Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is an anxiety disorder in which an individual experiences recurring thoughts that cause irrational fears and anxiety. Individuals with OCD engage in repeated, compulsive rituals, such as counting items, hand washing and organizing. Executing these rituals provides temporary relief while they are being performed, but the anxiety returns soon after they stop. OCD is a highly destructive disorder that can overtake the life of an individual and keep him from enjoying many life’s most rewarding activities.
The Journal of Anxiety Disorders estimates that over 25 percent of those who seek treatment for OCD also meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. Individuals who experience OCD symptoms for the first time in childhood or adolescence are more likely to develop a drug or alcohol problem, often as a way to cope with overwhelming anxiety and fear. Treating an addictive disorder without addressing the emotional symptoms of OCD is unlikely to be effective.
OCD is frequently the subject of humor, fascination, or horror in movies and on television. We laugh at TV characters who observe complicated cleaning rituals or insist on controlling every aspect of their environment. We watch frightening movies about criminals who are obsessed with murderous acts or sexual behaviors. But in reality, those who live with OCD experience intense anxiety and internal torment over their uncontrollable thoughts. These intrusive thoughts can interfere with relationships, school, employment and social development. At times, it may seem that intoxication with drugs or alcohol is the only way to escape these persistent, unreasonable thoughts.
The fears and rituals associated with OCD vary from one individual to another; however, certain patterns and similarities appear in this population. The Nemours Foundation notes that some of the most common fears among adults or children with OCD are:
Rituals that involve grooming, cleaning, counting and organizing are among the most common behaviors seen in people with OCD. Some of these individuals worry that if they don’t carry out their ritualistic behaviors, they or someone close to them will be harmed. Others worry that if they don’t complete these rituals, they will hurt someone else.
OCD is one of several psychiatric conditions that is categorized as an anxiety disorder. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) approximately 20 percent of the people who have an anxiety disorder also have a substance use disorder. Unfortunately, these substances often make symptoms worse and ultimately increase the problems associated with OCD. The ADAA reports that over 26 percent of emergency room visits in the US are related to anxiety disorders.
Treating OCD as a co-occurring disorder presents a lot of challenges, but it also offers valuable, life-changing opportunities. Entering a treatment facility may be frightening, because it presents all the unknown factors of an uncontrollable environment. Intrusive thoughts and time-consuming rituals make it difficult to focus on individual therapy sessions or group meetings. A specialized Dual Diagnosis treatment program can accommodate the needs and symptoms of OCD, making it easier for these clients to complete their rehabilitation program.
According to the University of Michigan Depression Center, medication and behavioral modification therapy are the most common tools used to treat anxiety disorders like OCD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a therapeutic modality that focuses on teaching the client how to identify and change negative behaviors. In the case of OCD, therapy sessions may encourage the client to expose himself to the object of fear without performing anxiety-reducing rituals. The ultimate goal is to eliminate the irrational anxiety associated with specific situations or items.
Antidepressant drugs have been used successfully to minimize the symptoms of OCD. A class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) has proven to be especially effective at treating this complex disorder. Many clients who begin pharmacological treatment for OCD find that they are able to concentrate more fully on their recovery if they are also taking medication and undergoing behavioral modification therapy.
Building a strong support network is essential for clients who struggle with OCD and addiction. Both of these conditions can isolate the individual from family members, partners and peers. Social withdrawal only makes the symptoms of an anxiety disorder more severe. In an integrated Dual Diagnosis rehab program, clients have the opportunity to talk with other people who are battling the same symptoms. Members of structured support groups can share their experiences, give each other hope and discuss effective coping strategies for dealing with obsessive thoughts.
Educating loved ones is another vital component of Dual Diagnosis recovery. To a spouse, child or parent, OCD may seem like a baffling, frustrating condition. Family members often wonder why someone with OCD insists on repeating apparently senseless behaviors. Counseling sessions and educational courses can help family members understand the compulsive, uncontrollable nature of OCD. The more you know about this disabling condition, the better equipped you’ll be to help your loved one reach a full recovery.
Secrecy is often a hallmark sign of OCD, and one that makes for additional complications in treating the disorder. People with OCD are experts in keeping their disorder hidden; therefore, it remains out of the reach of loved ones to identify the problem and assist in seeking out help. Too often, by the time the individual does seek out professional help, the illness is in a much more advanced state, and the habits associated with it are more deeply ingrained.
When an individual with OCD becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, they often keep their substance abuse a secret as well. Therefore, by the time friends and family realize what is going on, the process will likely be in a very advanced state.
Here are a few red flags that may alert you to substance abuse in someone you love:
A Dual Diagnosis applies to any individual who meets the criteria for a substance use disorder and a mental health condition. Dual Diagnosis patients must receive specialized care administered by professionals who understand how these afflictions overlap and interact with one another. The longer the problem goes untreated, the more serious the situation becomes.
But those who suffer from OCD and drug addiction are unlikely to seek out help for themselves. This makes the involvement of friends and family so important. Intervention in the situation is often required to help the individual in question get the help they need.
Seeking out help for OCD and addiction means finding a program that specializes in Dual Diagnoses. Michael’s House, LaPaloma and The Canyon are three such facilities. The addiction specialists on call at these residential rehab centers are experts in the important issues and treatments surrounding Dual Diagnosis patients.
Integrated Treatment of Substance Abuse & Mental Illness