Are Addiction and Obsession the Same Thing?

Are Addiction and Obsession the Same Thing?

Are addiction and obsession the same thing? 

This is a great question to ask because addiction and obsession are more closely connected than you might think.

Addiction can often seem like an obsession. 

And, obsession can often seem like an addiction. 

Particularly, to someone watching from the outside. 

Or, to someone who has no real-life experiences with these diseases.

The word obsession is thrown around a lot these days. I'm so obsessed with The Beatles. 

I'm so obsessed with that podcast. 

They're obsessed with themselves. 

But, being very interested in something isn't the same thing as an obsession. 

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Looping: What Addiction and Obsession Have in Common?

You might be observing someone you know who is struggling with addiction. 

You might be watching them choose their substance of choice over jobs, relationships, or even their own health.

Or, you might be experiencing addiction yourself. 

You might feel less pleasure in the things that you used to enjoy. 

Or, you might spend all of your time wondering when you're going to get drunk or high again.

Addiction functions on a loop. It makes people get stuck in repetitive patterns of thinking and behaving. 

Like a vinyl record getting stuck on the same note.

This can seem or feel like having an obsession. 

Defining Addiction

Addiction is a dependency on a particular substance, thing, or activity. 

Yes, you can be addicted to things other than drugs and alcohol.

Addiction can be a substance like alcohol, cocaine, or opioids. 

Or, it can be a thing like a relationship, a goal, a child, or a career. 

Addiction can also happen with activities like hiking or having sex. 

You might feel like every other activity isn't as interesting or rewarding.

Addiction is dependency. 

And, this dependency has a physical origin in your brain.

The dependency develops because of a chemical in the brain called dopamine.

When you engage in a pleasurable activity, like meditation, writing, or sex, your brain releases the chemical dopamine. 

These are sometimes referred to as pleasure signals because they're chemicals that make you feel good.

Substances like alcohol, pills, cocaine, and heroin release a huge amount of dopamine into the brain. 

This causes the brain to become dependent on these substances for dopamine release.

This chemical dependency is called addiction.

We most commonly associate addiction with substance. 

But, the brain doesn't distinguish which activities are producing dopamine. 

This means that the chemical dependency in the brain created by substance and alcohol abuse can also happen with other things: like people or activities.

You can get addicted to a relationship. 

You can get addicted to social media likes. 

Your brain might also get addicted to the dopamine rush of climbing mountains or seeing a certain balance in your account.

Defining Obsession

An obsession is a ritualistic routine that becomes a normal part of your life. 

Think of the person locking the door 9 times. 

Or, someone who always has to wear yellow.

Typically, the person might consider performing this ritual as something necessary to feel safe or to ease their anxiety. 

Obsessions can often be tied to traumatic events.

An obsession makes a person feel safe, even if that's a totally irrational belief. 

Examples of obsession might be repeated handwashing, sticking to a certain route, or imbuing an object with power.

Obsession can also be described as having persistent unwanted thoughts and urges that are intrusive, distressing, and unpleasant. 

This might be experienced as persistently negative thoughts or beliefs: something is wrong with me or something bad is going to happen. 

Or, perhaps you can't stop comparing yourself to others: they have a better body, a more stable relationship, they're closer to their family.

This means that people with obsessions are trying to control because they have parts of themselves that are so difficult to control. 

Addictions Vs Obsessions: Understanding the Difference

There are strong correlations between obsession and addiction. 

People who are prone to addiction are also frequently also prone to obsessions. And, vice versa.

One key difference between obsession and addiction is that addiction is about escape and obsession is about control.

An addict seeks to leave their environment while an obsessive seeks to control it. 

So while some of the behavior might be the same, the impulse driving the behavior is different.

Understanding Obsessive Behaviors

Gambling can be a great example of a behavior that can be both addictive and obsessive. 

An obsessed gambler has to bet on the same horse every time. 

Or, they create rituals around watching a certain show. 

In gambling, part of the obsessive behavior is thinking about how the money will be spent.

This ties into obsession as persistent thoughts and urges. 

The thoughts are about what will be done with the money. 

The addiction is the need to place the bet. In this way, it's important to note that obsessive behavior and addiction can feed off one another.

This causes people to get stuck in obsessive, addictive loops. 

People stuck in this way are typically reluctant to consider their own behavior because they're too stuck in connecting these behaviors to survival. 


Obsession and addiction can often look alike.

Some of the reason is that both obsession and addiction are prompted by our survival instinct. 

We cannot survive without our addiction. We cannot survive without their ritual.

If you're struggling with some of the behaviors mentioned in this article, you should seek treatment. 

It's an important step to take. 

Particularly, if you're struggling to decide if you're struggling with an obsession or if you're struggling with addiction.

A counselor will be most prepared to answer this question.

Take a deep breath and seek the treatment you need. Make becoming healed your next obsession. 

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June 18th, 2024

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