Substance Abuse and OCD – A Toxic Relationship

More than 2 million people in the United States have OCD or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. OCD is an anxiety disorder that manifests itself in the form of a compulsion to do and think certain things. Some actions that are frequently linked to the condition include compulsive hand washing and counting. However, OCD takes many other forms, too, with repeated checking being a common feature. The sufferer feels that if he or she repeats the same actions again and again, he or she will find relief from the anxiety that he or she is experiencing with intrusive and unwanted urges and thoughts.

Of the 2 million people who have this type of anxiety disorder, around a quarter go on to have problems with substance abuse. And, without getting the appropriate treatment, substance abuse may become an addiction, which will then exacerbate the OCD symptoms.

What Is the Link Between Substance Abuse And OCD?

Many people who have OCD know at some level that their compulsions are irrational, yet they are unable to stop the ritualistic behaviors. Whether they are compelled to switch their lights off and on 20 times, repeatedly check that the door is locked, or feel they must scrub their hands raw, these compulsions may rapidly change from merely being a bothersome quirk to a severe impediment that prevents a normal life.

People who are struggling with a compulsive disorder often look for an answer beyond which traditional medicine can provide. For some, chemical intoxication provides the only relief that they can experience, albeit on a temporary basis. Taking drugs or drinking alcohol often subdues the underlying anxiety that is producing the OCD symptoms, giving users a brief sense of how it feels to be normal.

Of course, over time, this pattern of medicating oneself paired with the urge to carry out rituals ends up transforming substance abuse into a chemical dependency that has a great power over the individual. The biological imbalances that are known to produce anxiety in some people also greatly increase their chances of addiction. Once caught up in the pattern of substance abuse, professional help is often necessary to overcome the symptoms of substance abuse, as well as the symptoms of OCD.

What You Should Know About OCD

Although OCD is often mentioned in the media, it’s rarely with a sympathetic viewpoint. The idea of having to repeat actions, again and again, is more a subject of amusement than of sympathy. However, people who are living with OCD experience internal torment and anxiety about the uncontrollable patterns they must deal with every day. The intrusive thoughts often interfere with their relationships, employment, education, and social development. It is hardly surprising that alcohol or drugs often appear to be the answer to escaping the unreasonable and persistent thoughts.

How Does OCD Affect Substance Abuse?

OCD is one form of anxiety disorder, and around a fifth of the people who experience anxiety disorders also have a substance abuse disorder. The problem lies in the fact that the substance makes the symptoms of anxiety worse. Alcohol or drug addiction and OCD are a dangerous pair. People who have OCD are always afraid because of their compulsive natures. When they turn to substances to help them cope, they are more likely to begin to use them compulsively and rapidly become dependent.

Why Is It Difficult to Treat OCD And Addiction?

When OCD presents as a co-occurring disorder with addiction, it throws out many challenges. A rehab facility produces more fear since it is unknown and uncontrollable, while the rituals and intrusive thoughts make focusing on therapy extra difficult. Getting a dual diagnosis and embarking on a tailored treatment program is the best way to accommodate the symptoms and needs of people with addiction co-occurring with OCD and makes it easier to complete a rehab program.

Which Treatments Are Available for OCD And Addiction?

The best treatment for OCD and other anxiety disorders is behavioral modification therapy paired with medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, teaches ways of identifying and changing negative behavior patterns. In cases of OCD, the sessions focus on helping the client to be exposed to the things he or she is afraid of without needing to perfect the ritual to reduce his or her anxiety. In the end, the goal is to finally eliminate any irrational anxiety linked to specific items or situations. Antidepressants are also often used to reduce OCD symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are very effective, and when taking these medications, it is possible to concentrate more on rehab and therapy.

Getting A Dual Diagnosis and Receiving Treatment

If someone has both a mental health condition and a substance abuse disorder, he or she is said to have a dual diagnosis. The only way to effectively treat this is to have specialized care under the guidance of professional experts who have a deep understanding of the way in which the afflictions interact and overlap with each other. If they are allowed to continue untreated, both problems will worsen and the situation will become more serious over time.

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