Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a chronic mental health condition that causes an individual to frequently develop unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions), which results in repetitive behaviours (compulsions). For example, they are obsessed if a person has frequent intrusive thoughts about someone breaking into their house. However, people who repeatedly check the door locks tend to have compulsive behaviour. While most people experience obsessions and compulsions at some point, OCD is more extreme as the repetitive behaviours significantly interfere with social interactions and performing daily tasks. In the UK, it is estimated that 1.2% of the population has OCD.
Since obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health condition, the chances of an individual developing substance abuse or addiction are high.
And people who are dealing with both OCD and addiction are said to have co-occurring disorders.
Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessions and compulsions are two main types of symptoms that OCD holds. While some people experience obsessions and compulsions, others are affected by only one. And these symptoms are not short-lived. Even the milder symptoms significantly affect your day-to-day activities and take up at least one hour each day. Also, though obsessions and compulsions are not true and won’t change anything, they all feel uncontrollable.
- Intrusive images, words, or sounds
- Worries about throwing things away
- Fears of saying something offensive or obscene
- Worries about germs, dirt, or illness
- Questioning your sexual desires and orientation
- You need to have your possessions aligned, orderly, or symmetrical
- Fears of harming yourself or someone else
- Explicit sexual or violent thoughts
- Worries about the well-being of yourself and your loved ones
The above-mentioned obsessive behaviours or thoughts keep coming back despite ignoring or suppressing them, leading to an even stronger conviction that they might become true if left unattended.
Compulsive behaviours include:
- Collecting particular objects or buying several of them
- Organising or aligning objects in a specific way
- Washing your hands, objects, or body
- Continuing or repeating specific phrases
- Seeking reassurance from others
- Mentally going over your actions to ensure you haven’t harmed anyone
- Touching something a set number of times
What Causes OCD?
Though the exact causes of OCD cannot be determined, a person’s family history may play a significant part. For example, if someone has a close family member with OCD, the chances of them having the same condition are high. In addition, irregular development and impairment in the brain areas may also cause OCD. It is believed that OCD changes how the brain responds to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep, and other critical bodily functions.
Is There a Link Between Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Addiction?
Addiction can occur in any individual, regardless of age, sex, financial status, etc. However, the prevalence of addiction among people with mental health disorders, including OCD, is higher. For example, according to a study, the cumulative incidence of alcohol- and drug-related disorders in individuals with OCD was 23%. However, a few studies suggest that the correlation between OCD and addiction is not straightforward.
Why is There a Link Between Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Addiction?
There are several reasons why addiction is more common in people with mental health conditions, such as:
- Self-medication: Most people use substances like drugs or alcohol to gain temporary relief, escape reality, or ease their symptoms and is called self-medication. OCD is an under-reported condition; hence, people use substances due to the lack of support they need.
- Overlapping risk factors: Addiction and mental health conditions, such as OCD, have similar risk factors, including stress, trauma, altered brain chemistry, and genetic changes, making people vulnerable to both situations.
- Side effects: Most addictive substances can cause or worsen an individual’s mental health during use or when the substance wears off.
Treating OCD and Addiction
OCD and addiction or co-occurring disorders are treatable conditions. While people may experience OCD throughout their life, symptoms can improve significantly with support.
Addiction treatment may include:
- Talk Therapy: Talk therapy is significant to both OCD and addiction. During this approach, therapists work with individuals to understand their thought processes and motives behind their behaviours. Therapists also help patients address the potential root of their addiction and teach them new coping skills to apply in triggering or unwanted situations.
- Symptom Management: According to research, some people with OCD find that medications help reduce the symptoms. However, the effects vary from person to person.
- Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): People with severe substance use disorder may use medication-assisted treatment, which helps the body adjust. For example, methadone is prescribed to patients with opioid use disorder to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
- Support Groups or Programs: Support groups involve different people from different stages of addiction who provide support, practical strategies, and reassurance to people suffering from OCD.
Also, addiction and OCD should be treated together because both can reinforce each other. But, do not go “cold turkey”, as it can pose dangerous outcomes.
When to Seek Help
There is no timeline for people with OCD and addiction to seek treatment. However, earlier addiction treatment is better as it reduces the risk of severe symptoms and complications. If you are still unsure, notice these signs to seek treatment:
- Were in recovery but are experiencing symptoms again
- Experience physical withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit substances
- Have difficulty stopping certain behaviours, despite wanting to
- Have upsetting thoughts you cannot control
- Undergoing treatment but have new or worsened symptoms
Addictions can involve anything from substances to behaviours, such as alcohol, drugs, and gambling. And research suggests that both types of addiction are common in people with OCD. Also, the reasons for the addiction are plenty, including self-medication, altered brain chemistry, and risk factors. Despite this, people do not have to fear OCD and addiction. Switching to rehab can help people recover under the supervision of knowledgeable mental health professionals who provide addiction treatment plans. The specialised treatment plans help people lead happy and healthy life.