OCD and Addiction: What’s the Connection?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 2.2 million people in the United States are thought to be living with some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. Many of these people live their lives with this condition, and it goes completely undiagnosed for years. Someone who suffers from OCD is generally not able to live a health life because their thoughts and action prove to be too much of a distraction for them. When OCD is left untreated, the results can be disastrous. It’s not uncommon for people to become anxious, depressed, and even start to have suicidal thoughts.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the more common mental illnesses in the United States.
OCD is very similar to other mental health conditions in that it often goes hand in hand with addiction. Because the two are often linked, the risk for mental and physical damage is even greater. It’s important to get the right kind of treatment if you have OCD and you’re also battling an addiction.
It’s possible that you’re not completely sure whether or not you have OCD, but you know that you do have an addiction to either drugs or alcohol. Far too many people live with feelings of shame and isolation because of their symptoms, and they’re afraid to admit that they’re in need of help for them. It might relieve you to learn more about what OCD is, how it pairs with addiction, and what you can do to get the help you need.
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What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the more common mental illnesses in the United States. It involves repetitive unwanted thoughts or actions that are not able to be controlled. These thoughts and actions take up a great deal of time, and usually, OCD starts to manifest when someone is either a teenager or a young adult.
The disorder is marked by both obsessions and compulsions, which is where it gets its name. Obsessions are urges or frequent images that lead to a lot of anxiety and stress. As a way to cope with obsessions, the individual participates in compulsions to help get rid of that thought or image that causes the alarm.
Examples of common obsessions might include:
- Being afraid of contracting germs
- Being afraid of becoming contaminated
- Having unwanted thoughts about sex or harm
- Having forbidden religious thoughts
- Having aggressive thoughts about self harm or harming other people
- Having a desire for order or symmetry
Examples of common compulsions might include:
- Excessively cleaning your home
- Excessively and repetitively washing your hands
- Arranging items in a particular way
- Repetition of checking to see if a door is locked or the oven is off
- Having to compulsively count
Compulsions can also be referred to as rituals, and while it’s true that some double-checking is to be expected, someone who has OCD is not able to control the urge to perform these actions. They usually recognize them as excessive, and they may spend a large part of the day on these behaviors.
How does OCD Occur?
OCD is much more common than most people realize. Experts are not really sure about what causes it, but there are some risk factors that put some people at a much higher risk of getting it than others. These can include:
Brain structure – There are significant differences in various parts of the brain between those who have OCD and those who do not. Research is ongoing to help scientists understand the details behind these differences.
Genetics – Many studies have been done within families and the results showed that those who have first-degree relatives with OCD are much more likely to have it as well. If the relative developed OCD as a child or as a teenager, the risk is actually much higher.
Environment – When abuse has been a factor – whether the abuse was physical or sexual – the victim has a much higher risk of developing OCD.
Illness – It is possible for some children to develop OCD symptoms after they have had a streptococcal infection.
According to Medical News Today, scientists do believe that OCD has a neurological basis. Neuroimaging tests have shown that people with OCD exhibit a different brain function than those without it. They’ve found that chemical imbalances are typical of those who have OCD, and these chemicals can include glutamine, dopamine and serotonin.
Usually, OCD is found to be triggered by a combination of many of the above factors.
What Effects Can OCD Have on the Body and Mind?
The effects of OCD can detrimental to a person’s life. Obsessions and compulsions can easily take several hours during the day, which leads to problems with personal obligations, family time, social activities and professional responsibilities. Quite often, people continue to suffer with OCD symptoms believing that they will one day resolve on their own. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and proper treatment is required in order to find relief from the symptoms of this condition.
Mentally, the effects of OCD can be very difficult to deal with. For example, people who suffer from OCD will often:
- Struggle with the thought that they’re crazy because of their obsessive thought patterns.
- Become isolated because they feel an intense pressure to complete their rituals.
- Become very depressed because they feel so powerless and not in control of their lives.
- Suffer from low self-esteem.
- Become angry or agitated because of the disorder.
- Become resentful because of a need to hide the illness.
Physically, OCD can cause a great deal of harm if it is left untreated, and as you might expect, this is even worse when you factor in addiction. The negative health impact of OCD should not be ignored, and it’s common for people to develop heart disease and stomach ulcers. Frequent hand washing can also lead to skin infections and lesions.
The pressure to complete rituals and compulsions is very real for someone with OCD, and unless proper help is obtained, the consequences can be devastating.
What are Some Common Warning Signs of OCD?
As you’re reading this information, it’s possible that you’re starting to question whether or not you’re suffering from OCD. Maybe you’ve never gotten a formal diagnosis, so you’re really not sure. However, you’d like to know what some of the signs are that you can look for in your own life.
Some common warning signs for OCD might include:
- Constantly being afraid that you’re going to get a terrible illness or disease
- Being very concerned about dirt or germs
- Feeling obsessed about your own body
- Being abnormally concerned about your own appearance or environment
- Being afraid to get rid of something in case you need it later
- Having unwanted sexual thoughts
- Repeating activities for no real reason
- Being afraid that you’ve forgotten to perform a task
- Feeling obsessed with right and wrong
- Having a fear of tragedy
- Abnormally consistent hand washing
If you notice any of the above signs of OCD, it’s very likely that you are suffering from this condition, and if you also have an addiction, it’s important to get help right away.
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How are OCD and Addiction often Linked with Each Other?
OCD is a type of anxiety disorder that produces very real fears in the people who are suffering from it. About 20% of people who have an anxiety disorder like OCD also have an addiction. People will use drugs or alcohol as a way to escape from how they feel. Getting high or drunk will produce some relief in their symptoms, but that relief only lasts for a short period of time. In fact, people soon find out that in the long-term, their symptoms will usually get much worse.
People who repeatedly turn to substances as a way to cope with the fear they feel due to OCD will eventually find themselves becoming addicted to them. Also, because of the lack serotonin, dopamine and other chemicals in the brain that is typical of someone with OCD, using drugs or alcohol is one way to attempt to boost them.
Far too many people suffer from co-occurring disorders like addiction and OCD. Fortunately, there is treatment available that can help.
How Can Dual Diagnosis Treatment Help with Addiction and OCD?
At one time, anyone who had a mental illness and an addiction was treated for the addiction first. After sobriety was reached, that individual could then go on to get help for their mental illness. The problem with this method was that there were so many people who didn’t get the help they really needed. Relapse rates were high and climbing, and there seemed to be no way to resolve this issue.
It wasn’t until the 1990s when dual diagnosis treatment started to become a part of the addiction industry. It’s grown in popularity, although there are still many facilities that subscribe to the older methods of treatment. Dual diagnosis treatment works by addressing the reasons behind the addiction; so in this case, it would address OCD as the reason for the addiction. By utilizing this type of addiction treatment, patient relapse rates have gone down and more people are seeing long-term recovery results.
Dual diagnosis treatment has changed the way many experts view addiction treatment. Research has shown that:
- Patients need detailed, personalized treatment plans for co-occurring disorder treatment.
- Patients need to obtain accurate diagnoses to ensure that they’re getting the proper treatment.
- Individual therapy is a key part of dual diagnosis treatment
- Group therapy should also be utilized as a way to offer peer support and counseling
- Family therapy sessions are crucial components of the recovery process
When these forms of treatment are all put into place, patients with OCD and addiction have a much better chance of recovering.
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Northpoint Recovery Offers Help for OCD and Addiction
Whether you’ve only just suspected that you have OCD, or you have a professional diagnosis for it, the fact that you also are battling an addiction to either drugs or alcohol puts you at a much greater risk. Those who attempt to get help for their addictions without addressing their OCD diagnosis often find themselves trapped in a dangerous addiction cycle that can be impossible to escape on their own. They also have a very high risk of relapsing back into their drug or alcohol use, which can lead to overdosing.
At Northpoint Recovery, we want you to know that we understand how you feel. It’s possible that you might be feeling nervous about getting help for your OCD, but you’re also desperate to find a solution for recovery. We want to reassure you that dual diagnosis treatment is the answer you’ve been looking for. Unlike other treatment methods, dual diagnosis treatment will target the cause of your addiction, treating both of your conditions at the same time. In doing so, you’ll have a much better chance of recovering long-term.
If you would like to learn more about how dual diagnosis treatment can help you, or if you’re ready to get started, and would like a recommendation for the type of treatment that’s right for you, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us right away.