Maintaining recovery from drug or alcohol abuse requires an appropriate plan for preventing relapse. Since substance abuse does not always relate to temptations or cravings associated with an addiction, recognizing the signs of compulsive behaviors versus addictive behaviors will help determine the relapse prevention options that address your goals. According to Columbia University, compulsion and addiction have similarities, but the problems associated with both situations will impact your relapse prevention plan. Recognizing your behavior ensures that a personalized plan will address your current recovery goals.

What is Compulsion?

According to Columbia University, compulsion refers to a repetitive and ritualistic behavior that does not have a rational motivation. For example, walking around a car in a specific direction before sitting down is a compulsive behavior. In most cases, the ritualistic behavior relates to anxiety or emotional turmoil. When an individual worries about germs, for example, he or she may wash his or her hands several times.

Compulsions are actions or behaviors that attempt to drive away anxiety. In some cases, an individual abuses a substance as part of a compulsion rather than an addiction. For example, smoking several cigarettes in a social setting or drinking excessively due to social anxiety. The behavior is dangerous and contributes to the risk of relapse, but it is not necessarily caused by an addiction or cravings for the substance.

What is an Addiction?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine says that an addiction is a chronic disease in the brain. Since drugs or alcohol hijack or tap into the brain’s normal communication systems, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it alters the way an individual responds to natural hormones and communications. Substances flood the brain and body with pleasure hormones or activate neurons in the brain for false communication with the body. Over time, you build up a physical tolerance to the substance and take larger amounts of the drug.

Addiction occurs when you abuse the substance despite the harmful effects of the drugs. For example, continuing to abuse a drug after a severe medical condition develops or after losing family members. Columbia University says that addictions cause an inability to stop the substance. When you crave a substance after completing a treatment program, identifying healthy coping strategies will limit the risk of relapsing.

Preventing Relapse for Drugs or Alcohol

Columbia University explains that compulsive disorders and substance use disorders have similarities. The primary similarities between the disorders include:

  • Genetic or family history
  • Psychological components, such as anxiety in specific situations
  • Stress or challenges that contribute to the disorder
  • Traumatic situations causing the disorder
  • Feeling a lack of personal control

Since compulsive behaviors sometimes result in substance abuse, preventing a relapse must focus on the underlying cause of the behavior. Addressing compulsion focuses on the anxiety associated with substance abuse. Using healthy behaviors to drive away anxiety prevents a relapse. If cravings for the substance occur after treatment, then identifying healthy coping strategies for the physical and emotional response associated with the drug reduces the risk of relapsing.

Focusing on long-term recovery goals requires a personalized plan. Since substance abuse relates to several factors and causes, a treatment program that develops a personalized relapse prevention plan and provides a healthy support system helps you maintain your recovery goals and focus on the next step toward a healthy lifestyle.

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