A person with obsessive-compulsive disorder may try to alleviate anxiety symptoms by drinking alcohol. Yet people with this disorder who abuse alcohol are at greater risk of developing a dual diagnosis.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder And Alcohol Addiction
A dual-diagnosis (co-occurring disorder) occurs when a substance use disorder co-exists with a mental disorder. People with OCD may drink alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate, or alleviate their anxiety.
Yet when a person with OCD drinks, their brain becomes so used to having alcohol that they become unable to function properly without it. Alcohol changes the way a person’s brain works, right down to the chemistry within the brain. For many people, this change is where alcohol addiction and dependence begins.
Alcohol addiction (alcoholism) is a type of alcohol use disorder (AUD), whereby a person’s alcohol consumption causes problems with work, home, school, relationships, and health. When suffering from an alcohol addiction, many people are unable to control the amount of alcohol they drink.
Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, and unwanted thoughts (obsessions), as well as uncontrollable, repetitive behaviors (compulsions). An estimated three million people, or one percent of the U.S. adult population, suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
OCD is centered on fear of germs, repeating words or phrases, counting steps, or a constant need to arrange objects in a certain way. OCD may get better over time, and is treatable.
Many people struggling with OCD understand that their thoughts and behaviors may be considered irrational, but still they’re unable to break away from these thoughts and behaviors. OCD can have a major impact on a person’s life, and many people suffering from this disorder become debilitated by the anxiety associated with it.
The compulsive behaviors of OCD often occur as a result of a person’s obsessive thoughts.
Obsessions are involuntary thoughts, images, or impulses that occur repeatedly in a person’s mind. People with OCD usually don’t want to have these ideas, but can’t stop them.
Obsessions associated with OCD may include:
- fear of germs, dirt, or being contaminated by others
- fear of losing control, and harm to self or others
- intrusive, explicit, or violent thoughts or images
- excessive focus on religious or moral ideas
- fear of losing, or not having things one needs
- order and symmetry—the idea that everything must line up
- excessive attention to something that’s viewed as “lucky” or “unlucky”
Compulsions are behaviors or rituals that an individual feels driven to repeatedly complete. Many of these compulsions are a person’s best effort to make their obsessions go away.
Examples of compulsions from OCD include:
- excessive hand-washing
- spending a lot of time cleaning
- repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re safe
- ordering or arranging things “just so”
- praying excessively, or engaging in rituals triggered by religious fear
- excessive double-checking of things, such as locks, appliances, and switches
- counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other things to minimize anxiety
- hoarding items like old newspapers or empty food containers
A person with OCD might spend an excessive amount of time washing their hands, locking their door, or avoiding going outside despite being late for work, appointments, or social gatherings. Most people with OCD realize that their behaviors are irrational, yet they’re still unable to control them.
Often, a person suffering from OCD will drink alcohol to try to fix their unwanted thoughts and behaviors, but drinking may put them at greater risk of developing addiction to alcohol.
Can Alcohol Worsen Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
The symptoms of OCD frequently appear in a person’s late teens and early twenties. During this phase of life, a lot of young adults are also experimenting with alcohol, so there may be greater potential for them to develop a co-occurring disorder.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and when a person suffers from the high anxiety of OCD, they may turn to alcohol. In an attempt to alleviate their anxiety, people drink alcohol, but develop an addiction in the meantime. Today, there are over 15 million Americans who struggle with an addiction to alcohol.
Even in small amounts, the ease and comfort that alcohol elicits can be used as an unhealthy crutch for someone with OCD.
Some of the other reasons a person with OCD drinks alcohol are:
- in attempt to feel normal
- to help feel relaxed
- to get better sleep
- to better handle social situations
- in attempt to manage OCD symptoms
- to self-medicate for anxiety
Risks Of Using Alcohol To Cope With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorders can affect nearly every area of a person’s life, including their home, family, and work. The need for alcohol can become an obsession that may actually worsen the symptoms of OCD.
Studies show that having either an anxiety disorder or a substance use disorder may increase vulnerability of developing the other disorder, though it isn’t always clear which disorder came first.
In one study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, 70 percent of 323 participants with a dual-diagnosis experienced an obsessive-compulsive disorder that preceded a substance use disorder by at least one year.
A person suffering from comorbid OCD and AUD may experience any number of the following symptoms when they drink:
- increased anxiety when alcohol wears off
- panic attacks
- impulsive behavior
- social isolation
One of the biggest dangers of both OCD and AUD is social isolation. A person with OCD may try to hide from the perceived dangers of social situations, or in an attempt to mask these fears, they drink alcohol.
The symptoms of one disorder may worsen the symptoms of the other. For example, someone with OCD may experience further heightened anxiety as their alcohol abuse turns to problem drinking and then to addiction. As anxiety from OCD worsens, the person may begin drinking more and more, worsening the severity of addiction.
Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder And Alcohol Addiction
When treating a dual diagnosis, treating both the alcohol use disorder and the obsessive-compulsive disorder at the same time is key to success in recovery. Treating one disorder without treating the other is often deemed ineffective, so it’s vital to find an alcohol rehab center that will handle each disorder with the same degree of care.
Alcohol addiction, even when it doesn’t occur comorbidly with OCD, can cause serious psychological and physical damage. In most cases, a comprehensive treatment is necessary to get to the root of an alcohol addiction.
Reach out to us to find the right alcohol treatment center for you.
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