OCD and Alcohol

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Alcohol Addiction

Having co-occurring OCD and alcohol use disorder is fairly common. Learn about these disorders and how the dual diagnosis is successfully treated.

Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be very trying. This mental health disorder controls your thoughts and actions throughout the day. Tending to obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors is exhausting, to say the least.

It is not a surprise that someone with OCD might look to a substance like alcohol to help them. Alcohol use is sought to self-medicate the symptoms of OCD, like anxiety and stress. But what happens when alcohol becomes a problem, too?

While alcohol may offer a reprieve from the OCD symptoms, continued use of the substance increases the risk of acquiring an alcohol use disorder.

Self-Medicating OCD with Alcohol

People who suffer from OCD are held captive by the disorder. The obsessive thoughts are relentless, and the compulsive behaviors exhausting. Self-medicating the symptoms with alcohol can help the person achieve a more relaxed state of mind.

Using alcohol on occasion to cope with symptoms of OCD is not a problem. It is when drinking becomes a regular habit, however, that the risk for alcohol dependence increases. This is when it becomes clear that any attempt to gain short-term relief of OCD by drinking has backfired.

About OCD

OCD is a mental health condition that is found within the spectrum of anxiety disorders. OCD affects over 2 million adults in the U.S. OCD develops before age 35 in more than 85% of the patients.

The disorder features intrusive and recurring thoughts that provoke a sense of fear or discomfort. These obsessions cause a great deal of stress, which is then relieved somewhat by ritualistic acts.

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There are many types of OCD, including:

  • Checking. Involves “checking” actions, such as checking to see that the stove is off, checking to see a door is locked or repeatedly turning off a light.
  • Contamination. Involves extreme hygiene practices due to an intense fear of bacteria or germs. Many avoid contact with other people, public places, doorknobs, or the outdoors.
  • Hoarding. Being unable to discard worthless objects and forming an attachment to them. Might include filling the house with old magazines, junk mail, old bills or statements, containers, decaying food, or human waste.
  • Ruminations. Having a thought loop on constant replay, and obsessing over topics that have no real importance. 
  • Intrusive thoughts. Involves disturbing and involuntary thoughts. These might involve same-sex attraction, controlling a partner’s actions, religious rituals, violent thoughts, or being obsessed with symmetry.

About Alcohol Use Disorder

When someone engages in disordered drinking habits in an ongoing manner they can acquire an AUD. There are three levels of AUD: mild, moderate, or severe. The severity is determined by how many of these signs and symptoms are present:

  • Drinking more or longer than you intended.
  • Tried to stop or cut back on drinking but could not.
  • Spend a lot of time either drinking or recovering from the after effects.
  • Crave alcohol.
  • Drinking caused trouble in your relationships.
  • Avoided usual activities in favor of drinking.
  • Engaged in high-risk behaviors when drinking.
  • Had memory blackouts.
  • Kept drinking even though it was causing problems in many areas of life.
  • Found that you had to drink more and more to achieve the desired effects.
  • When the effects wear off, you have withdrawal symptoms.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Someone that presents with both OCD and alcoholism has what is termed a dual diagnosis. This is a complex condition that requires specialized skills.

There are two ways that a dual diagnosis can develop:

  1. The mental health disorder emerges first. Someone who is struggling with a mental health disorder may depend on alcohol to self-medicate the unpleasant mental state. Over time, tolerance increases and that causes higher consumption,  which then evolves into co-occurring AUD.
  2. The substance use disorder emerges first. Someone who is struggling with an AUD experiences a number of consequences that are related to the drinking problem. As these adverse events take their toll, the person may begin to develop symptoms of a mental health disorder.

In the case of co-occurring OCD and alcohol use disorder, the OCD always emerges in the first way as noted above. The AUD is a direct result of the OCD in an effort to quell the discomfort caused by the compulsions.

How to Overcome OCD and Alcohol

Someone needing expert support to overcome this dual diagnosis can find the help they need in a residential program. Treatment will focus on both disorders and include:

  • Detox support. Before the person can engage in the treatment they must first complete the detox and withdrawal process. A detox team will provide the medical support needed to minimize discomfort.
  • Psychotherapy. Evidence-based psychotherapies are an essential core treatment element for co-occurring disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps both the AUD and the OCD. There are some OCD specific therapies used, such as ERPT, prolonged exposure, EMDR, and habit reversal training.
  • Group therapy. Group support is a core aspect of rehab as these sessions offer a chance to bond with others in recovery. Peers discuss topics related to the disorders within a safe space.
  • Medication. Drugs may be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of OCD, as well as alcohol cravings.
  • Recovery meetings. 12-step or SMART Recovery meetings are a source of social support.
  • Psychosocial skills. Treatment for a dual diagnosis includes teaching of recovery skills, relapse prevention, and social skills.
  • Holistic methods. A holistic approach to dual diagnosis treatment includes mindfulness, art and music therapy, massage, acupuncture, and yoga.

OCD and alcohol abuse often go hand in hand. To recovery from these conditions, you will need expert dual diagnosis treatment. Reach out for help today.

LifeSync Malibu Expert Dual Diagnosis Treatment

LifeSync Malibu offers the ultimate in evidence-based dual diagnosis treatment within a caring, supportive space. If you or a loved one is battling co-occurring OCD and alcoholism, do not hesitate to seek help. Contact our team today at (866) 491-4426.