Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a common co-occurring disorder with substance abuse. In a study conducted by the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, the researchers found that out of all participants diagnosed with OCD, 27% of them also had a substance abuse disorder during their lifetime.

This research also showed that the earlier the individual started to recognize OCD symptoms, the more likely they were to develop a substance abuse disorder. Seventy percent of participants self-reported that their OCD symptoms began before they struggled with addiction. While the numbers are high, less than half of the people suffering from co-occurring disorders of substance abuse and OCD ever receive treatment for their OCD.

For a person with OCD, turning to drugs or alcohol is a way to cope with their anxiety. Often, alcohol, sedatives, and opiate drugs like painkillers or heroin are used because individuals try to self-medicate with substances they think will lower their stress levels.

Signs and Symptoms of OCD

According to the Mayo Clinic, “obsessive-compulsive disorder features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress.” Often, trying to ignore or stop the obsessions will only make them worse, and despite the effort to stop them, the urges keep coming back.

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Usually, these obsessions and compulsions will center around a particular theme, such as fear of germs or dirt, needing things to be symmetrical, or horrific thoughts about losing control. Even though someone may recognize that their behaviors are not logical, like addiction, it is seemingly impossible to stop.

Everyone may have obsessions and compulsions from time to time; things like keeping a clean kitchen or checking your door is locked when leaving the house are healthy behaviors. However, the National Institute of Mental Health describes that people with OCD:

  • Cannot control their behaviors or thoughts, even when they know that they are unusual
  • Spend at least an hour per day on the thoughts or behaviors
  • Do not find pleasure in the behaviors
  • Experience significant problems due to the thoughts or the behaviors

How is OCD related to substance abuse?

When patients try and use substances to feel normal or calm their obsessions, it is only a quick fix to a much larger problem. This can lead to a substance abuse disorder. By avoiding or trying to control OCD symptoms through substance abuse, it makes OCD harder to manage. Both OCD and substance abuse have similar symptoms: unwanted and uncontrollable repetitive behaviors that negatively affect everyday life.

Signs someone is may have OCD and substance addiction include:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Inability to function on a day-to-day basis depending upon the nature of their OCD behaviors and/or the severity of their addiction
  • Lying about their use of drugs or alcohol
  • Ignoring health problems caused by their OCD behaviors, their substance use disorder, or the combination of the two issues
  • Feeling unsafe or uncomfortable if unable to indulge in their OCD behaviors and/or drink or get high
  • Experiencing altered sleep patterns, eating patterns, or behavior patterns depending upon their drug of choice

Treatment for OCD and Addiction

Evidence-based treatment programs will treat disorders at the same time. Often, when one condition remains untreated, the treated condition will come back until both disorders can be addressed.

To treat OCD and substance use disorder, a dual diagnosis rehab that will treat both disorders at the same time is highly effective. A dual diagnosis rehab often includes an intake evaluation, medically assisted detox, therapy, group counseling, and 12-step programs. Holistic wellness programs will also ensure both disorders are treated and to set a person on their way to recovery from both illnesses.

Are you or a loved one struggling with OCD and substance abuse? You are not alone. We are here for you, and we are here to help.