The Connection Between OCD and Addiction by Rehab Recovery Centers

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the most common mental health conditions in America. OCD involves recurrent, unwanted thoughts, and actions. The obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions intertwined with OCD take up a lot of energy and time. Because of this, individuals suffering from this condition may not be able to maintain a healthy, daily routine while attempting to manage their symptoms. When left untreated, OCD may cause anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.

Like many anxiety disorders, OCD often co-occurs with substance abuse and addiction. Unfortunately, this pairing of mental health conditions may cause serious physical and mental damage. If an individual suffers from both OCD and addiction, they should attend a dual diagnosis treatment center that will address both disorders simultaneously.

Let’s take a look at the connection between OCD and addiction, as well as how to recover from the combination of these issues.

Symptoms of OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder typically arises in the late teens or early twenties, however, this condition may develop in the early teen years as well. Because it is common for teens to begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol during the same timespan, the potential for co-occurring OCD and drug or alcohol addiction increases.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is marked by having “obsessions” and “compulsions.” Those who self-medicate their OCD with drugs or alcohol are typically trying to manage these symptoms.

What are OCD Obsessions?

Obsessions are characterized by frequent and forceful images, urges, or thoughts that cause individuals distress or anxiety. The person will usually try to ignore these obsessions or get rid of them with another thought or action. This is called performing a “compulsion.”

The distress associated with OCD obsessions often causes sufferers to isolate themselves from friends and family. OCD obsessions also make forming new relationships difficult. Both of these situations lead to depression and self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and therefore, addiction.

The most common OCD obsessions include:[1]

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

What are OCD Compulsions?

Compulsions are described as repetitive behaviors or mental rituals that individuals with OCD believe will deflect their unwanted thoughts or urges. Also, people with OCD feel “compelled” to perform these rituals, despite the logic in doing so.

Common OCD compulsions include:[1]

  • Excessive washing and cleaning of items or the body
  • Excessively double-checking things such as light switches, appliances (oven, hair straightener, etc.), and locks
  • Counting, repeating words, or tapping to soothe anxiety
  • Excessive praying out of religious or spiritual fear
  • Repeatedly “checking in” on loved ones’ safety
  • Hoarding seemingly useless items or trash

Co-Occurring OCD and Addiction

Unfortunately, the mental and emotional pain inflicted by obsessive-compulsive disorder often leads individuals to attempt to cope through the abuse of substances. While these individuals are only trying to cope, adding an addiction on top of OCD only makes matters worse. The combination of drug or alcohol abuse and OCD typically exacerbate one another, making the symptoms of each condition worse.

While OCD is portrayed in the media as individuals who are nervous, hyper-organized people who are otherwise healthy, OCD is a serious mental health condition that disrupts an individual’s abilities to function on a daily basis. With that being said, the symptoms of OCD may be exhausting and difficult to bear.

Self-medicating these symptoms with drugs and alcohol will only provide a short relief. When individuals self-medicate, this only leads to repeated abuse whenever unwanted thoughts or urges arise. In other words, addiction will develop quickly.

OCD, Addiction, and Social Isolation

Social isolation is often caused by obsessive-compulsive disorder for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, this form of social isolation associated with OCD may also lead to drug abuse and addiction. Individuals suffering from OCD understand that their obsessions and compulsions are not logical or rational. Because of this, OCD sufferers – and addicts – often feel shame or disgrace for thinking and acting the way they do, even though it is out of their control.

Similar to drug addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder often leaves individuals feeling isolated from the outside world. Someone suffering from OCD might avoid important people and social settings in an attempt to hide their obsessions and compulsions. This shame, loneliness, and physical isolation easily lead to addiction, as individuals become desperate to find a way to cope.

Treating OCD and Drug or Alcohol Addiction

The key to treating co-occurring OCD and addiction is to treat both mental health conditions simultaneously.[2] If one condition is treated while the other is left untreated, the untreated disorder could contribute to the re-development of the other. For example, if the addiction is treated and the OCD is left untreated, the symptoms of OCD could become severe, causing the individual to return to their drug addiction.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is known as an effective treatment for both drug addiction and OCD. This form of therapy teaches individuals suffering from addiction and OCD to cope with unwanted thoughts and feelings that have led them to drug abuse. Antidepressant medications are also used to treat OCD symptoms when needed. Additionally, inpatient or outpatient rehab programs that provide medically-assisted detox, mental health counseling for OCD symptoms, and life coaching to stay sober, are great ways to recover from a dual diagnosis of addiction and OCD.

If you or a loved one are in need of dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring OCD and addiction, look no further. Rehab Recovery Centers is here to help you find a reputable rehab in your city. Contact us today for more help in finding treatment for substance abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorder.



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