OCD is an anxiety disorder that causes irrational fears and leads many people to destructive habits and actions. OCD rituals may become so severe that they overtake the suffering individual’s life, sometimes leading them to substance use disorders. To effectively treat OCD and addiction, addressing the emotional effects of OCD is essential. Though recovery may seem unachievable, we at Rock Recovery are here every step of the way to support your recovery.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a disorder that involves two main factors: obsessions, and compulsions. An individual with OCD tends to have unwanted, recurring ideas and thoughts which push them to do something repetitively. OCD may be expressed in several actions such as hand washing, cleaning, constantly checking on something, or other repetitive behaviors.
Severe OCD can interfere with a person’s social interactions, daily activities, and more. Though OCD is one of America’s most common mental illnesses, most people do not experience life-disrupting symptoms. People with OCD may feel distressed when they do not perform a behavior that their persistent thoughts are beckoning for. Many people with OCD know their obsessions are generally not real, yet they cannot stop their thoughts or compulsive actions.
Signs and Symptoms of OCD
Symptoms of OCD generally begin to appear in early adulthood but are not uncommon in childhood or adolescence. An OCD diagnosis requires obsessions and compulsions to be present for more than an hour a day, impair social function or work, and cause mild to severe distress.
About 3% of the United States population experience OCD. Statistically, women are affected more often than men. To best understand obsessive-compulsive disorder, it’s essential to understand both obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are best described as forceful and persistent thoughts that produce anxiety or distress in an individual. An individual may begin to act on these obsessions with another thought or action – which is called executing a compulsion.
Obsessions may cause individuals to withdraw from family and friends. It may even make it difficult for a person to form new relationships. Unfortunately, many look to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with severe symptoms of OCD. Thus, OCD and alcohol, or OCD and other substances, are not uncommon. Some general OCD obsessions are:
- Obsession over numbers, viewing some numbers as “good” or “bad”
- Extreme fear of getting sick, or germs in general
- Intrusive thoughts involving sexual acts
- Overwhelming fear of losing a family member or friend due to injury or illness
- Intrusive thoughts of self-harm or harm to others
Compulsions are the behaviors usually associated with OCD. Individuals with OCD often believe that the mental rituals they perform will help rid their unwanted urges or thoughts. It is not uncommon for compulsions to not be backed by logic. People with OCD may feel compelled to execute their rituals regardless if it makes sense or not. Some general OCD compulsions are:
- Excessive and uncontrolled cleaning and washing
- Excessive praying – out of fear-based on religious ideologies
- Repeating words, counting, or tapping
- Constantly checking things like locks, appliances, or light switches
- Hoarding worthless items or trash
- Constantly in with loved ones regarding their safety or well-being
When symptoms are severe enough, these obsessions and compulsions may take up an individual’s entire day. At the least, they may disrupt daily routines.
OCD and Addiction
OCD leads many people to substance use and addiction. Similar to other mental health disorders, severe OCD may cause overwhelming and uncomfortable symptoms. When people feel as though they cannot deal with their symptoms, self-medication may be an issue. Self-medication is dangerous since it may numb symptoms in the short term, which creates a false idea of coping.
OCD rituals can lead people to become socially isolated. Someone suffering from severe OCD may avoid social settings, people, and general activities to keep their symptoms private. This physical isolation and shame lead many to use substances and eventually develop an addiction.
Co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis or comorbidity, are conditions in which someone faces more than one mental health disorder concurrently. A dual diagnosis often include OCD and addiction – but it also refers to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and more.
In a treatment setting, both disorders should be treated simultaneously to best help the client. The key to effectively treating co-occurring OCD and addiction is to understand how both disorders feed into each other.
Co-occurring disorders are not uncommon. It is reported that just less than half of people in recovery treatment receive a dual diagnosis. Signs and physical symptoms of co-occurring disorders include:
Signs of Co-Occurring Disorders
- Compulsive behaviors leading to alcohol or other substance abuse
- Inability to stop using drugs or alcohol
- Development of a tolerance to any substance
- Consistent lies about substance use or other dangerous or illegal behavior
Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders
- Mood swings which affect job performance, friendships, and relationships
- Long-term feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
- Loss of motivation for activities or hobbies
- Decrease in time spent with family and friends