OCD and addiction

OCD is a disorder that comes under the umbrella of anxiety. It causes people to have distressing and recurrent thoughts, which they unwillingly obsess over, followed by a strong urge to carry out a specific action (compulsion) to temporarily relieve anxiety. Although carrying out these rituals offers a short-term respite from unease, it is never-ending; anxious thoughts soon return, compelling people to behave a certain way, causing a cycle of anguish. OCD and addiction are common dual diagnoses; over a quarter of people seeking treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder also tend to become reliant on drugs or alcohol, and more likely than not, substance dependence is used as a clutch for coping with unpleasant OCD symptoms.


Common signs of OCD

  • They are often caught up in thought and always seem worried
  • They are unable to focus on tasks
  • They exhibit signs of depression
  • They engage in ritualistic behaviour such as cleaning, saying things out loud, checking things over again
  • They become irritable if they can’t carry out a ritual
  • When partaking in specific activities (substance or behavioural), they seem calm and their OCD symptoms are momentarily at bay, however when they’re not engaging in activities, they seem irritable and OCD symptoms worsen.

How OCD is linked to substance addiction

People exhibit OCD differently, so doctors and psychologists have categorised the various traits of OCD into individual groups. Let’s look closely at each form and see their potential links to addiction:

Constant checking
People with this form of OCD may worry that they have made a mistake, and thus, they seek reassurance by checking consistently. This could be things like checking the oven numerous times to ensure it’s turned off and checking doors are locked a certain number of occasions. People with this form of OCD usually doubt themselves and their confidence as they continuously worry that they will cause problems and endanger themselves or others. This type of thought process can leave people exhausted and consumed with self-doubt. Thus, they may turn to abuse marijuana, alcohol or prescription drugs as a means of winding down and taking a break from their worrying thoughts.
Cleanliness and contamination
People with this type of OCD are often fixated on the presence of germs or diseases. This comes with a heightened fear of exposure to germs, viruses, dirt, blood etc., which can drive them to avoid certain places and people. These thoughts are often followed by compulsions to wash hands repeatedly or scrub floors or surfaces frequently. Furthermore, many people don’t just fear contamination. They also worry about contaminating others or inflicting sickness on others. Therefore, they may exhibit extreme behaviours such as wearing clinical clothing or gloves or cleaning non-stop. This type of disorder can take its toll on a person’s mental and physical energy. Constantly fretting increases anxiety, and therefore, to ease inner distress, people may develop an alcohol or prescription drug addiction to soothe anxiety.
Orderly perfection
This is the most known form of OCD and is often represented in media. It involves a person being fixated on perfection and order. People may become obsessed with having things in the right place or symmetrically situated. For example, people may need to have cups facing a certain way in order to relax. Again, constant worry can deplete a person’s mental energy. This OCD often correlates with anorexia nervosa; the need to reach an “ideal” weight spurs people to severely reduce food intake and harness control over their weight.
Pure O
Pure O refers to OCD that doesn’t result in ritualistic behaviours; instead, a constant internal battle goes on within a person’s mind. As a result, people experience intrusive and disturbing thoughts or ‘dares’ that may be violent or repulsive about themselves or others, such as physically harming someone they love or a stranger passing in the street. Although these people would never act on these thoughts, it deeply disturbs them because they are horrified by these thoughts. Eventually these can become unbearable and hinder their ability to get through the day, potentially leading to depression. Moreover, people may use prescription pills, illicit drugs, or alcohol in a way to drown out any intrusive thoughts.

How OCD and addiction are treated

If you’re worried you’re trapped in a never-ending maze of OCD and addiction, know that you aren’t alone and rehab for co-occurring disorders offers you a safe way out. So, the first thing you need to establish is: which disorder is the primary and which is the secondary. This is because we must treat the primary condition (the illness that causes the most problems) first. For example, if OCD is your primary disorder, you will need to speak with your GP to get the appropriate medical advice for treating OCD. Your GP may refer you to therapy and prescribe you medication. You may be on medication (such as antidepressants) for a short time until you have learned effective coping strategies to help you cope with distressing thoughts.

Therapies like exposure and response prevention (ERP) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) have successful outcomes when treating OCD. Such therapies work to progressively expose you to subjects of your obsessions or triggers and help you deal with them in a healthy way. Expert psychologists can teach you how to deal with distressing thoughts without acting on compulsions. However, this will take practice and dedication, and you must apply these techniques outside therapy. Once you have been treated for OCD and have it under reasonable control, you can get treatment for addiction.

How Primrose Lodge can help with addiction and OCD

At Primrose Lodge, we treat addiction as the primary disorder and we are devoted to helping people overcome unhealthy dependencies of any kind, and in the process, we will help you to manage OCD. We’ll offer you a safe and relaxing environment to call home, where you’ll be given time to heal and restore your mind, body, and soul. If you wish to break free from substance dependence, we provide a thorough medical detox, and all clients will then be invited to attend numerous psychotherapies intended to treat addiction but will provide additional guidance on how better to manage OCD in the process.

We believe recovery should involve comprehensive healing; therefore, you’ll be invited to participate in a multitude of therapies and treatments, including:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • 12-step Therapy
  • Gong bath
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Art therapy
  • Self-esteem and assertiveness workshops
  • Mindfulness
  • Self-esteem and assertiveness workshops


Addiction and OCD don’t have to rule your life anymore

Experiencing the pain of addiction alongside the anguish of OCD is extremely tough, and it may feel like you’re stuck in a constant loop of despair. But please know there is a way out. We can treat your addiction and help you to handle your OCD symptoms in a healthier way. So, pick up the phone today, and a member of our friendly support team will go through any questions or concerns you have, so we can get you on the path to long-term recovery.

Frequently asked questions

Can OCD medication be addictive?
Some of the most commonly prescribed medicines for OCD include antidepressants and antipsychotics, both of which are known to be habit-forming. There is a risk that you could become addicted to OCD medication even if you follow your doctor’s instructions but it is more likely you take more than prescribed or for longer than intended. It is important to talk to your doctor if you feel like you are becoming dependent on your OCD medication so they can reduce your dose or help you find an alternative medication.
Can an obsession with drugs or alcohol be a symptom of OCD itself?
People who suffer from OCD may become fixated on certain behaviours such as taking drugs or drinking excessively. This can ultimately lead to addiction, particularly after physical dependence has developed. It is important to talk to your doctor if you are concerned that you have an obsession with drugs or alcohol as they can help develop a suitable treatment plan for your individual needs.
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