Obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is often called OCD, is a type of anxiety disorder that features uncontrollable and recurring thoughts that stoke anxiety and irrational fears. People who have OCD often use compulsive rituals like washing their hands and organizing things to relieve persistent thoughts in their heads. The rituals serve as a distraction, but unfortunately, the anxiety comes back when they stop. OCD can easily take over a person’s life and stop them from enjoying or participating in life normally.
Over a quarter of those who attempt to get OCD treatment also have some type of substance use disorder. Those who start having OCD symptoms in childhood are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol for relief from the crippling fear and anxiety they experience. Treating a substance use disorder without treating the symptoms of OCD is not likely to be effective.
In order to recover from both OCD and substance use, it’s important that you get dual-diagnosis treatment from a qualified mental health and addiction treatment center like NFA Behavioral Health in Canterbury, New Hampshire.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is commonly shown in media through movies and TV shows where the person with OCD is either depicted humorously or in a frightening way. An OCD character might take part in absurdly complicated cleaning and organizing or seek to control everything around them. On the other hand, frightening OCD characters are often depicted as murderers or sexual deviants.
However, the reality is that people with OCD go through their daily lives with intense fear and anxiety due to their uncontrollable thoughts. Escaping from these intrusive thoughts seems like an impossible task. It often interferes with a person’s ability to attend school, go to work, have relationships and so on. It’s not surprising then that people with undiagnosed OCD may turn to drugs or alcohol to find an escape from their tormenting thoughts.
The following are some more facts about OCD:
– 2.2 million people in the United States are affected by OCD.
– OCD seems to be passed genetically as it is found more often in family members.
– People who have OCD understand that they have unreasonable fears, but they can’t control their compulsive rituals that provide relief.
– Compulsive rituals like hand-washing and lock-checking can take so much time that they interfere with daily life.
– Depression, substance use and other anxiety issues are often found in those with OCD.
Common OCD Fears and Rituals
OCD fears and rituals may vary from one person to another, but there are certain similarities across cases as well. The following is a list of the most common fears that people with OCD experience:
– Fearing constant germ exposure
– Obsessing over certain numbers and whether they’re good or bad
– Being preoccupied with religion and religious topics
– Having intrusive violent thoughts of harming others or themselves
– Being afraid of losing a loved one to injury or illness
– Intrusive thoughts of sexual acts, especially acts that the person finds repulsive
Common rituals for those with OCD involve cleaning, counting things, organizing and grooming. People with OCD often feel intense anxiety: If they don’t do the rituals, something will happen to them or someone they love. They also might fear that they will hurt someone else if they don’t complete the rituals.
Substance Use and Anxiety
OCD is considered an anxiety disorder according to psychiatric categories. About 20% of those who suffer from anxiety disorders also have a problem with substance use. The substance use is commonly a method for those with anxiety to escape from their fears and worries. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol only make anxiety disorders worse. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that over a quarter of visits to the emergency room in the United States are due to anxiety disorders.
As addiction itself is a compulsive disorder, it’s not surprising that OCD sufferers who use drugs or alcohol often find themselves addicted. A person with OCD is more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol than the average person who does not have an anxiety disorder.
Treatment Options and Obstacles With OCD
At a dual diagnosis treatment center like NFA Behavioral Health, you’ll find real opportunities to challenge yourself and change your life. It might be scary to go into a treatment facility with OCD as it represents an environment that you’re not familiar with. Many of those with OCD need to feel in control of their environment, and a treatment facility offers a lot of unknown factors. You may have a hard time engaging in time-consuming rituals when you need to attend group meetings and individual therapy sessions. Intrusive thoughts might make it hard to focus during these sessions.
This is where it’s important to attend a facility with a dual diagnosis treatment program. These programs allow for the co-occurring issues of substance use and another mental health disorder such as OCD. This accommodation makes it easier for those with OCD to complete their treatment programs.
Medication and behavioral therapy are common treatments for both OCD and substance use. Probably the most popular behavioral therapy is called CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy. This effective therapy shows clients how to identify their negative behaviors and then work to change them.
With regard to OCD, this therapy might expose the client to whatever irrational fears they may have while not allowing them to perform any rituals. The goal is to show the client that the fear is indeed irrational and that the rituals are unnecessary.
Taking Antidepressants with OCD
Sometimes, antidepressant drugs are prescribed to those with OCD. These can be effective in minimizing many symptoms. Specifically, antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors have been effective in treating OCD. Many of those who begin treatment for OCD find that focus on recovery is easier when they take medication while undergoing behavioral therapy.
Treatment for OCD and Addiction
One characteristic sign of OCD is secrecy. People who suffer from it often take great pains to hide it from others. This makes it hard for people close to them to identify the signs and encourage them to get treatment. Unfortunately, this often results in the disorder going undiagnosed for a long time, which also means the habits become a lot more ingrained.
When someone with OCD also starts using drugs or alcohol, they can often effectively hide this as well. By the time people around them figure out the truth, both the substance use and OCD might be in a very advanced stage.
The following are some warning signs of substance use in someone close to you:
– Loss of interest in previous hobbies, activities or social circles
– Spending increased time alone and inside
– Becoming defensive and hostile when asked questions about their behavior
– Generally behaving in an agitated and irritated manner
– Staying up late into the night and then sleeping late into the morning
– Stealing money, items worth money or prescription medication
– Hiding drug paraphernalia in their room, house or vehicle
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Dual diagnosis programs and treatment apply to anyone who has both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder or condition. It’s very important for people who meet these criteria to get the specialized treatment they need from a qualified facility. Professionals at NFA Behavioral Health understand how these co-occurring disorders overlap and can make each individual disorder worse.
However, people who have OCD and substance use problems might not seek help for themselves. This makes it vitally important that people close to them recognize what’s going on and find a way to intervene.
Seeking help for co-occurring disorders like OCD and substance use means finding a facility that specializes in treating dual diagnosis conditions.
How to Spot OCD
As previously mentioned, many people with OCD try very hard to hide their symptoms from others. It may not be immediately obvious that your friend or family member is struggling with OCD. It’s also important to remember what OCD is and what it is not. The occasional bad thought or period of anxiety is not OCD.
OCD combines both obsessions and compulsions. Both are often so intrusive and time-consuming that they interfere with daily life. Compulsions are sometimes formed in response to the obsession. For example, someone who is worried about germs may engage in repetitive and compulsive hand-washing. Someone who is afraid of their house burning down might obsessively check the stove and iron multiple times before they leave the house.
However, the compulsions sometimes don’t make sense at all. For example, a person might tap their foot incessantly when away from home to ensure the safety of their family or house. Other examples of OCD behavior include rituals that respond to various sensory situations. This can result in sudden, obsessive organizing until the desk or room feels just right.
The following examples illustrate some common compulsive behaviors engaged in by those with OCD:
– Constantly cleaning themselves or their living space
– Using gloves or a towel to touch doorknobs, desks, light switches, etc.
– Repetitively checking locked windows and doors
– Constantly contacting people close to them to ask if everything is okay
– Avoiding certain areas or activities for fear of being harmed or causing harm
– Saving junk items or old items in case they might be useful in the future
– Buying specific amounts of things to meet a magic number
– Avoiding certain numbers of things because that number is bad
– Obsessively praying or confessing
– Constantly rearranging or arranging things, often by color or size
Signs of Substance Abuse and OCD
Signs of drug or alcohol addiction may also be hidden by the person struggling with substance use. It may be difficult to tell if a person has an addiction when some symptoms overlap with OCD. For example, someone with OCD may seek to be alone and inside a lot simply to avoid triggers and hide their condition. However, those with a substance use disorder also do this to hide their symptoms.
If you suspect that someone you know has both OCD and substance abuse, then you should be aware of the following symptoms:
– Extreme mood swings
– Extreme OCD behavior when using or if they can’t use the substance that they normally would
– Inability to function in daily life
– Lies about drug or alcohol use, even if it’s very obvious
– Physical health problems caused by substance use, OCD behaviors or a combination of the two
– Statements that they feel unsafe when unable to drink, use drugs or complete OCD rituals
– Altered eating, behavior and sleep patterns depending on which substance they’re using
Common substances used by those with OCD include opiates, sedatives and alcohol. People with OCD are more likely to use downer substances that they think will help them calm down and relax.
Other Treatments for OCD and Addiction
Every case of OCD alone or OCD with addiction is different depending on the individual. That’s why quality facilities like NFA Behavioral Health offer a range of treatments to deal with these disorders. The only right answer for a treatment program is one that works for the individual and also adequately treats both conditions at the same time.
This is usually a combination of treatments. Cognitive behavioral therapy and medication are common treatments for both OCD and addiction, but other treatments like the 12-step program and dialectical behavioral therapy are also effective.
An ideal treatment program usually involves both an extensive residential stay or outpatient therapy along with an aftercare plan. Both conditions must be treated at the same time as the symptoms often overlap significantly. The need to self-medicate for OCD is generally what leads to substance use. Managing both OCD and addiction thus becomes a lifelong commitment using tools learned in a rehab program.