OCD and Addiction

ocd and addiction

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), is a mental health condition that affects millions of Americans on a daily basis. In fact, roughly 2 percent of the entire population of this country has at least a mild form of OCD. 

Unfortunately, though, many Americans don’t properly treat their OCD and instead turn to self-medication. In many cases, this results in substance abuse and ultimately addiction. If you suffer from OCD and addiction, the good news is that it is treatable. You don’t have to suffer through another day of addiction as a result of your OCD.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder. People with OCD have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas, or sensations, also known as obsessions, that make them feel driven to do something repetitively. 

This repetitive behavior can be detrimental to their health or even their daily activities and can interfere with their ability to do simple, everyday tasks. While many people tend to suffer from OCD in a “minor” way, such a constant hand washing, cleaning, and checking on things, some people suffer from OCD in a much more debilitating way.

Many people have focused thoughts, repeated behaviors, or even some bad habits. The difference between those and OCD is that in most cases those don’t prohibit the person from going about their daily lives. People with OCD are powerless against their obsessions and compulsions. In many cases, they know that they have a problem but can’t seem to stop the issue. 

Those who suffer from OCD tend to meet the following criteria:

  • Can’t control his or her thoughts or behaviors, even when those thoughts or behaviors are recognized as excessive.
  • Spends at least an hour a day on said thoughts or behaviors.
  • Doesn’t get pleasure when performing the behaviors or rituals. The person might feel temporary relief from the anxiety caused by the thoughts.
  • Experiences significant problems in their daily life due to these thoughts or behaviors.

What Are Some of the Symptoms of OCD?

While Obsessive-compulsive disorder comes in many forms, there are four main types of OCD. Those four are:

  • Checking – These people constantly check things even when they don’t need to such as locks, alarm systems, ovens, or light switches. People who suffer from this type of OCD might be convinced that they have an ailment that doesn’t actually exist.
  • Contamination – Contamination is the fear of things that might be dirty or a compulsion to clean things. Those suffering from contamination might also feel a type of mental contamination where they feel like they are treated “like dirt”.
  • Symmetry and order – These people have the constant need to have things lined up or organized in a certain way. If something is even a fraction out of place, this can set the person off.
  • Ruminations and obtrusive thoughts – This centers around the obsession of a certain type of thought. Some of these thoughts can be violent or very disturbing.

When it comes to symptoms associated with OCD, they tend to be broken up into two different categories: obsessions and compulsions. 

Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that cause distressing emotions such as anxiety or disgust. Many people with OCD recognize that these are a product of their mind and know that they are excessive or not normal. The problem is, they are essentially powerless to do anything about it. Common symptoms of obsessions include:

  • Being worried that either yourself or others will get hurt.
  • Constant awareness of normal body activities such as blinking or breathing.
  • The suspicion that a partner is unfaithful despite not having any reason to believe it.
  • The constant fear of germs or contamination.
  • Unwanted forbidden or taboo thoughts involving sex, religion, or harm
  • The need to have things be symmetrical or in a perfect order

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession. The goal of these behaviors is to prevent or reduce the distress that would be caused if the action wasn’t done. These compulsions can oftentimes result in the person not being able to go about their daily activities, as the compulsion takes up the majority of their day. Common symptoms of compulsions include: 

  • The need to constantly clean and/or wash your hands.
  • The need to have things arranged or ordered in a very specific way.
  • The need to constantly check on things, such as making sure the door is locked or that the stovetop is turned off. 
  • Compulsive counting.
  • Having to do certain tasks in a specific order every time or doing them a certain number of times.
  • Needing to count things.
  • Having the fear of touching doorknobs, using public toilets, or shaking hands.

What is the Connection Between OCD and Addiction?

Unfortunately, there is a common connection between OCD and addiction. In fact, around 20% of all people who suffer from OCD or another type of anxiety disorder also suffer from addiction. 

Many people are either embarrassed by their condition or don’t know what to do to “fix it”. As a result, they turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate. Not only does this not solve the issue, but it can actually make things worse, ultimately increasing the problems associated with OCD that they were trying to get rid of in the first place. When someone develops a substance addiction as a result of their OCD, it is considered a co-occurring disorder.

What Is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

When someone suffers from multiple disorders at the same time that is connected in some way, it is called a co-occurring disorder. The most common type of co-occurring disorder is when someone has a mental health condition and develops an addiction or substance abuse issue as a result of that mental health condition.

In the case of OCD, the most common substance of abuse is alcohol. However, that doesn’t mean that alcohol is the only substance abused by those suffering from OCD. Cannabis and cocaine are also common substances used and abused by people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Things like alcohol and cannabis might make the person feel relief in the short-term however they are ultimately causing additional long-term issues. 

In addition to addiction and substance abuse, many people who suffer from OCD also suffer from another type of mental health condition. Some of the most common mental illnesses that co-occur with OCD are depression, social anxiety, PTSD, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.

What Are My Treatment Options For OCD and Addiction?

While there is no known cure for OCD, there are many different treatment options that can help both OCD and addiction. Before undergoing any sort of treatment, you will first need to undergo detox treatment for substance abuse. This should be done in a dedicated detox treatment facility or in another type of medical facility that offers detox treatment. Self-detoxing can be incredibly dangerous and even life-threatening.

There are multiple types of treatment for OCD, some of which include medication and some that don’t. Each type of treatment works differently for each person so it is important to talk to your doctor or therapist before starting treatment to learn which option is best for you.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, is a very popular treatment option for those suffering from both OCD and addiction since no medication is involved. There is a type of CBT used for OCD patients called Exposure and Response Prevention. During EX/RP, the therapist will put the patient in certain situations where the patient will feel the triggers of their OCD. 

Since they are in a therapy session, they will be unable to perform the tasks that they would associate with that particular situation. This teaches their brain that just because they have a thought, doesn’t mean they have to act on it every time. This technique is particularly ideal for those who suffer from compulsions that the situation can be re-created easily.

Medication

In some situations, medication might be recommended for treating the OCD portion of the co-occurring disorder. A group of medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors has been proven to be effective in treating OCD. Common examples of this type of medication include:

  • Celexa
  • Lexapro
  • Prozac
  • Paxil
  • Zoloft

In addition to the two main types of therapy, there are other, less traditional forms of therapy as well such as meditation or even neuromodulation.

Want To Know More About OCD and Addiction?

Unfortunately, due to the stigma associated with mental health conditions, OCD and addiction quite often go hand in hand. That doesn’t have to be the case though. At Granite Mountain, we know that dealing with both mental health and addiction issues can be a tough thing to do. 

That’s why we offer a wide variety of treatment programs for not just mental health conditions but substance abuse and addiction as well. For more information about the services we offer, or to talk to one of our treatment professionals, contact us today.

 

Article Reviewed by Gregory Struve

Gregory StruveGreg received a Master’s in Counseling from the Adler Graduate School in 2006. He trained at one of the top trauma and anxiety treatment centers in the world until 2008, when he became a faculty member at Grand Canyon University. From 2011 to 2016 he directed a program that lead the field in terms of innovative treatment of anxiety and trauma. During that time he even made several appearances on A&E’s intervention.