Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

One of the most common mental health conditions in America, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder involving recurrent, unwanted thoughts and/or actions.

Obsessive compulsive thoughts and actions take up time and energy. A person suffering from OCD may not be able to maintain a healthy, daily routine while trying to manage these distractions.

OCD causes anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts when left untreated.

Like many anxiety disorders and depression, alcohol and drug addiction often co-occur with OCD. This pairing can cause serious mental and physical damage. In these dual diagnosis situations of drug addiction and OCD, it’s crucial to get the right treatment for both disorders.

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Co-Occurring OCD And Addiction

The mental and emotional pain OCD inflicts can lead sufferers to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

Substance use disorders affect more than one-quarter of those who seek treatment for OCD.

- U.S. National Library of Medicine

Many movies and television shows portray those with OCD as nervous and hyper-organized but overall healthy people. OCD is actually a serious mental illness disrupting people’s home, work, and family lives.

Coping with OCD obsessions can be exhausting. Self-medicating with drugs only provides a short relief. This leads to repeated abuse whenever unwanted thoughts or urges arise. With enough time and abuse, a drug or alcohol addiction can form.

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Social Isolation, OCD, And Addiction

Social isolation caused by OCD can also lead to drug abuse and addiction. Those suffering from OCD understand that their obsessions and compulsions don’t make logical sense. OCD sufferers — and addicts — often feel shame for thinking and acting the way they do.

Like drug addiction, an obsessive-compulsive disorder can leave people feeling isolated from the outside world. Someone suffering from OCD might avoid important people and social settings to keep their obsessions and compulsions private. This shame, loneliness, and physical isolation easily leads to substance abuse.

Symptoms And Effects Of OCD

OCD often emerges in someone’s late teens and early twenties, but it can also start in the early teens. Since many teens begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol during this same window, the potential for co-occurring OCD and substance abuse grows.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, teens with OCD may be especially vulnerable to abusing drugs or alcohol.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is marked by having “obsessions” and/or “compulsions.” Those self-medicating OCD with drugs or alcohol might be trying to manage these symptoms.

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OCD Obsessions

Obsessions are frequent and forceful images, urges or thoughts that cause the sufferer great distress or anxiety. The individual tries to ignore these obsessions or get rid of them with another thought or action. This is called performing a “compulsion.”

Distress from OCD obsessions can cause sufferers to withdraw from friends and family. OCD obsessions can also make forming new relationships difficult. Both situations can lead to depression and self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.

Common OCD obsessions include:

  • Fear of germs, viruses, bacteria or “getting sick”
  • Obsessions over “good” or “bad” numbers
  • Intrusive thoughts of harm toward others or self-harm
  • Obsessions with religious topics or “blasphemous” thoughts
  • Intrusive images of sexual acts
  • Fear of losing a loved one to injury or illness

OCD Compulsions

Compulsions are repeated behaviors or mental rituals those with OCD believe will deflect these unwanted thoughts or urges. These rituals have no real connection to the OCD obsessions they’re meant to get rid of. Those with OCD feel “compelled” to perform these rituals regardless of the logic in doing so.

Common OCD compulsions include:

  • Excessive washing and cleaning
  • Excessively “double-checking” things like light switches, appliances, and locks
  • Counting, repeating words, or tapping to soothe anxiety
  • Excessive praying out of religious fear
  • Repeatedly “checking in” on loved ones’ safety
  • Hoarding useless items or trash

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), both obsessions and compulsions are time-consuming, taking up more than an hour a day. They also significantly disrupt sufferers’ daily routines.

For example, someone with OCD might spend 30 minutes washing their hands after having an intrusive thought. He or she will complete this ritual despite being an hour late to work. The stress of OCD obsessions and compulsions on daily life can cause co-occurring drug addiction to take root.

Treating OCD And Addiction

The key to effectively beating co-occurring addiction and OCD is treating the disorders at the same time.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often an effective treatment for drug addiction and OCD. This form of mental health counseling teaches addicted people with OCD to cope with unwanted thoughts and feelings that can lead to drug abuse. Antidepressant medications can also treat OCD symptoms.

Common medicines for treating OCD symptoms include Fluvoxamine (Luvox CR), Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), Fluoxetine (Prozac), Sertraline (Zoloft) and Clomipramine (Anafranil).

It’s important to remember that addiction is a chronic illness. OCD’s symptoms can be treated with medication, but overcoming addiction requires constant attention to avoid relapse.

An inpatient or outpatient rehab can provide medically-assisted detox, mental health counseling for OCD symptoms and life coaching to stay sober.

Find Health And Balance Again

Obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction can leave you feeling helpless and alone. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Treatment providers can discuss treatment with options with you.

Contact a treatment provider here.



Jeffrey Juergens

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  • Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.

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David Hampton

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  • David embarked on his journey into sobriety in June of 2005, which led him to his current career path as a Certified Professional Addiction Recovery Coach in private practice in Greater Nashville. David is also a public speaker and the author of two books. David is cohost of the weekly Positive Sobriety Podcast, as well as being a frequent contributor to various articles and recovery based materials. As a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), David works closely with area treatment centers, recovery orientated nonprofit organizations, as well as being a keynote speaker for various recovery-focused events.

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