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Many people have a difficult time in determining if a negative or problematic behavior is just a bad habit or if it may be a much more significant problem. Generally we see a bad habit as something that can be relatively easy to change if we just apply a little bit of willpower and self-control. For some behaviors that may be true for many people it is not an issue of lack of will-power or self-control that is driving the behavior.


Compulsive behavior is more than just a bad habit. In fact, compulsive behavior is defined as a repetitive behavior or act that does not produce any type of satisfaction or reward for the person. In many cases the behavior or repetitive act is destructive and damaging to the person’s life in a variety of ways. In contrast bad habits typically result in some type of reward for the person, at least at the onset of the behavior. A win at the poker table, that satisfaction with finding a great deal in the store or the thrill of meeting a new person online are the rewards that make the behavior justifiable even though it may be something counterproductive to the person’s life.


There are many different types of compulsive behaviors, which, depending on the specific behavior, may be easily identified as an addiction. Not all rise to the level of OCD or obsessive compulsive behavior, but they are definitely much more significant than a bad habit. Common addictions that have a compulsive behavior component include:

  • Shopping
  • Gambling
  • Eating
  • Hoarding
  • Texting, talking or being      online
  • Hair removal      (Trichotillomania)
  • Picking at the skin
  • Sex
  • Hand washing
  • Counting

People with compulsive behaviors cannot simply “change” their behavior or stop the action. They need to have counseling, support and treatment to be able to learn to manage the compulsive behavior so it no longer negatively impacts their life.

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