Columbia University’s short answer to the difference between a compulsion and an addiction is as follows:
The distinction between a compulsion and an addiction is a fine one because the terms are sometimes misused and the medical profession’s conception of each changes as new research becomes available. Addiction and compulsion each have biologic/genetic and psychological components and each involves a perceived lack of control by the individual facing them. However, there are some key differences to keep in mind when using these terms.
A compulsion is a repetitive, ritualistic behavior that a person performs without rational motivation. Compulsive actions and behaviors offer temporary relief from anxiety — in turn, the need to reduce this anxiety is what drives the compulsive behavior. Sometimes this anxiety takes the form of obsessive thoughts related to the compulsive behavior (i.e., fear of germs and hand-washing), but often the compulsive behavior has no clear relation to anything in particular (the need to walk all the way around one’s car clockwise before getting in).
Addictions, similar to compulsions, can offer relief from stress or anxiety, but are characterized primarily by an inability to discontinue a harmful behavior despite its negative consequences. Common addictions include unhealthy and repeated (over)use of alcohol, drugs, gambling, or smoking, for example. Addictions are easily formed to behaviors that provide physical or psychological pleasure or relief from pain.
Many people exhibit habitual behavior, but compulsions and addictions refer to those instances where these behaviors disrupt an individual’s ability to function. In fact, compulsions and addictions can be debilitating or become destructive if untreated, for the individual and/or her/his family, friends, and others. Individuals dealing with compulsion or addiction need to seek evaluation from a medical or mental health professional who can recommend behavioral therapy, medication, and/or group-run recovery programs to help restore a sense of control over their behavior.
Right now, porn addiction would fall in the lesser category of “compulsion” by most psychologist. However, I believe that definition is destined to change as more is learned about the brain chemicals released during a porn viewing.
Additionally, porn is using the same reward mechanism that drugs use. The main difference is that a chemical is not physically ingested.
Also, changing the definition may change the way insurance companies treat porn addiction. There may be resistance from insurance companies to label porn as an addiction rather than a compulsion. This resistance will be noticed by the psychology community.
In this website both of the terms compulsion and addiction will be used to describe porn. This is done mainly because most people will not know about the term compulsion. And secondly, most people on this website won’t care what the term is they just want help to quit.
Some people have called porn harder to quit than hard drugs. With the Triple A-Engine it is no wonder why that would be the case. Just because porn is currently termed a compulsion by most is no reason to think that it is less difficult to overcome. Porn can be challenge to overcome.
However, with effective strategies and activities it can be dealt with and the mind can heal and be porn free once again. Get the RAMP Solution to porn addiction if you need help.