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OCD and Addiction


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Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a complex mental health disorder that involves persistent mental obsessions that often compel a person to take a series of compulsive actions to feel better. For example, classic OCD symptoms include washing your hands a particular number of times, checking that your door is locked over and over again, or struggling with intrusive thoughts that require you to perform other ritual behaviors.

OCD can be highly distressing, particularly for individuals whose compulsive behaviors stop them from living full lives. Anxiety over illness, infection, sickness, injury, harm to others, or other negative consequences can be very distracting and stressful. The compulsive rituals that individuals engage in to manage these feelings can make everyday activities like driving, cooking, cleaning, eating, or shopping into nearly impossible tasks.

Among the challenges of OCD include:

  • Anxiety and fear over illness, infection, harm, or violence
  • Need for excessive organization and structure
  • Ritual behaviors that are considered “good luck” or favorable
  • Inability to complete everyday tasks without ritual behaviors
  • Repetitive behaviors designed to overcome compulsive thinking

The Link Between OCD and Substance Abuse

As a result, many OCD sufferers turn to substance use to manage the stress and anxiety of living with this disorder. In fact, the International OCD Foundation found that approximately 25 percent of OCD sufferers will also experience a substance use disorder in their lifetimes. Researchers have found that individuals who struggle with OCD and substance use disorder both have variable levels of neurotransmitter chemicals in their brain, although further research is needed to determine exactly how these chemical levels contribute to the disorders.

Luckily, there is help available for individuals struggling with OCD and addiction at the same time. Many treatment programs now provide care for substance use and mental health disorders happening in tandem. In the recovery field, these are known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. If you’re struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder and substance use issues, you should seek out the care of a treatment program that provides such treatment.

Finding Treatment For OCD and Addiction

Here are 3 tips for finding the right program to manage OCD and substance use together:

  1. Look for a program with OCD and addiction treatment experience. As the International OCD Foundation notes, studies examining dual diagnosis treatment have “reported positive outcomes, including reduction in severity of OCD symptoms, longer engagement in treatment, and higher abstinence rates at 12-month follow-up.” Make sure the treatment program you’re considering has experience treating clients with OCD, however, as their unique needs require specific therapeutic approaches.
  1. Ask about referrals to additional services, if needed. If you’re concerned that your addiction treatment provider isn’t equipped to fully treat your OCD while helping you recover, make sure they offer referrals to additional service providers, as needed, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists specializing in OCD. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your needs and make sure the treatment program understands the complexity of OCD and how it impacts your substance use.
  1. Seek a professional recommendation from a physician or psychologist. If you’re having trouble finding the right treatment program for your needs, consult with your physician or psychologist. They can liaise with local addiction treatment providers, speak with their medical and clinical staff, and determine which options might be best for you. It’s important that you also speak with the recommended providers, too, to ensure that there is a good fit of philosophy, approach, and goals.

Finding the right treatment program will require candid and honest conversations with your medical and mental health provider as well as potential treatment centers. Make sure to share your concerns upfront and ask them directly if they have worked with clients with OCD before. You need to feel confident that they understand the complex nature of OCD while also having a strong approach to addiction treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask for more details or clarification about any points that aren’t clear before you enroll.

OCD and substance use disorders can be a challenging combination, but treatment is possible for both.

Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

Dr. Saeed is a psychiatry specialist with over 40 years of experience in the medical field. He received training in General Psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he was selected as the Medical Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He currently serves as the medical director at Into Action Recovery Centers. Full Bio

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