Treating Co-Occurring OCD And Addiction

OCD is an anxiety disorder with symptoms that get in the way of everyday life, such as intrusive, repetitive thoughts. People with OCD are more likely to also have a drug or alcohol abuse issue. Treatment options that address both disorders offer the best results.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is among the mental health conditions linked to substance abuse.

Having OCD and a co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD) means that symptoms of both can feed into each other, making them more difficult to treat and overcome.

However, treatment for OCD and co-occurring addiction can account for this, and evidence-based options that focus on changing thoughts and behaviors show promising results.

What Is OCD?

OCD is an anxiety disorder marked by intrusive, unreasonable thoughts or sensations, also called obsessions, and a compulsion to carry out behavior related to them.

Not all people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions. Unreasonably fearful and obsessive thoughts about germs are one common example of OCD.

OCD is one among several anxiety disorders that co-occur with substance use disorders.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative effect on mental health. So much so that health professionals recommend anxiety screenings for anyone under the age of 65.

Symptoms Of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is usually diagnosed in adolescents and young adults. However, some have developed the disorder later in life.

Symptoms of OCD will vary from person to person. Like all anxiety disorders, OCD is marked by intense, disruptive worry or fear regarding everyday occurrences.

One way to tell OCD-related worries or behaviors apart from the everyday variety is that OCD-related worries or behaviors take up a minimum of one hour of the person’s day.

OCD symptoms related to obsessions include the following:

  • fear of germs
  • a need to have objects in a particular, precise order
  • taboo or unwanted thoughts involving sex, religion, etc.
  • violent thoughts toward oneself or others

OCD symptoms related to compulsions include the following:

  • repetitive behaviors (such as frequent handwashing or excessive cleaning)
  • placing objects in a particular, precise order
  • compulsive counting
  • mental rituals
  • checking on things repeatedly (such as that the garage is closed)

How Common Is Addiction And OCD?

Due to limited studies on the topic, it’s difficult to know the exact prevalence of OCD and co-occurring substance abuse.

However, available studies indicate that it’s quite common. About one-quarter of people seeking treatment programs for OCD also have an SUD.

Anxiety disorders are a very common form of mental illness in the U.S., with almost one-third of Americans having one sometime in their lives.

The Link Between OCD And Substance Abuse

To deal with time-consuming intrusive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, someone might self-medicate with alcohol use or drug use. This provides temporary relief.

All drugs and alcohol have the potential for misuse, and addiction can develop. There is no single cause of addiction; rather, multiple risk factors are involved.

Alcohol or drug abuse co-occurring with OCD tends to worsen particular symptoms of both.

People with this dual diagnosis tend to have more severe OCD symptoms, poorer quality of life, and poorer insights about their condition than those who have only OCD, a recent study showed.

They also are homebound more often, receive disability benefits more often, and are more likely to report suicide attempts.

Each of the above factors may increase the risk of substance use, and the risk of dependence for people who use substances.

Treatment Of OCD And Addiction

In the past, OCD was considered a challenging disorder to treat. However, advancements with significant promise are being made.

This improves treatment for substance use and OCD dual diagnoses as well. A treatment plan that addresses both co-occurring disorders at the same time usually works best.

Inpatient programs at treatment centers are critical for some people with OCD and addiction. Access to care providers 24/7 can be helpful for behavior modification.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) And Dual Diagnosis

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatment options for OCD and co-occurring substance abuse.

With CBT, changing your thoughts helps you change your behavior. People with OCD can use this therapy to help control both obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior.

A form of CBT called exposure and response prevention (ERP) has proved helpful. When people are exposed to fearful stimuli but don’t respond, their symptoms are reduced.

Motivational Interviewing (MI) And Dual Diagnosis

One thing that can make recovery from a dual diagnosis, or any mental disorder, difficult is a feeling of hopelessness, like the condition can’t be overcome.

This applies to people who have lived with the uncontrollable thoughts and behaviors associated with OCD and strong cravings for drugs or alcohol that come with addiction.

With motivational interviewing (MI) for addiction and OCD, people are given back their sense of power through empathetic, flexible encouragement from the therapist.

It is critical that people healing from mental health conditions have this sense of autonomy and become proactive in their recovery.

Medication And Dual Diagnosis

Medication is often helpful in dual diagnosis treatment and recovery. This includes medications that treat symptoms of the disorders as well as withdrawal symptoms.

Antidepressants are sometimes used to treat OCD, but selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have become the preferred choice of health professionals.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can help with opioid or alcohol addiction but not other drug addictions.

Because severe withdrawal symptoms can occur during the detox process, medication-assisted detox is also available.

Long-Term Care And Dual Diagnosis

OCD and addiction treatment aftercare will look different for each person. Outpatient or day programs are often helpful for ongoing support.

This might include family therapy for dual diagnoses, which aims to improve the way family members communicate and relate to each other.

Support groups can be found both within and outside treatment facilities for people with OCD and addiction to share experiences and results.

How Effective Is Dual Diagnosis Care For OCD And Substance Use?

OCD and substance abuse treatments are improving as an understanding of the link between the two is growing.

CBT is having the best results, particularly ERP therapy. One report from the medical community shows a 75% to 85% rate of effectiveness in treating OCD.

When symptoms of one condition are treated, symptoms of the other condition tend to be minimized as well.

Getting Help For OCD And Addiction

Mental health disorders like OCD often co-occur with substance abuse. Treatment for OCD and substance abuse should address both conditions for best results.

If you or a loved one is living with OCD and an SUD, Spring Hill Recovery Center can help.

Call us today to speak with a member of our care team and learn about our personalized addiction treatment plans.

  1. Journal of Anxiety Disorders – Substance Use Disorders in an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinical Sample
  2. National Institute of Mental Health – Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Substance Use Disorders
  4. Texas Medical Center – OCD expert Elizabeth McIngvale, Ph.D., shares personal OCD journey, treatment options for patients

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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