OCD and Addiction

OCD and addiction

OCD and Addiction

by Claire Godden

While alcohol and drugs may provide a temporary reprieve from symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the combination only serves to worsen the condition over time.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear” –  Mark Twain

Seeking early treatment for OCD  is extremely important but it’s never too late to get help even if you’ve been suffering with this illness for some time. Seeking treatment early for addiction is, of course, just as important.

OCD sufferers experience seemingly uncontrollable, unwanted, and intensely fearful thoughts. Instead of dismissing these intrusive thoughts, they give them meaning and significance that quickly generates a high level of anxiety.  They then engage in repetitive and compulsive behaviors in an attempt to keep the anxiety-inducing thoughts from becoming reality and to gain a sense of control. The compulsions often manifest as rituals such as counting or checking things.

Some examples of obsessive thoughts include the thought that you are going to hurt a loved one, constant thoughts about symmetry such as having all of your clothing in the closet lined up a certain way or all the jars and cans in your pantry in a certain order, or the thought that you will contract a serious illness and pass it on to your child if you touch the door handle in a public bathroom.

Grabbing a paper towel on your way out of the bathroom to open the door does not mean you have OCD. This habit probably doesn’t interfere with your life. However, if you must go back many times, take a fresh paper towel to open the door, and re-wash your hands each time until you feel it is safe for you to move on, it is likely quite obstructive and has a negative impact on your daily routine. Keeping your closets and cupboards organized is fine, but when thoughts of organization and time spent organizing things intrude on other areas of your daily life, you should probably seek help. You may have OCD if such symptoms are persistent and the obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions  are  intruding enough that they are having a detrimental effect on your everyday life. If this is the case, you must seek help.

A person with OCD has a greater chance of developing an addiction. Social isolation, depression, shame, and guilt can all be present with this illness and can increase the likelihood of the sufferer turning to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to escape and to cope.

A study published in The Journal of Anxiety Disorders in 2008 found that 27 percent of those who seek treatment for OCD also meet the criteria for a substance use disorder.

A helpful treatment for these co-occurring disorders is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT takes a proactive approach to treatment and is extremely useful in helping people with OCD and addiction. CBT helps the sufferer connect their thoughts with their feelings and, ultimately, their outward behavior, thus promoting a far greater awareness of this thought-feeling-behavior cycle. The person’s reaction to their thoughts is addressed and they can learn that it is their anxiety and the distorted meaning they are attaching to the thought, not actual danger, that is causing the problem. CBT requires the individual to continue the therapy on their own, too, outside of the treatment sessions. This way, they can practice what they have learned continuously in real-life situations with all of the usual triggers.

The Last House and Thrive Treatment can both help with OCD and addiction.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein

Anger Management

anger management

Anger Management

by Claire Godden

“I don’t need anger management. I need everyone else to stop pissing me off”

The topic of Anger Management during recovery must not be overlooked. An addict may be using substances to control or mask anger or to numb feelings in general. But numbing and, therefore, avoiding the feeling means you will never break the cycle of anger, reactive outburst, negative consequence and subsequent fallout. Anger unchecked will destroy your relationships and your health. Handled constructively however, you can build your sense of self-worth and greatly improve relationships with others. Anger is a normal, healthy, human emotion and you absolutely can learn to manage it. The reality is that your reaction to events around you is yours and your alone.

Results of Anger

Why should you control your anger anyway? Shouldn’t you be free to express yourself?

Outbursts of anger will lead to others fearing and avoiding you. You could permanently lose important relationships or even your job. All of this in turn can lead to guilt and anxiety, both of which can lead to, or worsen, depression. Physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, headaches, and fatigue can also occur. Anger weakens your immune system. Even worse, you are putting yourself at higher risk for a stroke and heart disease.


“He who angers you conquers you” – Elizabeth Kenny


So, where to start? First, learn what triggers your anger

Anger exists because of frustration, pain, or fear. You may also be turning anger at yourself outward and blaming everyone else for things that don’t go your way. You’re frustrated because you procrastinated about job-seeking or writing an essay for college. Someone is not listening to you or doing things the way you would like them to. Your computer won’t work properly and you can’t figure out why. You feel that someone has disrespected you. You are afraid someone is deserting you or cheating on you. You’re sick and tired of your co-worker’s attitude. Your parents are asking you to do things you don’t want to do. The list can go on and on. It may take you time to practice not reacting the way you always have to situations you don’t like, but it can be done.


Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is about being aware of your own emotions and learning to regulate those emotions and your behavior. It is also about practicing helping others regulate their behavior and being able to read and interpret others’ emotions. EI also looks at awareness of how different social interactions affect you and how you affect the mood of any social interaction whether individual or group. You can build your emotional intelligence by paying close attention to people’s verbal responses, body language and mood when you are around them. Learn to really listen to the other person and don’t interrupt. Listen without judgement. Put yourself in their shoes and be empathetic by tuning into the other person’s feelings, thoughts and attitudes. Practice being humble. You don’t need to seek accolades for a job well done or brag about it to others. Practice being quietly confident in whatever you have achieved. The results will speak for themselves in time. Increasing your emotional intelligence will help you achieve a calmer, less frustrated existence.


Alternatives to anger and things you can do to be more calm in general

It is possible to deal with anger in a constructive way. You do not need to deny that people or situations make you angry. Acknowledging that they do so but quickly stopping that urge to react immediately is key to anger management.


*Replay an incident in your mind where your anger was out of control. Think about the effects of your emotions on the other person or people and think about how you could have handled it differently. If you re-write the script with constructive action or a calmer reaction on your part, how does it change the other person’s responses? How does it change the aftermath? Do this regularly later on in the day after an angry outburst and you will train yourself to react less aggressively and more logically.


*Take up a hobby that induces calm and that you can practice regularly. Art, writing, yoga, music, gardening, cooking, reading, You may find that you can go to this calm place in your mind when you feel angry outbursts coming on.


*Exercise. If you don’t currently exercise, start with something you can easily incorporate into your daily routine. Maybe just walking the dog at a good pace or jogging around the block. Exercise relieves stress and anything is better than nothing. If you make your goal unattainable, you will likely cause more frustration when you find that you cannot keep it up. Twenty minutes walking the dog is 20 minutes that you weren’t sitting watching TV or fuming over something that happened that day.


*Sleep. We all know that getting enough sleep is good for us. Make sure your room is dark with no distracting lights and no TV on all night. Trying reading before you sleep but not on electronic devices as the light promotes wakefulness making the brain think it’s daytime. Try to keep a regular bedtime, too.


*Avoid certain people if necessary. Avoidance doesn’t work for the long-term, of course, but you may find it helpful to avoid certain people while you are practicing managing your anger.


*Don’t expect things to change overnight. Just as it took you time to learn to react this way, it can take time to unlearn and re-learn.


*Thinking more positively in general. Try to be more aware of your thoughts in general. Do you find your self-talk to be on the negative side? Do you think the worst of people. Is everyone out to get you? Turning around those thoughts that don’t necessarily lead to angry outbursts can instill a steady sense of well-being and can help reduce your feelings of hostility to others in general.


As you reduce and eventually stop having angry outbursts, you will find that you earn more respect from others, develop a stronger sense of self-worth, and feel better physically. You will project calm, control, and confidence to those you interact with.


“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist” – Indira Gandhi

Chronic Relapse

Chronic Relapsechronic relapse

Author: Claire Godden

Addiction in itself is a chronic brain disease and anyone who is attempting sobriety is at risk for relapse. But what makes some of us stay in recovery while others relapse over and over again? The cycle that is chronic relapse happens for a variety of reasons and can mean that the underlying causes of addiction have either not been fully addressed or treatment needs repeating in order to work properly.

Recovery is a lifelong commitment and relapse is a common and expected part of the process for some. It’s important to remember that chronic relapse does not mean that time in treatment has been wasted. It does not mean that the addict is a failure. It just means that treatments must be repeated or modified in some way to better focus on the triggers that keep leading to relapse.

Reasons for chronic relapse are often the same ones that led the person to addiction in the first place. Issues such as stress, anxiety, boredom, depression, traumatic experiences, and co-occurring mental health disorders must be addressed fully for the individual to have a solid chance at long-term recovery. Chronic relapse is also seen more often when there is a higher level of dependence on the drug and when withdrawal symptoms are worse.

Addiction treatment must also be a two-way street. The more you fully engage in the various therapies and work hard to follow your prescribed plan of action, the better chance you have of staying sober. Clients must stay in treatment as recommended by their team of therapists. Failure to stay in the program for the duration leads to a greatly increased risk of relapse. Also, if you are not honest with yourself or with your therapist, important factors that lead to the initial addiction and now the relapse, will be left untreated.

In order to brave the world without the use of drugs or alcohol, new life and coping skills should have been acquired during treatment. A good treatment program will help the individual gain valuable tools for dealing with the things that drugs previously allowed them to avoid. Patience, hope and belief that it can be done are key when you are learning how to live every hour of every day in a new way. Home and work life, social life, and relationships with family and friends must all be addressed and assessed. Reactive behaviors have to be recognized and managed and new, constructive, hobbies and pastimes may be introduced or reignited. Substance use and abuse has been part of your everyday life and to suddenly stop, means you must consistently replace the destructive activities with others that are positive and productive.

There are signs one can watch for that indicate relapse may be on the horizon. Some of these signs are feeling more depressed or anxious, having trouble sleeping, beginning to avoid people, and no longer actively working to stay healthy and engaged in life. If you feel you are heading for a relapse, reach out to your support system whether it’s a trusted family member, your sponsor or your therapist. If cravings are imminent, remove yourself from the people or from the place that is triggering the cravings and make yourself wait it out. Some say 10 – 15 minutes is enough for cravings to go away. Others will say it could take 1 – 2 hours for them to subside. When you begin to recognize that you may relapse, you must think about the behaviors that got you into treatment in the first place. You must look at everything you’ve gained while sober. If you “slip” – an unintended one-time use of a drug or alcohol – you can see it as disastrous and fall back into full-blown addiction because of the guilt and shame of it all or you can view it as a powerful learning opportunity.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be incredibly helpful throughout the entire recovery process and is used to combat negative and distorted thoughts. It can be particularly useful if you slip and begin, for example, thinking about how you “failed” and about what you should or shouldn’t have done to avoid it. This negative thinking will only keep you in that moment replaying your mistake in your mind. You cannot move forward and learn from what you did if you don’t change your thinking. You must look at and analyze what you did it to learn from it but then also look at all you have achieved so far during treatment and all the good things that have happened while you have been sober. Focusing on the positive and the gains you have made is far more beneficial to you than sinking into despair when you experience a slip in your sobriety.

Some key factors to sustaining sobriety and preventing chronic relapse are:

• Support – from your sponsor and other positive peers, family or friends – particularly in the early stages of recovery.
• Hope and belief – the brain can adapt and re-adapt but you have to allow plenty of time for it to do so.
• Learning and maintaining new strategies for everyday life.
• Learning and maintaining new strategies for what to do and how to cope when the unexpected happens.
• Staying motivated – again, support from another person or group may be particularly helpful here.
• Continuing therapy for the addiction and/or continuing other treatments for any
co-occurring disorders.
• Staying fit and healthy – looking and feeling good lifts our mood.
• Avoidance of certain people and situations/places.
• Getting organized and keeping busy – fill your life with healthy activities and hobbies.
• Not getting too comfortable with your recovery status – just like driving, stay alert to the dangers.
• Staying connected – stay in regular contact, including regular face-to-face contact where possible, with people who are committed to supporting you long-term and who are positive influences.

One of our primary therapists here at Thrive Treatment, Samantha Levy, says that connections and community are what keep us healthy and whole human beings. She says relapse happens when we slip away from ourselves, from our program, from our people. It happens when we stop talking about what’s not working and stop doing what is. Samantha says you cannot get and stay sober unless you have the will and the want. Fear gets in the way of us believing in ourselves, in something better. It’s easy to stay where we are and in what we know. It’s challenging to take a leap into something new and strange. It is 100% scary. If you stick through it, the bad stuff ends and you will find that there is light on the on the other side. You just have to keep going. She says that sometimes we don’t hold on long enough and that’s where relapse happens – before we’ve had the opportunity to see the light. Time can lead us into a false sense of security where we forget the bad things

Our Clinical Director, David Pavia, says this about chronic relapse:
I don’t think there are any shortcuts in life or sobriety. Confronting yourself is the key. Being willing to be accountable to others is also a big factor. Living in an environment that demands that is a great start. The hardest thing to figure out is whether you will be able to get that out of meetings and sponsor commitments alone or if you need more structure and peer accountability. Individual and group therapy is also a very good idea and all of these things work best together for many reasons. Twelve-step groups, sponsorship, psychotherapy, sober living. are all best done early on in sobriety if you want to give yourself the best chance at staying sober and reaching your best self.

Above all, stay optimistic and hopeful.
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us – Ralph Waldo Emerson