When you are very hungry, you don’t have to eat right then. When you crave a drink, you don’t have to drink alcohol. And when you experience strong obsession and compulsion, you still have healthy options.

Because of the mental distortion that happens in addiction, do not rely on only your own thinking process for your decisions and action. This is where a Higher Power comes in. By being willing to listen to other addicts, to the literature of the Program, and to God (or your Higher Power), you defuse the power of the obsession and compulsion, and get past the crisis without damaging your recovery.

Body Image Obsession

A special burden for many addicts is obsession about body image. This obsession may be strong in any addiction (or even in people who are not addicted), but it is more common among women addicts, and especially in eating addiction. See the Body image module for more information.


Preoccupation is almost the same as obsession, but it implies decisions and acting on those decisions rather than just thoughts running through the head. Preoccupation usually distorts your priority system because it decreases judgment in a larger area of your life. Obsession may be very isolated, like frequent, powerful thoughts about alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, or your weight. Following are some examples of preoccupation:

Living in the future Worry is a preoccupation that short-circuits decisions and action in the resent in favor of living in the future. Self-help for worrying a lot may involve: reexamining your riorities, sharing your fears with someone else in the Program, trying to help someone who is struggling, reading some Twelve-Step literature, and making contact with your Higher Power or Program.

Disconnected with people Loneliness is a preoccupation that magnifies the feeling of separateness from others. It is often teamed up with self-pity. Almost by definition, the only way to get out of loneliness is to take a risk to get close to others.

Disconnected with life Boredom is a preoccupation that signals lack of meaning in life. It is a clear sign that you do not have an adequate contact with a Higher Power or Program. A good way to develop better contact is to reach out to others.

When the “committee in the head” is in session, the way out is to use a Higher Power and get out of your preoccupation with yourself. In most cases, that involves other people.

Obsession, see also: Addiction model (PEMS), Affirmations, Beliefs, Body image, Character defects, Contacts, Control, Craving, Defenses, Delusion, Dichotomous thinking, Diet mentality, Dual diagnosis, Emotions Anonymous, Gambling, Habit & structure, Mental aspects, Program, Psychological problems, Relaxation, Religiosity, Serenity, Service & giving, Sleep, Slogans, Sponsorship, Therapy & treatment, Visualizations.

Updated 11 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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