OCD and Addiction: Their Connection

OCD and Addiction

OCD and addiction are actually quite common in the United States. Many people suffer from both conditions at the same time. OCD can go undiagnosed for years. People often opt to cope with their symptoms through drugs or alcohol. Addictions and mental health issues commonly go hand in hand. In many cases, including with OCD, substance abuse only makes people feel worse over time.

OCD Information

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that affects many people each year. Someone suffering from OCD has a chronic disorder that involves uncontrollable thoughts. These are called obsessions. They also participate in behaviors (compulsions) that are repeated over and over.

Many of the statistics surrounding OCD are quite interesting. According to HealthyPlace:

  • OCD is ranked 10th among all diseases that cause disability
  • As many as 3% of all adults in the United States have obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • It is a condition that afflicts 1 in 200 children.
  • Boys may be more likely to develop OCD before puberty than girls do.
  • As many as 70% of all children with OCD show significant improvement with proper treatment.
  • Up to 50% of all OCD sufferers had the condition during their childhood years.
  • Less than 10% of those with obsessive-compulsive disorder currently are getting treatment.
  • 60% of OCD sufferers respond very well to certain types of medications for their symptoms.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a debilitating condition for so many. In fact, it's so difficult to cope with, more often than not, substance abuse seems like a good option. Perhaps that's where you've found yourself too.

If you have OCD, and you're addicted to drugs or alcohol, you need to know that you can get help. At Northpoint Washington, we understand that right now, you may feel as though you have no other options. Using drugs or alcohol might be the only thing you know to do to help yourself. Experiencing OCD symptoms and using substances to control them puts you in a terrible cycle. However, it is possible for that cycle to be broken.

Maybe you've never received an actual diagnosis for OCD, but you still can't help but wonder if you have it. Not everyone has. You may need to get a diagnosis so that the reasons behind your addiction can be treated.

First, it's important for you to know more about what obsessive-compulsive disorder is.

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is actually an anxiety disorder. When someone suffers from it, that person struggles with irrational fears. His or her anxiety levels can become quite intense.

OCD sufferers will typically act out certain ritualistic behaviors. They may need to count items, wash their hands frequently, or organize their possessions in certain ways. As they act out these behaviors, the result is relief from their anxious thoughts. On the other hand, almost as soon as they complete the tasks, it reappears.

OCD can quickly take over a person's life. It can keep them from enjoying time with their friends and family. It can interfere with their ability to hold down a job, or enjoy any recreational activities.

Given how severe obsessive-compulsive disorder can become, it's not surprising that so many people with it also have addictions. Substance abuse disorders are present for more than 25% of people who get treatment for OCD.

Are There Different Types of OCD?

The DSM-V gives a very broad definition of obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, everyone with OCD experiences it a little bit differently. There are actually about five different types of this condition. These include:

Germ and Contamination Obsessions

Being obsessed with germs and contamination is a common form of OCD. People with this type of condition are very uncomfortable about thoughts of germs. They will wash themselves or their possessions repeatedly. They will clean their homes extensively. This tends to help them reduce their feelings of distress.

This type of OCD is what drives people to frequently wash their hands. They may live in fear of touching a germ-infested doorknob. They may also be afraid of transferring those germs to someone else. They don't want to make anyone sick. This behavior can go on for years. Hand washing and other cleaning can take hours to perform.

Harm-Related Obsessions

This type of OCD involves frequent thoughts of possible harm. The person may visualize their house burning down and drive by it a lot during the day to check. They may have a disastrous event come to mind and believe that this increases the likelihood of it happening.

OCD sufferers who are worried about harm will perform checking rituals. They may have certain things they need to do before leaving each day. One example would be checking to be sure the stove or oven has been turned off.

Non-Visible Obsessions

Non-visible obsessions can be pretty scary to someone with OCD. It involves different themes that frequently invade the person's mind. These themes may be related to rape, religion or acts of aggression. They may start to fear that they will attack someone without really meaning to or wanting to.

With this type of OCD, certain mental rituals are very common. People will often recite different words over and over again. They may count in their heads, or they may pray. These rituals help to relieve their anxiety because they give them a sense of control.

There are different triggers that can bring these disturbing thoughts to mind. They may be things that aren't even closely related to the thoughts at all. However, once they are identified as triggers, they are avoided at all costs.

Obsessions with Order

This type of obsessive-compulsive disorder drives people to rearrange objects. They will want to make them just right. For example, people may feel the need to arrange their clothing in their closets according to color.

Sometimes this obsessive behavior can be attached to some type of event that's to be avoided. The sufferer may feel that if items are arranged a certain way, it will ward off danger. It's also possible for these individuals to think or speak sentences or words over and over.

Hoarding Behaviors

Hoarding is another type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that many people are familiar with. It involves keeping collections of items that others may not deem to be of any value. Eventually, these collections can overtake the hoarder's living space completely.

Some of the items that hoarders will typically keep include:

  • Old magazines
  • Junk mail
  • Clothes
  • Receipts
  • Containers

They live in fear of losing these objects because they may be needed one day. As a result, they form a strong, personal and emotional attachment to them. They become as necessary to their lives as air.

This type of OCD tends to be much more severe than the other types. It is often accompanied by higher anxiety and even depression. These individuals usually aren't able to keep working. They may also become isolated from the people they love as a result.

As you can see, it's clear why some people with OCD would choose addictions help them feel better.

What are the Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

People who suffer from OCD may have compulsions, obsessions or both. Their symptoms significantly interfere with their everyday lives. They may drive them to quit their jobs, drop out of school, and stop spending time with people they love.

Common symptoms of obsessions include:

  • Having unwanted or forbidden thoughts. These may include violence, harm, region or sex.
  • Being afraid of germs or becoming contaminated. They also may live in fear of spreading their germs to others.
  • Having aggressive thoughts toward themselves.
  • Feeling aggressive toward other people, but not wanting to act on those thoughts.
  • Feeling a need to have items in perfect order. Desiring symmetry is very common.

Some common symptoms of compulsions include:

  • Feeling the need to clean excessively.
  • Frequently washing one's hands.
  • Having to check on things repeatedly. For example, checking to see if the door is locked.
  • Ordering certain things in a certain way.
  • Spending a lot of time compulsively counting.

It needs to be mentioned that double-checking something does not mean an individual has OCD. Everyone double-checks themselves sometimes. However, OCD takes checking to the next level. Someone with this condition:

  • Isn't able to control his or her thoughts or behaviors.
  • May recognize their thoughts to be excessive, but still can't maintain control of them.
  • Spends at least an hour a day (but often more) on these behaviors or thoughts.
  • Experiences anxiety relief from these thoughts or behaviors. However, they do not produce pleasure.
  • May have serious personal problems because of these obsessions and compulsions.

OCD Quiz: Should You Talk with a Professional About This Condition?

In going over this information, you may be wondering if you have OCD. Maybe many of the above symptoms match up to what you're currently experiencing. Ask yourself these questions to determine if you need to talk with a professional.

  • Do you frequently feel afraid of getting sick, or getting a serious disease?
  • Do you get upset if your personal belongings are moved out of order?
  • Do you frequently experience scary images of death or other terrifying events?
  • Do you often have religious, sexual or aggressive thoughts that you feel are unacceptable?
  • Do you worry about something terrible happening to your home?
  • Do you worry about spreading an illness?
  • Do you feel afraid that you might lose something that's valuable to you?
  • Do you have real concerns about acting on an unwanted impulse?
  • Do you perform certain acts over and over again?
  • Do you frequently count as a way to help your anxiety?
  • Do you often feel the need to be reassured that you did something correctly?

If you answered even one of these questions positively, then you most likely do have OCD. Getting a professional diagnosis is very important so that you can be treated.

Treating OCD and the Most Common Treatment Methods

OCD is generally treated using two different methods. They are psychotherapy and with medication.


There are several different types of psychotherapy that are effective at treating OCD. Cognitive behavior therapy has shown great promise at helping those with OCD. Habit reversal training can also be effective. Exposure and Response Prevention works very well, even for those who don't do well with medications.

The goal of these therapies is to cause sufferers to look at their anxiety in a different way. They learn to process it differently, which cuts down on their obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors.


For many with obsessive-compulsive disorder, medications are a necessity. Some medications can be very effective at helping to reduce their symptoms. SSRIs and SRIs are two of more popular classifications of medications for OCD.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Medications

For someone who has OCD, medications are an important part of their treatment. In fact, they may be the very first treatment method that is suggested for them.

Some of the more commonly recommended medications include:

  • Clomipramine
  • Fluoxetine
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Sertraline
  • Risperidone

One of the biggest problems with medications is that they can take some time to work. Many people find that they don't start to experience relief for as long as 12 weeks. This is the main reason why psychotherapy should always be incorporated along with medicines.

What Causes OCD?

Experts are not really sure what exactly causes some people to develop OCD. However, there are certain factors that can make someone more at risk. These include:

  • Having a family history of mental illness
  • Differences in brain structure
  • Growing up with physical or sexual abuse
  • Having a streptococcal infection as a child
  • Developing a substance abuse disorder

Any of the above can lead to OCD. It's important to note that while sometimes OCD leads to substance abuse, the opposite can also be true.

What Substances are Commonly Used by Those with OCD?

For someone with OCD, there are some substances that are more desirable to them than others. Their goal is to decrease their anxiety levels. That means they tend to use drugs like:

  • Alcohol
  • Opiate drugs
  • Heroin
  • Sedatives
  • Marijuana

What is the Connection Between Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Addiction?

The main connection between obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction is a need to self-medicate. The symptoms of OCD can be so hard to deal with. It may not even dawn on some sufferers that they could have a psychological problem. Therefore, they may not even think of professional treatment.

Using drugs or alcohol gives them a way to help themselves, even if it's only temporary. Of course, there is also the chance that addiction can lead to OCD-type behaviors. This can happen as well.

Treating OCD and Addiction Through Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment (often called integrative addiction treatment) is very effective at treating OCD and addiction.

There was once a time when addictions and mental health conditions were treated separately. They weren't viewed as conditions that could be treated together. However, experts found that recovery from both conditions was much more likely in an integrated setting.

At that point, dual diagnosis treatment was born. Patients met with therapists in individual settings to discuss the reasons behind their addictions. It wasn't enough just to treat the symptoms of the addiction. This method of treatment was proven to be successful by patients' rates of improvement. There were less relapses among these patients, which was quite promising.

Today, more and more treatment centers are adopting this philosophy, but not all of them have completely.

Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment is Available for Those with OCD and Substance Abuse Problems

It's possible that you are currently suffering from OCD and addiction simultaneously. These are known as co-occurring disorders. You may or may not have a formal diagnosis, but you seem to fit the criteria listed above. Many others have felt the same way that you are right now. Even if they never had OCD, they did suffer from other co-occurring disorders. People tend to downplay just how debilitating they can be.

It may be tempting for you to continue on in the same behavioral patterns for now. You may feel as though self-medicating is working, so why should you change it? Eventually, it won't work as well as it did at first. Eventually, the drugs or alcohol you're using will completely take over your life. Of course, that's assuming they haven't done so already.

You need to get help for your addiction, and dual diagnosis treatment is the best way to do that. It will address all of the issues behind the addiction, not just your addictive symptoms themselves. This allows for real healing to take place in your life, which is something you desperately need.

Here at Northpoint Washington, we go above and beyond to offer our patients the very best. If you're suffering from OCD and addiction, we can help you recover safely.

Do you have an addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder? If you do, don't continue to suffer on your own. Contact us for help today.