How to Conquer Your Compulsions In Addiction Recovery
A compulsion, or compulsive behaviour, is something a person feels as if they have to do to alleviate psychological distress such as anxiety and depression. Typically, when someone deals with compulsions, they feel unable to resist doing the specific behaviour. For example, people may have compulsions to pray, wash their hands, or count.
Table of Contents
- 1. Compulsions VS. addictions
- 2. What causes compulsions?
- 3. Are compulsions normal?
- 4. What compulsions feel like
- 5. Compulsion types
- 6. 11 tips to stop the urge
- 7. Using mindfulness skills
- 8. Urge surfing
- 9. Changing your environment
- 10. The DEADS tool
- 11. Preventing compulsions
- 12. Promoting emotional health
- 13. When to seek help
- 14. References
The two main things compulsions are associated with are obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance abuse. When someone has either of those conditions, they may not even really want to engage in the compulsion, but feel unable to prevent themselves from doing so, even if there are negative consequences.
The Difference Between Compulsions and Addictions
When someone has an addiction, they are both psychologically and physically dependent on a substance such as a drug or alcohol. If they stop consuming the said substance, they will experience what it is known as withdrawal. They will most likely suffer from several different adverse symptoms because their body and brain have changed to function with the substance.
If someone deals with compulsions alone, they will not go through withdrawal. They may feel uncomfortable or psychologically distressed if they do not engage in the behaviour, but there will not be any physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms. Their body and their brain are not dependent on the substance or behaviour. 
What Causes Compulsions?
There are a number of different things that can cause compulsions. First of all, having compulsions can be a genetic trait passed down. There is significant evidence showing that compulsive behaviours tend to repeat in family lines. It also may be due to an imbalance of neurotransmitters, chemicals in the brain that help regulate function and response.
There is also evidence that compulsions can be environmentally triggered or even formed as people seek a “high” that they receive for doing a certain action or taking a certain substance. As they complete those actions more and more, the brain forms new neuropathways, and compulsions can begin. 
How Normal Are Compulsions?
Typically, almost everyone experiences cravings, compulsions, or urges at some point in their life. They usually pass with time and can vary in intensity. To avoid acting on dangerous compulsions, people have to learn coping skills to help them sit through the compulsion and maybe even make it past faster.
Compulsions typically only become dangerous or “irregular” if they are extremely strong, extremely frequent, and do not go away. These compulsions can be harder to ignore or get through, and can sometimes be classified as a psychological disorder.
What Does a Compulsion Feel Like?
When a person experiences a compulsion, they will generally feel a sense of resistance to following through with the action, often because they know it is not good for them or odd. However, whatever resistance they do have is overpowered by a strong drive to complete the compulsive behaviour. They often feel like if they do so, they will experience some sense of relief, though the relief is often short-lived.
When a person experiences compulsions, they may start to develop obsessions with the action and can get very anxious, stressed, or even panic if they are unable to complete the action. The high levels of anxiety can (though they do not always) cause the person to be a danger to themselves and those around them.
What Are the Different Types of Compulsions?
There are lots of different types of compulsions. Some can be seemingly normal behaviours (such as washing your hands) while others can seem irregular (taboo thoughts/actions.) The following are the most common forms of compulsions that a person can experience: 
- Compulsions to do drugs, drink alcohol, smoke, or eat (addictions)
- Compulsions to play video games, watch porn, partake in internet activities, or use the phone
- Compulsions to shop, either online or at a store
- Compulsions to eat specific foods: sweets, cheese, chips, soda, etc.
- Compulsions to chew nails, repeatedly wash nails, double-check things, and other nervous habits
11 Tips on How to Stop the Urge to Drink and Use Drugs
You may be finding it hard to curb the cravings and compulsions for your substance of choice in recovery. So here we have listed a few tips to help you conquer those desires:
- Keep track of your urges and behaviour: This can help you understand what your triggers are, know if your compulsions are getting worse or not, know how long they last, etc
- Avoid triggers: If you can identify what triggers your compulsions, avoid being around the triggers as much as possible
- Distraction: If you cannot avoid your triggers, try to distract yourself and stay busy until the compulsion passes
- Question your feelings: If you feel a compulsion to do something, question why you are feeling it, and work to reason with yourself. This can help you develop new coping strategies
- DISARM: DISARM is a method developed by Joseph Gerstein. First, you name what the compulsion is, make yourself aware of what you are feeling, and then actively refuse the behaviour/thought; do not even treat it as an option
- Drink refusal: Practice refusing drinks when people offer them to you. Be firm and direct with them
- Medication: Some medications can help you manage your compulsions or urges
- Meditation: Many people find meditation and mindfulness to be excellent coping strategies to avoid compulsive behaviours
- Urge Surfing: Relax and let yourself feel the urge come and go; it will not last forever
- Study the urge: Understanding your compulsions better can help you better understand how to avoid acting on them
- Countering the urge: Talk to yourself, out loud is best, about why you do not want to act on the urge. Give yourself reasons for ignoring the compulsion 
Using Mindfulness Skills
When you feel an urge or compulsion, you can use mindfulness to help fight it. Rather than panicking, acting on it, or trying to get rid of it, you can teach yourself how to sit with the urge. Relax and stay calm, and usually within a few minutes, it will subside, and you can go back to what you were doing.
Urge Surfing and Why It Works
Urge surfing is when a person sits and focuses on their urge. They allow themselves to feel the compulsion in entirety. They allow it to peak and then subside like a wave. This works because it stops the part of the brain that acts immediately on urges and teaches the brain that a compulsive is not a command that we must obey, but rather a sensation.
Changing Your Environment
Changing your environment is one of the biggest strategies for dealing with compulsions because it is often something in your environment or that happened in your environment that triggered it. If you get away from the trigger or what you associate with the urge, the compulsions almost always subside.
The DEADS Tool For Conquering Compulsions
Another alternative method of dealing with your compulsions is by using the DEADS tool which we have detailed below:
- DELAY: Tell yourself that you have to wait a certain amount of time before you can act on the urge. Often, when the time is up, the urge will be a lot weaker, and you will not have the same desire to act on it
- ESCAPE: Remove yourself from whatever situation is triggering your compulsion
- AVOID: Avoid anything that you know is a trigger
- DISTRACT: When you feel an urge or compulsion, get up and do something else. Stay busy, so you do not have time to focus on the urge
- SUBSTITUTE: Pick a different healthy action, and every time you feel the compulsion or urge, complete the healthy behaviour instead 
Can You Prevent Compulsions From Happening?
Sometimes. You can prevent compulsions from happening if you know what the trigger is and avoid the trigger. If you never come into contact with the trigger, you probably will not experience the compulsion. However, not all triggers are avoidable, and sometimes you may not know what all the triggers are; therefore, you will not be able to prevent the compulsion in those situations.
If you can prevent a compulsion from happening, it is a good idea. Especially if you do not yet have the coping mechanisms to prevent yourself from acting on the compulsion; however, if you can’t, it is okay. You will just have to spend extra time learning how to avoid acting on the compulsion when you feel it.
Raise Your Baseline: Sleep, Support, Emotional Health
Becoming emotionally healthy will help you better avoid compulsive behaviour. When someone is depressed, tired, or lonely, they often do not have enough willpower to deal with compulsions in a successful, healthy way. If you improve your baseline when you are not feeling compulsions, it will be easier to deal with it when you are.
You can raise your baseline by getting enough sleep and rest, getting support from friends, family, or a counsellor, and dealing with any other mental health or emotional problems that you may have. As you get healthier and gain adequate support, you will find yourself better equipped to deal with urges and compulsions.
When to Seek Help
Anytime your compulsions begin to affect your life adversely, you should seek help. This could be because they take up such a large portion of your day, are dangerous to your or other people’s health, or negatively affect your personal and professional relationships. Even if you do not feel like you necessarily fit any of those criteria if you think professional help could improve your quality of life, get it.
About the author:
Jon writes for ADT Healthcare and a number of other websites. Jon graduated with a degree in psychology in 1992. Jon has been in recovery for 19 years.