OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it affects over 2 million men and women in the U.S. alone. While there does appear to be a genetic component to OCD, sometimes it occurs in the absence of a clear genetic history of the disorder.
In people with OCD, ritualized behaviors and intrusive thoughts interfere with daily activities. Ritualized activities may include hand-washing, cleaning, or checking that the stove is off repeatedly. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts that seem to play in a never-ending loop in the brain, and they are typically unpleasant thoughts that produce anxiety.
Unfortunately, people often make light of OCD by comparing, for example, their neatness with the disorder. However, OCD causes very real suffering. People with OCD are aware that their behaviors and fears are unreasonable, yet they still cannot control their need to perform them and do not experience the relief that normally comes with doing them. OCD and drug addiction frequently occur together. The compulsions of OCD and the compulsions of addictive behavior have many similarities.
When People Self-Medicate for OCD
A surprising number of people either do not realize they have OCD, or are ashamed or embarrassed to seek help for it. As a result, some of them attempt to self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs and develop a drug addiction. What some researchers theorize happens is that the addictive behavior itself becomes a compulsion, similar to hand-washing, counting, or other OCD behaviors. The good news is, treatment in the form of medications that work and therapy exists for OCD, and self-medication is not necessary.
OCD First, or Dependency?
In people who have both OCD and drug addiction, which came first, the addiction or the OCD? Often the OCD is present before the addictive behavior. Studies report that about one-quarter of people who seek treatment for OCD meet the criteria for substance abuse disorder as well. It is possible that a person with a drug addiction may ultimately find out he or she has OCD too, and it may be difficult to tease apart which came first. The causes of OCD are not definitely known, but scientists believe that in addition to a genetic predisposition, environmental factors, infections, and head injuries can contribute to the development of OCD.
OCD and Co-Occurring Disorders
OCD is frequently diagnosed along with other disorders including eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, ADHD, anxiety, and depression. It can be more challenging to successfully treat when it is diagnosed along with other disorders, but successful treatment is possible. Diagnosing and treating co-occurring disorders (including drug addiction) is important to successful OCD treatment. Therefore, if you have a substance abuse disorder and are concerned about OCD, it is important that you seek treatment that considers your entire history and treats addiction in a holistic, comprehensive way.
Treating OCD Can Help with Drug Addiction Recovery
Excellent news for people with both drug addiction and OCD is that treating the OCD can help with drug addiction treatment. The same is true with other co-occurring disorders like anxiety or depression. Neither drug addiction nor OCD is something of which to be ashamed, but something to be honest about from the time you first seek help. If OCD is indeed diagnosed along with addiction, treatment can be designed to address both disorders, with the goal of controlling both of them over the long term.
The exact connection between OCD and drug addiction is not completely mapped out, but it is known that the two occur together often enough to be significant. If you have OCD but do not have an addiction, treating the OCD rather than trying to self-medicate can help prevent development of addiction. If you have both OCD and drug addiction, treating both disorders, along with any other co-occurring disorders, maximizes the probability that you will achieve a successful recovery from all of them. If you have questions about drug addiction and co-occurring disorders, we invite you to contact us at any time. We are here to help you.