Living with a mental health illness can be very challenging. This is especially the case when your mental health illness consumes every aspect of your life like obsessive-compulsive disorder often does. If life with this mental health disorder feels overwhelming for people, imagine how hard it would be to have both OCD and addiction at the same time.
Unfortunately, OCD often lends itself to developing an addiction to certain substances. When OCD and addiction occur together, it’s important to learn how to treat and manage this dual diagnosis disorder.
To ensure that your dual diagnosis disorder of OCD and addiction does not get the best of you, you need to understand what substances you should be extra precautious of. You should also understand the therapy and treatment programs that you should attend to help you treat and manage your disorder.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness and anxiety disorder. OCD causes people to have repeated unwanted thoughts and urges. People with this disorder obsess over their unwanted thoughts and repeat their unwanted urges.
Therefore, having repeated unwanted thoughts is the obsessive part of the disorder. Having unwanted urges to do something over and over again is the compulsive part. When people have OCD, they can primarily suffer from just the obsessive effects, the compulsive effects, or both.
Often, the unwanted thoughts and urges brought on by OCD are irrational and random. For example, a person might obsess over whether or not a door is locked. That person will then continue to check the lock on the door several times even though they know it was locked after the first check.
In this example of OCD behavior, the person checked to see if the door was locked once already. Therefore, there was no rational need to continue to check the lock on the door multiple times. In fact, the person likely didn’t even have a desire to continue to check the locked door. Unfortunately, because it is an obsession, he or she couldn’t resist doing so.
Another example of OCD behavior is feeling the urge to wash your hands several after touching someone else. Therefore, even though you may have washed your hands thoroughly after touching someone, because you’ve developed a compulsive obsession with remaining clean and germ-free, you cannot help yourself from washing your hands over and over again.
OCD causes people to have obsessive and repetitive thoughts and actions. It can take up much of a person’s time. In fact, one characteristic of an obsessive-compulsive disorder is its ability to take up more than one hour of your day. Another characteristic of OCD is having thoughts and actions that are beyond your control. Having obsessive-compulsive thoughts and urges that interfere with your school, job, or social life is also normal for people with OCD.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder can cause you to have a wide variety of obsessive thoughts and actions. While there are many different types of this disorder, most OCD types fall into one of these four categories.
Checking is about over checking locks, alarms, ovens, and light switches. Constantly checking to see if you’re pregnant or schizophrenic also falls into the checking OCD category. (The “Example #1 of OCD” about continuously checking a locked door falls into this category as well.)
The contamination category of OCD is about fearing that things might be dirty or having a compulsion to clean things over and over again. (The “Example #2 of OCD” about handwashing is an example of a contamination OCD.)
This category of OCD is about the obsessive and compulsive need to put things in order and line them up a certain way. An example of a symmetry and ordering form of OCD is having the obsessive urge to line up everything on a shelf a certain way over and over again.
This category of OCD is characterized by thinking and obsessing over violent and disturbing thoughts over and over again. An example of a rumination and intrusive thought OCD is having the repeated obsessive thought of stabbing someone.
People with OCD experience an overwhelming amount of fear and anxiety at nearly all times. As a result, many people with OCD develop an addiction to cope with their fear and anxiety. In fact, according to the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, over 25% of people who seek treatment for OCD also have a substance use disorder.
Alcohol is one of the main substances that people with OCD develop an addiction to. This is partly due to its easy accessibility. Unfortunately, alcohol abuse can make OCD symptoms worse. In fact, the rate, frequency, and intensity of symptoms can have a dramatic increase after consuming alcohol.
For example, having a night out filled with drinks can cause a person with OCD to perform their repetitive behaviors more frequently and for longer periods of time. This could be due to a greater sense of urgency placed upon them due to the buzz of the alcohol.
When someone with OCD over-drinks and becomes drunk, it could cause that person to experience more severe disturbing, intrusive thoughts. This is partly because becoming intoxicated with alcohol can slow you down and put you in a subconscious state of mind.
Therefore, people with a ruminating and intrusive thought form of OCD will think more intensely about the thoughts that they often obsess over. This could cause the disturbing thoughts that people with this type of OCD obsess over to appear real.
One major reason why alcohol has a worsening effect on OCD symptoms is that the brains of people with OCD operate differently than other people’s brains. As a result, the signals in the brain that tell you to stop doing a behavior are not sent out properly.
Another reason why alcohol worsens symptoms is that people with OCD tend to have reduced levels of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is the mood-balancing hormone in the body. Because there aren’t enough serotonin levels in the brain of someone with OCD, the individual’s brain cannot regulate the amount of serotonin sent to receptors. Also, the brains of those with obsessive-compulsive disorder tend to have less serotonin uptake. This means that the brain is less likely to be able to accept it.
Although alcohol consumption in and of itself increases serotonin in the brain, it also depletes existing serotonin in your brain cells. Therefore, people with OCD tend to have a positive rush of good feelings followed by a crash of bad feelings.
Like with alcohol, many people with OCD may start abusing drugs to cope with their disorder. They may start abusing prescription drugs, marijuana, or illegal drugs. In fact, nearly 30% of people with OCD have had a substance use disorder at some point in their lives.
Like with alcohol, some drugs can worsen the symptoms of OCD. Although, the symptoms of many people with just OCD are similar to that of people with OCD and addiction. Still, studies show that people with substance use disorders in addition to OCD are more likely to develop a mental illness and be less educated. People that abuse drugs while having OCD are also more likely to commit suicide or have a need for hospitalization.
When treating a co-occurring disorder of OCD and addiction, it’s important to treat both the OCD and addiction simultaneously. This means that you must attend a rehab facility with a dual diagnosis program. Dual diagnosis treatment for mental illness and a substance use disorder should have a combination of addiction treatment programs and types of therapy.
Some addiction treatment programs that are often used in dual diagnosis treatment Include:
Types of therapy often used in dual diagnosis treatment include:
Free by the Sea offers dual diagnosis disorder treatment for a wide variety of mental illness and substance use disorder combinations. Through our dual diagnosis treatment program, you have all the major forms of addiction treatment and therapy at your disposal. Therefore, you can be confident that you will receive the services that you need to treat your OCD and addiction.
To learn more about Free by the Sea and our treatment services, contact us today.
Dr. Richard Crabbe joined our team in 2019 as our psychiatrist and medical director. He attended the University of Ghana Medical School where he became a Medical Doctor in 1977. From 1978 through 1984, he was a medical officer in the Ghana Navy and provided a variety of services from general medicine to surgeries. He received his Certificate in General Psychology from the American Board of Psychology and Neurology in 2002.