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