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Compulsive Behaviors

What is Compulsive Behavior?

Compulsive behavior involves an action that, on its own, is not physically addictive - such as eating, gambling, shopping, internet use, or sex. It is defined as a behavior that is conducted repeatedly due to a strong impulse – often against the best interest of the individual. The lack of a physical addiction separates this condition from alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, but compulsive behavior can still be very harmful, and should not go untreated.

The list of compulsive behaviors is wide-ranging, and can include any day-to-day activity that has become overpowering and destructive in an individual's life. Compulsive behaviors are a recognized psychological condition in the mental health community, due to the frequency of the behavior and the overall affect on quality of life.

Symptoms of Compulsive Behavior

Symptoms depend upon the type and nature of the behavior. Compulsive behaviors have a disruptive effect and interfere with the ability to function – at work and home.  Someone with compulsive behavior may feel like they cannot control their impulses and may engage in the behavior despite serious consequences.  They may not experience satisfaction or pleasure from the behavior but engage in the behavior to escape from other problems.

Treatment of Compulsive Behavior

Treatment options are available for individuals experiencing compulsive behaviors. A health professional will determine the most appropriate form of treatment, which may include medication and cognitive behavior therapy.  A treatment strategy may also include participation in support groups, which are often helpful in the recovery process.

How Compulsive Behavior Affects Lawyers

Lawyers are not immune from compulsive behaviors.  The stress associated with the practice of law may contribute to certain compulsive behaviors such as eating, gambling, shopping, internet use or sex.

Lawyer assistance programs (LAPs) are here to support lawyers, judges, students and other legal professionals who experience compulsive behaviors.  Contact your state or local LAP.

How to Help a Colleague With Compulsive Behavior

If you believe a colleague may have compulsive behaviors, encourage him/her to seek help.  Contact a LAP for additional support and resources.


Contact your local Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP)

Compulsive Gambling

Eating Disorders

Compulsive Sexual Behavior

General Resources



Gambling Twitter Chat Recap

On Dec 13, 2017, CoLAP hosted a live Twitter Chat on “Problem Gambling in the Legal Profession.” The guests were Christine Anderson, Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, Joan Bibelhausen, Minnesota Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and Keith Whyte, National Council on Problem Gambling, who discussed the consequences of problem gambling in the legal profession, signs and symptoms that might indicate a person may have a gambling problem, how to get help or refer someone else to help, and ways law schools and law firms can better address problem gambling. 

Click here for a full recap of the conversation with links to resources.