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The Link Between OCD and Substance Addiction

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Last Updated on June 16, 2021

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental illness related to anxiety. OCD patients experience repetitive thoughts that lead to fear and anxiety. Individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder often engage themselves in recurrent things such as washing hands, organizing things, counting numbers, and more. Even though this engagement provides temporary relief to the patients, it occurs too often and eventually leads to irritation and frustration.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental illness related to anxiety. OCD patients experience repetitive thoughts that lead to fear and anxiety. Individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder often engage themselves in recurrent things such as washing hands, organizing things, counting numbers, and more. Even though this engagement provides temporary relief to the patients, it occurs too often and eventually leads to irritation and frustration.

In the long run, OCD is an extremely destructive mental illness and takes a major toll on a sufferer’s life. It keeps them away from enjoying even the most exciting activities. 

According to a study, more than 25% of OCD patients suffer from substance addiction. Children and adolescents with OCD are more likely to develop substance addiction to cope with their mental illness. Health care experts follow dual diagnosis in such cases as targeting only addiction without treating OCD symptoms is unlikely to be productive.

What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

OCD is one of the most common disorders in the United States. As mentioned earlier, it involves unwanted and recurring actions or thoughts. As such activities take up efforts, energy, and time, OCD patients struggle to maintain their daily routine while dealing with distractions.

It is highly important to seek medical assistance for OCD as it can lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts if not treated. What’s worse, when OCD co-occurs with substance addiction, it can cause serious physical and mental damage.

We all have come across the term OCD in the topic of horror, comedy, or fascination in several television sitcoms and movies. Remember how we laughed at Monica from ‘Friends’ for her obsession for cleaning and controlling all the aspects of her surroundings? Or, those horror movies where bad guys were addicted to sexual misconducts and murderous acts? But in the real world, OCD is very different. Individuals suffering from OCD experience intense internal torture, stress, and anxiety. The recurrent thoughts, in most cases, affect the educational, professional, social, personal, and family life of the patients. Many patients count on intoxication caused by drugs or alcohol to stay away from unreasonable and continuous thoughts.

Connection Between OCD And Substance Addiction

Living with the emotional pain of obsessive-compulsive disorder can be painful and exhausting. It is not a surprising fact that around one-fourth of OCD patients are into substance addiction as they use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. 

While it is true that self-medication with drugs or alcohol can provide temporary relief for the patients, it is highly addictive behavior. Whenever patients experience unwanted thoughts, they use substances and this leads to repetitive abuse. 

Isolation is another factor that is strongly related to OCD. Many OCD individuals understand that their recurrent thoughts make no sense to the outer world and they are ashamed of their acts. As a result, they isolate themselves and stay away from the mainstream. Many individuals addicted to substances experience the same and often go into isolation to keep their addictive behavior private. Such loneliness, shame, and physical isolation encourage substance abuse.

What Are The Effects And Symptoms of OCD?

In most cases, the occurrence of obsessive compulsive disorder takes place in the early twenties and late teens. As long as substance abuse is concerned, most teens try experimenting with drugs and alcohol in this same age window. This fact increases the possibility of co-occurring substance abuse and OCD. According to the data from the US National Library of Medicine, teens suffering from OCD are the most vulnerable to drugs or alcohol abuse.

Repetitive compulsions and obsessive thoughts are the most effects of OCD. Patients, at times, use drugs or alcohol to manage these symptoms.

Obsessions With OCD

Obsessions are nothing but forceful and recurrent thoughts, images, urges that lead to severe anxiety and distress to the patient. When such patients rely on other thoughts to overcome obsessions, this action is called compulsions. 

 Stress caused by OCD obsessions can make patients withdraw from social and family life. They can make forming new relationships tough for patients and ultimately force them to abuse substances for self-medication. Here are some of the most common obsessions associated with OCD:

  • Unwanted images of sexual acts
  • Obsession over ‘bad’ or ‘good’ numbers
  • Fear of losing someone you love from accident, illness, or else
  • Unwanted thoughts about self-harm or harm to others
  • Fear of falling sick because of bacteria, virus, or germs
  • Obsession over profane thoughts or religious topics

Compulsions With OCD

Compulsions are repetitive actions that OCD patients perform to get rid of unwanted obsessions. The fact is, these metal rituals or behaviors have no real link with the obsessions patients want to stay away from. Here are the most common compulsions patients often experience:

  • Extravagant praying over the fear of religious things
  • Maintaining purpose items or even trash
  • Excessive cleaning or washing behavior
  • Continuously thinking about the safety of near and dear ones
  • Continuously checking things like locks, lights, switches, and home appliances
  • Tapping feet or hands to ease anxiety
  • Counting numbers to avoid thoughts
  • Repeating similar words

According to the experts from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), both compulsions and obsessions are time-wasting and consume even more than one hour a day. No wonder why they can easily disrupt the everyday routine of the sufferers. For instance, a patient can spend an hour washing his or her hand even after being late to work.

Treatment For OCD And Substance Addiction

The most effective way to defeat co-occurring addiction and OCD is to treat them simultaneously. Any reputable drug rehab center in California will suggest CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) for such cases as it helps OCD patients to deal with unwanted thoughts in the best way. Some patients may also be prescribed to take antidepressant medications.

You have to understand that addiction is a dangerous illness and requires constant attention and medical help to prevent relapse. Patients can count on outpatient or inpatient rehab to undergo detoxification under medical supervision along with counseling for OCD symptoms, and medications. 

Final Words

Co-occurring substance addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder can leave patients alone, ashamed, and helpless. However, the good news is — help is always available. Many healthcare facilities provide effective care and treatment for this. If you or someone you love is experiencing it, contacting a trusted rehab is the best option.