Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that involves repetitive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions), and irrational, urges to complete specific actions (compulsions).  People with OCD may know that these thoughts and actions are irrational, but have a difficult time stopping the behavior. The compulsions, or rituals, are done as a way to alleviate the anxiety brought on by unwanted thoughts.  Attempts at stopping the compulsive behavior often cause more anxiety and distress. If you or someone you know is battling a mental health disorder like obsessive-compulsive disorder, then you may also have a co-occurring disorder like substance abuse. At Sana Lake Recovery Center, our healthcare professionals can treat your OCD and substance abuse problem.

Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder can be disabling and affects an individual’s ability to function in their daily life.  Some sufferers mistakenly turn to alcohol or drugs to escape the intrusive thoughts, and the uncontrollable rituals they feel must be done to get rid of the obsessions.  The drive behind the compulsions is that the fear that the thoughts may be true, or if the compulsive acts are not done, then you or someone else could be harmed.

OCD and Substance Abuse

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the multiple psychiatric conditions that is categorized as an anxiety disorder.  The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that an estimated 20% of individuals with an anxiety disorder also have a substance abuse disorder.  These substances often worsen the symptoms and increase the problems that come with having OCD.

OCD and drug or alcohol addiction are dangerous and potentially fatal mixture.  OCD sufferers have unusually high levels of fear or anxiety daily. This makes it tempting to turn to substances like alcohol or drugs to alleviate these fears.  Battling the constant intrusive thoughts interferes with personal relationships, work, school, and your social life. This can be so stressful and isolating that drugs or alcohol start to look like the only way to cope or escape the tormenting thoughts and actions.  Alcohol or drug use in OCD sufferers are more likely to turn into a chemical dependency or addiction.

People who experience obsessive-compulsive order for the first during early childhood or adolescence are more likely to develop a drug or alcohol abuse disorder.  You can’t treat the addiction without also addressing the emotional symptoms of OCD.

Symptoms of OCD

Some examples of obsessions and their themes include:

  • Thoughts about harming or having harmed someone
  • Having doubts about having done something right, like turning off the stove or locking a door
  • Unwanted thoughts about sexual images or religious subjects
  • Fear of saying or shouting inappropriate things in public
  • Fear of contamination
  • The need for things to be orderly and symmetrical

Examples of some compulsions and their themes are:

  • Hand-washing because of a fear of germs or contamination from touching objects deemed uncleaned
  • Counting in certain patterns
  • Checking to make sure a door is locked, or the stove is turned off
  • “Mental checking” that goes with intrusive thoughts
  • Silently repeating prayers, words, or phrases
  • Keep things orderly

People often say they are “a little OCD” or OCD about a particular thing or situation, without fully understanding the disorder.  Many people can have occasional obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, but when dealing with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, symptoms last for over an hour and interfere with everyday life.


A doctor or medical health care professional will make an OCD diagnosis.  A general physical with blood tests is recommended to exclude other factors, like illegal drugs, medications, another mental illness, or general medical condition that could cause these symptoms.  A sudden appearance of symptoms in children or older people calls for a thorough medical evaluation to check for other illnesses.

To receive an OCD diagnosis, a person must exhibit:

  • Obsessions, compulsions or both
  • Obsessions or compulsions that are distressing and interfere work, relationships, other parts of life, and typically last for at least an hour every day

Signs of obsessive-compulsive order typically show up during childhood, the teenage years, or young adulthood.  Males often develop symptoms at a younger age than females. Over 2% of the U.S. population will be diagnosed with this disorder in their lifetime.


Currently, there is no cure for obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Treatments can help to lessen how much OCD interferes with your daily life, and cause symptoms to disappear.  Some methods of treatment that your doctor may describe are medicine and psychotherapy (talk therapy). Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that is effective and the only scientifically-supported treatment for OCD.  It involves the use of two evidence-based techniques: Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and Cognitive Therapy (CT).

Exposure-response therapy is a type of CBT therapy that involves gradually exposing a person to their feared object or obsession, and teaching them how to deal with the anxiety in more healthy ways.  In this form of therapy, your therapist will ask you for a list of your particular obsessions and compulsions, and then ask you to rank them according to the level of anxiety they cause you. During the designed exposures or challenges, the individual will practice avoiding compulsive behaviors for more extended periods.  The purpose of these exposures is to realize that when avoiding the compulsive actions, anxiety will temporarily increase, plateau, and then go back down.

Cognitive therapy helps OCD sufferers to identify errors in thinking.  They learn to identify and change thought patterns that cause anxiety, distress, or harmful behavior.  Through this type of therapy, the individual recognizes these “error” messages and learns to confront the obsessions by choosing new ways to respond to them.

If you are battling obsessive-compulsive disorder and a substance abuse disorder, your treatment should address the anxiety and nature of the obsessions and compulsions, as well as the addiction.  Treating one condition and not the other will not be effective when it comes to long-term successful recovery.

If you or your loved one would like to seek treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance abuse, take the first step today by speaking with one of our representatives. You can also read more about our treatment options for co-occurring disorders and learn about our rehabilitation center by clicking here.