While being impulsive is about relying on your gut feeling and going with the flow, compulsion comes from intrusive thoughts and irresistible urges to do specific things. Both qualities can be part of your personality in different circumstances.
The primary difference between impulsive and compulsive behavior primarily relates to the thought process behind it. While impulsive people focus more on instant gratification, compulsive people are driven by urges to do things that ultimately serve no logical purpose.
What Does It Mean to Be Impulsive?
Impulsivity is a characteristic of people who prefer to make spur-of-the-moment decisions. Most of us occasionally do things without foresight – like buying a magazine in the grocery store checkout line or ordering pizza for dinner because you aren’t in the mood to cook. The outcomes of minor decisions like these will not significantly impact your life.
From a mental health perspective, spontaneity is not necessarily symptomatic of a condition. However, impulsive behavior can be problematic in the context of mental and behavioral health challenges like ADHD, substance abuse disorders, borderline personality disorder, gambling, sex addiction, and bipolar disorder.
Examples of impulsive behavior that can have severe negative consequences include:
- Legal and financial problems related to driving under the influence or spending more than you can afford
- Relationship issues stemming from unprovoked arguments and fights
- An STD or unwanted pregnancy resulting from unprotected sex
- Weight gain due to binge-eating unhealthy foods
What Is Compulsive Behavior?
A behavior is compulsive when you have the uncontrollable urge to count, clean, or check things because you believe repeatedly performing these specific actions can prevent undesirable consequences. You might experience these compulsions if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, a mental health condition that involves overestimating threats and believing you alone have the power to ensure they do not happen.
People with OCD may spend hours every day doing ritualistic things like:
- Washing, cleaning, and sanitizing their home or belongings
- Arranging and rearranging items in a specific pattern or combination
- Repeatedly checking things like light switches, door locks, and appliances
- Counting items
Impulsivity, Compulsivity, and Substance Abuse
There is a link between substance use and impulsive decision-making. Since drinking and drugs lower your inhibitions, you may do more irresponsible things when you’re intoxicated. On the other side of the equation, an out-of-control addiction can become a compulsion when the urge to drink or use drugs is part of your daily life. When you try to quit after years of substance misuse, you will likely experience cravings that can be powerful enough to compel you to return to your substance of use.
If you’ve lost control of your life and rely on drugs and alcohol as your primary coping mechanism, finding the motivation to get sober is only the first step in your journey. You’ll need plenty of support along the way to learn how to manage the symptoms of your illness and manage complex emotions without the crutch of mood-altering substances, and you can find it at a certified treatment facility.
Contact Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers
When you’re ready to accept help, our recovery experts are here 24/7 to provide a complimentary addiction evaluation. We have provided effective, affordable, and personalized alcohol and drug treatment in the Pacific Northwest since 1983. To find the best option for your needs and lifestyle, reach out to us today.