The Link Between OCD and Substance Abuse

To properly define obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it is only necessary to look at the components, as described by the National Institute of Mental Health. For instance, an obsession is a thought or a behavior that overpowers one’s ability to live his or her life normally. For instance, someone who does not suffer from OCD may occasionally forget whether they turned off the coffeemaker before leaving for work. They may worry about it all day, or they may actually drive home to check. After all, if they ruin an expensive machine because they didn’t check on it, they would suffer the consequences. Someone with OCD, however, may feel a compulsion to check the “off“ switch on the same coffeemaker dozens of times over the course of a morning, or they may develop a ritual, such as counting or touching an item of clothing they are wearing, in order to prevent the coffeemaker from being ruined. When an individual suffers from the obsessions and compulsions to a degree that it negatively affects their life, they may have a disorder.

Substance Abuse as a Result of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The US National Library of Medicine published the findings of a research project that investigated the link between OCD and substance abuse. Researchers found that a full 70 percent of participants who suffered from OCD and some form of substance abuse had experienced the OCD first. Does this mean that everyone who develops OCD will automatically begin abusing drugs or alcohol?

According to researchers, this is not the case at all. The study participants were adults who suffered from diagnosed OCD. Not all of them had co-occurring disorders of a substance abuse nature. According to the breakdown of the participants, 87 out of 323 participates did report abusing some kind of drug. Of those 87, the majority reported that the OCD began first. This means that 30 percent of the individuals who participated in the study suffered OCD symptoms after they had already begun to abuse drugs.

Isn’t Substance Abuse a Compulsion?

One of the determining factors when diagnosing addiction, according to the Mayo Clinic, is whether an individual has a compulsion to abuse drugs or alcohol. If compulsion is the need to do something, whether it involves repetitively washing one’s hands or obtaining and using cocaine, then substance abuse does involve some level of compulsion. However, there is a marked difference between the two types of compulsion, particularly as it relates to alcohol abuse, according to research included in the University of Michigan’s online library.

The author has determined that the compulsions involved in obsessive-compulsive disorder, while strong and irresistible to the one experiencing them, make little or no sense, even to the afflicted individual. They know that their compulsion to turn a light on and off repeatedly makes no sense, yet they are unable to dispel the urge. They understand completely that if their compulsion is to harm someone, even their own child, could result in criminal prosecution, yet they are unable to stop themselves without help. In the case of harming another person, in particular, society has established that the behavior is unacceptable, and this can also lead the individual to know and believe they are acting inappropriately.

In the case of substance abuse, especially where alcohol is concerned, we are not subject to the same stigma. It is acceptable to stop by one’s favorite bar for a drink before heading home from work in the evenings. It is acceptable to relax on the weekends with drinks with friends. It is even acceptable, in the minds of many Americans, to drink too much and “let loose,” provided one doesn’t drive. An individual suffering from a compulsion for alcohol, therefore, may not recognize that they have a compulsion at all.

What Happens When OCD and Substance Abuse Collide?

Any time an individual suffers from two conditions or disorders at the same time, they may be diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis issue. When this happens, in order for treatment to be as effective as possible, both conditions need to be addressed simultaneously. If one is treated and the other is left without treatment, the chances of relapse increase, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Choosing a facility that can address both of these issues equally can seem overwhelming. However, if you ask yourself the following questions, you may be able to reduce the amount of pressure concerning the decision:

  • Does the facility use evidence-based, proven, effective treatment programs, such as individual and group therapy, medications when appropriate and thorough assessments?
  • Is the facility capable of making adjustments to the treatment plan as needs arise?
  • Will the treatment program take into consideration all the patient’s needs, including personal, familial, vocational and legal issues?
  • Does the facility include holistic and alternative treatments such as yoga, meditation, and herbal therapy if appropriate on a spiritual level?
  • Does the facility have the experience and expertise necessary to adequately address the entire person, rather than “just” the mental health issue?

At Axis, we are dedicated to helping you and your family overcome the challenges of substance abuse and addiction in an atmosphere that addresses all your needs and desires. To find out how our tailored treatment program can help you, please contact us right away.