Addressing Compulsive Behaviors

Compulsive behavior is an umbrella term for a wide range of repetitive behaviors that can eventually become problematic or life-debilitating. While most of us think of addictive behaviors in the terms of drug use, compulsive behaviors can also range from obsessive viewing of social media, overuse of pornography, hair pulling, skin picking, emotional eating, restrictive eating, over-exercising, shopping excessively despite debt, sex addiction, and over-working. These behaviors can range from minor to problematic to life-altering concerns.


Compulsive behaviors can become addictions over a period of time where they are left unaddressed. One of the most life-risking addictions one can develop is from chronic use of legal or illicit substances. Each substance varies in how long an addiction can take develop, some taking only weeks before there is physical and/or psychological dependency. Many substances can be life-threatening once an individual is physically addicted, and they will need detox services or medically assisted treatment (MAT) to come off of or manage their condition.


Some compulsions and addictions we find easier to discuss or laugh at while others can create a stronger sense of shame due to stigmatization, especially with illicit drugs. In my experience working with individuals with a compulsive behavior or addiction, it is often embarrassing to look at these behaviors or even acknowledge them. Some of us still live under a sense of denial which feels like it can protect us from shame. Others of us are ready to admit our compulsive behaviors or use of substances. Most of us didn’t really choose to head where we ended up. At a certain time, we wanted something pleasurable, found what gave us pleasure, and used it as an alleviation to our pain and stress.


It’s easy to relate to going out and spending a lot of money because you had a bad day and so maybe imaging this can help create an understanding of how compulsions and addictions develop. This is where compulsive behaviors ultimately come down to three common elements. 1) They helped us avoid pain. 2) They brought us a sense of pleasure.

3) They eventually became hardwired in our brains and turned into an urge or compulsion that is activated upon encountering a trigger. Below to the left you will find a video by expert Gabor Mate who can beautifully explain how we rethink addiction.


Despite my eight years of experience in working with compulsions and addictions, it was not until recently where I felt I had an effective tool to desensitize these behaviors. It was at that time where I was finally able to learn EMDR for desensitizing positive feelings states, strong sense of avoidance, and visceral urges that one can experience. While there are many therapists trained in EMDR for trauma, there are fewer who are trained in EMDR for addictions and compulsive behaviors. As the problem of addiction changes and rises, we will need more professionals who can effectively use EMDR and other methods to effectively treat addiction. Below to the right you will see a video that explains how EMDR can be an effective method for addiction. For more inquiry, please feel free to email me, contact information listed below.

Special Note:  Most of my EMDR experience in treating compulsions is with individuals who have non-substance related compulsions. If you do seek my services for substance abuse, I will require that you sign releases for your doctor, family, and other important individuals. I ask this because chemical dependency can be life-threatening and treatment for substance addictions is better when it is integrated. If you are court-referred, I am not a provider who can sufficiently provide you with the level of treatment you are likely needing. If your use is endangering your life, I recommend seeking residential, inpatient, and detox services to stabilize your addiction before scheduling an appointment with me.