Obsession and addiction share a lot of similarities, but they are not the same thing. Obsessions are intrusive and persistent thoughts. In addiction, the brain learns to crave the addictive substance or behavior.
The two are closely linked, because in substance use disorders, drugs or alcohol become like an obsession. It starts to feel difficult to get pleasure any other way. Unwanted and intrusive thoughts are often part of this picture, causing people to seek out substances again and again, even as those substances cause significant damage in their life. Obsession can also feel like addiction, as whatever a person is obsessed with drives their thinking and motivates their actions.
While the factors that cause addiction are complex and different for everyone, people with addiction are more likely to have had a lower-functioning dopamine system before ever picking up substances. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that motivates people to repeat a behavior, and it’s heavily implicated in addiction; drugs and alcohol cause a dopamine flood, and with repeated use, the brain adjusts by lowering dopamine receptors.
I have become fixated on things since as early as I can remember. I also have OCD, which is not the same thing, but related in that the fear or worry becomes overpowering; engaging in a compulsion only eases the worry temporarily. Rumination, obsession, compulsivity, and addiction are all different things, but they are very closely connected. When you are fixated on something that causes anxiety or stress, it’s understandable to try to self-soothe by repeating an activity that will temporarily ease your suffering. But ultimately, addictive or compulsive behaviors always make that anxiety and stress worse.
What’s helped me is to channel that energy into healthier pursuits. I use it for creative endeavors like writing and drumming, for connecting with friends and family, and for reading and learning.
As the author Melissa Febos said in this interview I did with her: “Now that it’s been many years since I’ve really struggled with wanting to use any substances, the primary work is relocating my energy from sort of bottomless pits of obsession…These ephemeral things that just don’t realize the fantasies we have about them. For me a lot of it has been directing that energy towards fellowship, my art, my teaching.”
For some people, going on medication can help. Depression, anxiety, OCD, and other mental health disorders can all have excessive rumination as symptoms. Being on medication for a mental health disorder is nothing to be ashamed of, just like you wouldn’t be ashamed of being on medication for diabetes or heart disease. If you think medicine might be helpful for you, a mental health professional can answer any questions and recommend the best treatment plan for you.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you find peace in recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.