Skip to content

    Women's Health

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Out of Control: When A Fun Pursuit Turns Into Compulsive Behavior

    Do you shop to feel better, or surf the web when you know you should sleep? How to recognize the signs of addictive behavior.
    By
    WebMD Feature

    Whether it is shopping, surfing the Internet, or watching TV, a seemingly harmless indulgence can turn habit-forming faster than you think. While everyone overindulges occasionally, trouble strikes when the habit turns into an all-consuming need that must be met at the cost of everything else, including family, friends, and a career.

    Jerrold Pollak, PhD, a psychologist specializing in compulsive behavior, says, "Many behaviors can become compulsive. People can't stop doing them and they do them too much."

    The more you give in to the compulsion, the worse it gets until what started as a pastime has become an addiction. And that addiction comes with serious consequences for your physical, mental, and, sometimes, fiscal health.

    Luckily, there are warning signs that can alert you to when a habit is becoming a compulsion. Here are the most important signs to watch for. Here, too, are tips from the experts on what to do when you realize your compulsive behavior has gone too far.

    The difference between fun and compulsion: Too much of a good thing

    "Behaviors like shopping and surfing the Internet meet certain needs," says Pollak. "But there is a difference between a bad habit and a compulsion when it comes to engaging in these behaviors." Bad habits, Pollak tells WebMD, can be controlled. While the behavior might be a nuisance and undesirable, he says, it is not destructive to you and the people around you. Compulsive behavior is similar to addiction -- we reach a point where we cannot stop even though we know our behavior isn't serving us well.

    Enjoyable activities like web surfing and shopping can become compulsive behaviors because we use them to decompress and to wash away feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. "With a compulsion like shopping," says April Benson, PhD, "people rely on it to make them feel better or help them to avoid dealing with something." Benson is author of I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self. She says, "It [shopping] can start innocently, but build because it's self medication."

    1 | 2 | 3

    Today on WebMD

    hands on abdomen
    Test your knowledge.
    womans hand on abdomen
    Are you ready for baby?
     
    birth control pills
    Learn about your options.
    insomnia
    Is it menopause or something else?
     
    woman in bathtub
    Slideshow
    period
    VIDEO
     
    bp app on smartwatch and phone
    Slideshow
    estrogen gene
    Quiz
     

    Send yourself a link to download the app.

    Loading ...

    Please wait...

    This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

    Thanks!

    Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

    Blood pressure check
    Slideshow
    hot water bottle on stomach
    Quiz
     
    question
    Assessment
    Attractive young woman standing in front of mirror
    Quiz