What Role Does OCD Play in Addiction?


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder whereby a person has unreasonable fears and anxiety due to repeated and compulsive thoughts. OCD patients participate in repetitive, compulsive activities such as counting things, hand washing and arranging belongings.

Performing these actions brings momentary relief for individuals with this disorder. These cyclical behaviors, coupled with the compulsive behaviors associated with addiction, can make it more difficult to try to stay sober while also dealing with OCD.

The Difference Between Addiction and Compulsion

One significant difference between a compulsion and an addiction is that the individual will have differing levels of awareness and acceptance of reality.  A person with OCD may be aware that they are being excessive, or unrealistic, with their obsessions. They may understand and accept that their compulsions and fears are illogical, but continue with their behaviors, knowing that it will provide them relief from anxiety.

An individual that is struggling with an addiction will frequently be detached from the logic of their actions. They may be in denial, not recognizing that there is a problem, even after experiencing consequences of varying severity. Denial is a major facet of addiction, and one of the first things to be overcome when one is newly recovering from an addiction.

The Relationship Between Addiction and OCD

According to a 2008 article in The Journal of Anxiety Disorders titled ‘Substance Use Disorders in an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinical Sample,” almost 30 percent of individuals diagnosed with OCD have also been afflicted with an addiction at some point in their lives. This estimate is nearly double that of the general population. Although the rate of addiction is quite high for those who deal with OCD, it is still lower than that associated with other forms of mental illness, such as bipolar disorder. Most individuals experience symptoms of OCD long before their substance use begins.

A common reason for people with OCD to use drugs or alcohol is to reduce the severity of their compulsive behaviors or anxieties. This form of self-medication is an ineffective coping strategy, as it often leads to other physical and mental issues, exacerbating the original difficulties. Substance use also has a tendency to become exponentially detrimental, which will worsen symptoms of an individual’s OCD. This added distress leads to a greater risk of hospitalization and suicide for those dealing with OCD and addiction at the same time.

Social Isolation

Social isolation is a common side effect of OCD. Isolation is also a common trait of those experiencing substance use disorder. Together, the issues that come with isolation: increased depressive symptoms, increased anxiety, among others, are compounded.  The effects of depression and anxiety often include seclusion, causing a reciprocating cycle of increasing isolation.

The negative side effects of isolation can make an individual more vulnerable to increasing or returning to substance use. The increase in anxiety and symptoms associated with anxiety can exacerbate OCD symptoms, thereby increasing the desire to seek relief, possibly in the form of substance use. The negative consequences of substance abuse may be ignored due to the positive effects of reducing the anxiety associated with OCD. This is one of the reasons it is so important to focus treatment on both issues at once.

Available Treatment Options

The term “dual diagnosis” is frequently used in the recovery community to describe treatments for those individuals that are dealing with more than just substance abuse. Many of the participants in treatment programs and therapeutic communities work on handling psychological and mood disorders, while also trying to stay clean and sober. The majority of treatment programs will assist clients with dual diagnosis, but to get the highest quality of care, it is important to have well-trained professionals that are familiar with psychological issues aside from substance use disorder.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The key to treating OCD and addiction effectively is to treat them simultaneously. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a commonly used treatment for substance use disorder and OCD, and it is a highly effective method for treating both issues at the same time.

Other treatment methods exist, which may be equally viable. Understanding that self-medication is at the root of substance abuse in many people with OCD, the main goal of treatment for someone dealing with OCD and addiction should be teaching coping skills.  These techniques can be used to deal with unwanted thoughts and feelings associated with OCD that can lead to substance use.  Recognition of both disorders and their relationship is vital in treatment.

For individuals battling obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance use disorder, the road can be unclear and challenging. Seeking the appropriate treatment is vital for any situation, and it becomes exceedingly more important when trying to find programs that understand the struggles of OCD and how to overcome them. Without proper treatment, OCD can be a significant obstacle to treating substance use disorder. At Casa Recovery, we understand the unique challenges that OCD presents, especially when coupled with substance use disorder. We are equipped with a team of caring professionals that are well-versed in the appropriate methods to assist and care for individuals that have a dual diagnosis. At Casa Recovery, we provide various treatment options and resources for individuals affected by addiction and other mental health disorders. Get the right care for yourself or a loved one. With multiple treatment options, there is a treatment fit for everyone at Casa Recovery. For more information, call (888) 928-2272.

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