How Compulsive Behavior Relates to OCD

compulsive behavior

To some extent, many of us suffer from some forms of compulsive behavior. This could be anything ranging from an innocent focus on making sure your door is locked or on cleaning stains on your clothes to dangerous compulsions such as compulsive hand-washing, cleaning, gambling, hoarding, or shopping.

Dangerous compulsions could lead to life-destructive events such as interpersonal conflicts and damage to one’s mental health. There is also a fine line between when an innocent compulsive behavior could turn into full on obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and begin to take over your quality of life.

Compulsive behaviors tend to be behaviors that are over-indulged, while OCD pertains to the disorder when a person performs those compulsive behaviors to ease underlying anxiety or any potential intrusive thoughts/negative emotions. Individuals may be showing signs of OCD when they begin to participate in regular compulsive behaviors like “checking” and “ritual” behavior. These behaviors can range from repeating phrases, constant hand-washing, or checking to see if the door is locked or the oven is off. Truthfully, a person with OCD can turn a normal habit into an OCD ritual, it all depends on the person and what compulsive behavior they need to satisfy their anxiety.

Also, note the difference between obsession behavior and compulsive behavior: Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. The compulsions are the actual actions that the person does to reduce those obsessive thoughts.

Distinguishing Compulsive Behavior and OCD 

Compulsions tend to be over-indulging behaviors in a certain aspect of life. These can include sex, gambling, or even exercise. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) falls into a bit more of a dangerous mental health area, where the compulsion is now done to relax an underlying anxiety. A few examples of OCD include:

  • Perfectionism – There is a healthy amount of perfectionism that people may jokingly refer to as “OCD” that pushes people to pay attention to slight details and care about something that they are doing or creating. There is also an unhealthy form of perfectionism that is overly concerned about evenness or exactness, the need to know or remember, and the fear of losing or forgetting any important information.


  • Fear or Anxiety over Contamination – Contamination fear is another component of OCD that could include any body fluids, household chemicals, contaminates, or dirt. Contamination fixation is seen in OCD, which could lead to excessive hand washing, showers, cleaning, or washing of clothes.


  • Intrusive Thoughts – Everyone has intrusive thoughts to some extent, the only difference between OCD and non-OCD individuals is that OCD individuals can obsess over the thought and not feel better until they perform the compulsive behavior to relieve it. This could be worry over having forgotten something, unwanted sexual thoughts, thoughts of harming others or themselves, or any other thought process that seems dangerous, or out proportion to the amount a person should think about those things.


  • Fear of Loss of Control – A fear of loss of control could be the fear of acting on an impulse to harm someone, to blurt out any obscenities, or of stealing something. Loss of control is by far one of the greatest fears for people with OCD and people with compulsive behaviors as well as OCD individuals can feel this way.

Compulsive behaviors and OCD are both be extremely difficult to manage, which is why developing a further understanding of the disorder or actions can aid with coming up with a plan. If you or someone you know has any of the above concerns, it is very important to see a psychiatrist right away.

How to Manage

Compulsions and OCD both lead to repetitive behaviors that could be potentially damaging to one’s life or mental health. These individuals may become trapped in a pattern of repetitive actions of senseless thinking, in which it is rather difficult to break away from and gets worse over time.

Some people are able to overcome their compulsions and OCD through the help of family or self-discipline, but success rates without professional help is very low. For most, the answer is almost always some form of treatment. This treatment includes cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling approaches that have been proven to be effective for many individuals with moderate cases of compulsive behavior or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and/or medication. If you feel like you are suffering from some form of compulsive behavior or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), then contacting a professional for diagnosis and treatment of your compulsive behavior is the best option.

If you are having signs or symptoms of compulsive behavior or OCD, please contact a psychiatrist near you. Dr. Sean Paul, MD is a board certified psychiatrist specializing in treating people with compulsive behavior and OCD among other mental health concerns.