OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and Alcohol Use Disorder

Many individuals suffer from a mental disorder called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Although many TV shows may humorously portray the symptoms, in reality, these can be debilitating and frustrating to those suffering from it. When combined with alcohol use disorder, OCD can be especially difficult to deal with, and it can also make those afflicted ignore their self-care routines. We’ll break down how OCD and alcohol use disorder interact with each other, as well as how you can get help for them.

What is OCD? How Does it Affect People?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health disorder in which a person has reoccurring, uncontrollable, and unwanted thoughts (“obsessions”) and/or behaviors (“compulsions”) that they feel a need to repeat over and over. This causes a cycle that is never really complete. Many people with OCD realize that they have a mental disorder, but there are plenty of adults and children who don’t see that they have abnormal symptoms.

Although we all may have obsessive worries or thoughts occasionally, such as when we’re home alone or stressed out, people with OCD experience these daily. They may feel the urge to continuously scrub household surfaces or wash their hands several times a day for fear of germs, or go home multiple times throughout the day to make sure the stove is turned off. These worries and behaviors take tolls on their lives and interfere with work and relationships.

Below is a breakdown of both obsessions and compulsions and how they react when put together.

Obsessions are repeated mental images, urges, or thoughts that cause anxiety or nervousness. These include:

  • Fear of contamination or germs
  • Aggressive thoughts toward yourself or others
  • Arranging things symmetrically or in perfect order
  • Unwanted/taboo thoughts related to harm, sex or religion

Compulsions are repeated behaviors that someone with OCD does in response to an obsession. Compulsions include:

  • Ordering things in a precise, particular way
  • Compulsive counting
  • Checking on things repeatedly
  • Excessive hand-washing and/or cleaning

OCD can be extremely distressing to those afflicted by it. Although symptoms may gradually ease over time, they can also worsen. If you have OCD, you may try to push the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors you have out of your head, but you simply can’t. Even if they disappear for a short while, they will almost always come back.

These obsessions and compulsions may temporarily relieve feelings of anxiety, but these will not permanently go away until a person is treated properly for this disorder.

The Four Main Categories of OCD

Not everyone with OCD experiences it the same way. Symptoms of the disorder can be broken down into four different categories: symmetry and order, forbidden or harmful impulses and thoughtscleaning and contamination, and hoarding. Those with OCD may have more symptoms stemming from one particular category, but the average OCD patient experiences symptoms from each group.

Symptoms of symmetry and order include:

  • Organization rituals/specific ways of organizing objects
  • Counting rituals, i.e. needing to count to the number 4 four times
  • A need for symmetry in actions (i.e. scratching both your left and right knees)
  • Feeling incomplete when items aren’t exact

Symptoms of forbidden or harmful impulses and thoughts include:

  • Frequent worry that you’ll harm yourself or someone else
  • Mental rituals that cancel out or dispel your thoughts
  • Feeling like you cause bad things to happen
  • Seeking reassurance that you aren’t a bad person

Symptoms of cleaning and contamination include: 

  • Thoughts about feeling unclean/dirty (mentally or physically)
  • Avoidance of possible sources of contamination
  • Persistent fears about exposure to sources of contamination
  • Specific washing or cleaning rituals, i.e. washing your hands a certain number of times

Symptoms of hoarding include:

  • Fear that throwing something away could end up harming you or someone else
  • Compulsion to buy multiples of the same item
  • Feeling incomplete if you accidentally lost something or couldn’t find it
  • Compulsion to consistently review or check your items

Hoarding in the context of OCD is different from the type of hoarding you might find on TV shows like “Hoarders,” which showcases hoarding disorder.

Other symptoms of OCD include motor tics like twitching, blinking, shrugging and throat-clearing, which may temporarily relieve obsessive and compulsive thoughts.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder is the inability to control severe and excessive drinking. Studies show that 85 percent of people in the U.S. have had an alcoholic drink at some point in their lives, and this makes the potential for developing alcohol use disorder even higher.

People with alcohol use disorder feel the need to drink even when they know it impacts their relationships and work responsibilities, and they also experience withdrawal symptoms like tremors or nausea if they don’t drink.

OCD Alcohol Use DisorderOCD and Alcohol: How Alcohol Use Impacts OCD

Symptoms of OCD greatly impact both the mind and body of someone afflicted with this disorder. When you add alcohol use disorder to the mix, these become co-occurring disorders and must be managed carefully. People with OCD are known to have above-average rates of chemical dependencies, including alcohol use disorder.

Those with OCD and alcohol use disorder may drink alcohol to relieve anxiety, stress, and nervousness. Drinking alcoholic beverages will briefly dampen obsessive and compulsive thoughts, as well as any negative self-esteem that can stem from OCD. Alcohol is a depressant, and as such, it creates temporary feelings of relief and contentment by lessening certain nerve interactions in the central nervous system. When you drink, the neurotransmitter dopamine increases, making you feel more content and relaxed.

However, alcohol also impairs a person’s judgment, motor control, and decision-making skills. This can trigger and worsen symptoms of OCD. Alcohol can also interfere with medication that is prescribed for managing this disorder.

Binge drinking is a large part of alcohol use disorder. This practice, which is a large part of American culture, is defined as men having five or more drinks or women having four or more drinks in two hours. When someone with OCD binge drinks regularly, say a few times a month, they are more likely to practice harmful behaviors like committing a crime or engaging in risky sexual acts. There is also a high risk for developing alcohol use disorder and worsening OCD symptoms.

Seeking Help For Co-Occurring Disorders

Having co-occurring disorders can take a great toll on the person suffering from them. For reasons which will be explained below, each disorder must be treated simultaneously so that full recovery may be achieved. Only a fraction of the 8.4 million people who have co-occurring disorders receive treatment for them.

Sana Lake Recovery Center participates in what is called dual diagnosis treatment, which involves looking at both the mental health disorder (OCD) and the addiction (alcohol use disorder) and treating them both at the source. Taking care of each disorder can give the patient a greater understanding of what they’re going through.

For someone with alcohol use disorder, medical detoxification is a practical first step toward recovery. During detox, our clinicians will safely clear your body of all harmful substances, manage your withdrawal symptoms, and offer alcohol use disorder treatment. Detox happens in a safe environment, and withdrawal symptoms usually subside about two weeks into treatment.

Medication Treatment for OCD

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are popularly used to ease OCD symptoms. If you have OCD and are admitted to a rehab facility due to your co-occurring addiction, you will most likely be prescribed medication if you aren’t taking any already. SRIs usually take about eight to 12 weeks to start working.

Although medication can keep symptoms of OCD at bay, it is best to consider therapy for curing this disorder.

Therapy for OCD and Alcohol Use Disorder

Once detox is complete, therapy is the best bet for conquering OCD. Sana Lake offers several kinds of therapy programs that will get your mind to a better state and improve your life.

  • In individual therapy, you and a licensed mental health counselor will discuss the patterns and life events that may have led to your OCD diagnosis. You will also figure out what led you to begin abusing alcohol.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps turn negative thinking into positive thoughts. A certain type of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention has been known to reduce obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. EX/RP puts people with OCD in situations that would trigger a compulsion but doesn’t allow them to take action with another compulsion.
  • Family therapy can help people with OCD who have become ostracized by their family members as a result of their habits.

Receiving Dual Diagnosis Treatment at Sana Lake Recovery Center

You are not alone in your struggle with co-occurring disorders. Dealing with OCD and alcohol use disorder can seem impossible, but treatment doesn’t have to be difficult. Our licensed substance abuse disorder staff is available to help you get on the road to recovery. Contact us today to see if our rehab program is right for you.