The Link Between OCD and Addiction

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People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) become plagued with obsessive thoughts that drive them to compulsive behaviors to relieve them. This vicious cycle repeats thoughts and uncontrollable behaviors that feel painful and difficult. OCD sufferers develop avoidance behaviors to keep from triggering their obsessive thoughts. Additionally, they feel frustrated with the rituals they have developed to ease anxieties and fears. Is there a link between OCD and addiction? Yes, there can be. People who suffer from OCD often turn to drugs or alcohol to soothe the symptoms of the disease. However, both illnesses can be treated together.

What is OCD?

OCD is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) where the urge to repeat this cycle over and over occurs. Additionally, these symptoms can interfere with all aspects of life and cause problems to develop with relationships, work, and school. OCD is a mental illness and has been found to be diagnosed by age 19 in most cases. The causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder are unknown but have the following similar risk factors:

  • Genetics
  • Brain Structure and Functioning
  • Environment

Left untreated, OCD combined with self-medication with substances can cause depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. However, this will not help to control compulsive behaviors. Life with OCD is exhausting and distracting. It causes a continual stream of worrisome thoughts without relief from the chain reaction of unwanted thoughts and compulsive behaviors that occur. People become desperate to alleviate their unwanted thoughts and actions. 

Is There a Link Between OCD and Addiction?

Certain experts believe there is a link between compulsiveness and impulsiveness which draws the uncontrollable urge to self-medicate using alcohol or another substance to cope with the compulsive behaviors with OCD. Those struggling with the challenge of living with the symptoms of OCD may feel unsupported. In addition, they feel others do not understand the illness. There is a link between OCD and addiction as the urge that triggers both is powerful and overwhelming and difficult to break the habitual behaviors. 

Compulsion vs. Addiction

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder’s repetitive behaviors, referred to as compulsions, are powerful urges just as addictions are. People engage in compulsive behaviors to avoid the fear and anxieties caused by the illness. If the person does not carry out the compulsions, they fear that the anxieties will not go away. A link between compulsion and addiction exists, but they are not considered the same behaviors. 

OCD involves an irrational thought process that oftentimes involves the following behaviors:

  • Tapping
  • Counting
  • Cleaning rituals
  • Extreme organizing of things in a specific order
  • Excessive hand washing

Addiction to substances involves a different trigger. The behavior of using a substance forms in order to relieve uncomfortable feelings, anxieties, and fears. As a result, the person hopes to stop the OCD symptoms. The development of negative coping mechanisms to self-medicate comes easily with OCD.

If you are experiencing OCD symptoms, it’s important to get treatment. First, reach out for help.  Consult with your doctor or a mental health professional who understands both OCD and addiction to substances. If you are experiencing the following behaviors then you could be dealing with mental illness combined with substance abuse and will need help to overcome it.

  • Experiencing upsetting thoughts that are hard to control
  • Experiencing compulsions – certain behaviors that you repeat over and over
  • Find yourself reaching out to use a substance or alcohol regularly for relief of these symptoms
  • Try to stop self-medicating but the symptoms from withdrawing are too severe
  • Feelings of hopelessness and overwhelming anxiety about controlling your life

Treating OCD and Addiction

Treating OCD and addiction can be done at the same time and achieve positive results. Proven therapies for both illnesses have been found useful to support recovery from both. The first step to recovery is to reach out for help. Contacting your medical doctor or looking for an experienced mental health professional who has treated the dual diagnosis of OCD and addiction is a first step. 

The most common therapies for treating OCD and addiction are:

  • Talk Therapy and other Cognitive Behavioral Therapies: working with a therapist through talk therapy helps with education concerning the reasons for OCD and the addiction that has developed. Additionally, the person learns how to build positive coping skills and identify triggers. Finally, they build self-confidence and a sense of control.
  • Symptom Management: exploring the possibility of using medications to help with symptom relief
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): An addiction treatment used to overcome the unpleasant side effects of withdrawal. 
  • Support Groups and Programs: Support from others experiencing the same difficulties is reassuring and relieves the feelings of isolation caused by trying to hide compulsive behaviors

Treating OCD and substance abuse at the same time is helpful because the treatments for both support each other. 

Treatment For OCD and Addiction

Are you experiencing the symptoms of OCD and have developed an addiction to self-medicate from the discomfort? Launch Centers in Los Angeles offers experienced mental health professionals who treat teens and young adults who are suffering from this dual diagnosis. One of our professionals can answer your questions. Then, we can offer an individual plan for your treatment and recovery. Take that important first step and visit our admissions page today.

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