a person with ocd and addiction arranges pencils on a table

Does Substance Abuse Affect OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can often be so debilitating that those living with it turn to drugs and alcohol to try and cope. This unhealthy coping mechanism often leads to substance abuse and subsequent addiction. Because of this relationship, OCD and addiction are common co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders are identified when someone has a substance use disorder and another mental health condition.

Promises Right Step Hill Country offers addiction treatment programs that have a comprehensive focus. We help clients overcome addiction while learning to manage their mental health symptoms, like those stemming from OCD. Learn more about our Texas treatment center by calling 1.844.675.1628 today.

What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

OCD is a mental health condition that causes people to have intrusive and persistent thoughts, which can be accompanied by anxiety. This obsessive thinking leads those with OCD to perform repetitive behaviors as a way of trying to gain control over their feelings and thoughts.

Examples of OCD cycles include:

  • Excessive hand washing due to fear of contamination
  • Checking locks multiple times before leaving the house
  • Compulsive counting or ordering of items in a specific way

Sometimes, OCD symptoms are not as obvious or stereotypical. People with OCD often have a difficult time recognizing when to stop. Even healthy habits, like exercise or eating healthy, can become compulsive and interfere with a person’s life if not managed properly.

Understanding the OCD-Addiction Link

A study reported in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders found that 27% of people with OCD had a substance use disorder and could benefit from both OCD and addiction treatment. About 70% of those with both conditions reported that their OCD was diagnosed first. As is the case with other mental health conditions, sometimes people turn to drugs or alcohol to manage their symptoms. Drugs and alcohol can provide temporary relief but can also cause their own significant problems.

Brain Communication Issues

There may be some underlying brain patterns that make both OCD and addiction more likely. The International OCD Foundation notes that in people with OCD, the front part of the brain and the deeper parts sometimes have trouble communicating. Communication relies on the neurotransmitter serotonin, and in some people with OCD, communication improves when serotonin levels become regulated.

Although the primary neurotransmitter associated with addiction seems to be dopamine, the journal Neuropharmacology reports that serotonin may also be involved. Misused drugs target the serotonin system, and serotonin receptors are involved with impulsivity, which can contribute to substance abuse and the need for addiction treatment.

An Inability to Stop

Part of what a human brain needs to do is send signals that say “error” to the part of the brain that says “stop.” A University of Michigan study indicates that in obsessive-compulsive disorder, this process gets off track.

As one researcher notes, “We know that patients often have insight into their behaviors and can detect that they’re doing something that doesn’t need to be done. But…the error signal probably isn’t reaching the brain network that needs to be engaged for them to stop doing it.” A similar process may be involved in addiction.

Common Drugs Used in OCD & Addiction

Abusing drugs can make OCD symptoms worse. There’s even a type of OCD called substance/medication-induced obsessive-compulsive disorder caused by drugs. The drugs most often implicated are stimulants, like amphetamine or cocaine.

On the other hand, the drugs most likely to be abused by people with traditional OCD may be ones that depress the system and mitigate anxiety. Benzodiazepine drugs have particularly high abuse potential because they work quickly, but they also wear off quickly, so people find themselves taking them more frequently. The American Psychiatric Association reports that misuse of drugs, defined as using them in a manner different than the prescribed way for mental health treatment, accounts for more than 17% of overall use.

Treating OCD and Addiction

If a person abuses substances during OCD treatment, then it’s difficult for their practitioner to understand the anxiety source and strength beneath the obsessions and compulsions. It’s also harder for patients to gain the full benefit from certain anxiety-relieving therapies if their anxieties are artificially and temporarily numbed by drugs or alcohol.

If you have both addiction and OCD, it probably feels scary to give up the substances you’ve been using to cope with OCD symptoms, but your therapist can help you through it. Therapies for people with OCD are likely to focus on developing healthy coping skills for managing anxiety and stress—this is especially true for people who also have a substance use disorder.

Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment at Right Step Hill Country

At Promises Right Step Hill Country, we are committed to helping our clients find the best treatment plan for their individual needs. Our professionals recognize the value of treating co-occurring disorders with an integrated approach.

We understand how difficult it can be to live with addiction in combination with another mental health condition, so our goal is to provide you or your loved one with comprehensive care for a full recovery. Contact us at 1.844.675.1628 today to learn more about our treatment center in Texas.

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