Many individuals have co-occurring disorders of obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction. But, there seems to be a misunderstanding concerning these disorders.

Contrary to popular belief, OCD (or obsessive-compulsive disorder) does not have to do with simply being neat or clean. How many times have you heard or seen the following: a person puts a coaster under your glass and says “Sorry, I have OCD.” Or, perhaps you have a loosely strewn stack of pens and said person rearranges them to look neat and tidy, under the guise of OCD. 

This notion, that OCD is just hyperactive cleanliness, does harm to those suffering and struggling with OCD. Yes, obsessive-compulsive disorder can sometimes appear though obsessions or rituals with cleaning, compartmentalizing, etc. However, while there is not necessarily a definitive connection between cleanliness and OCD, there is a connection between obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction. This is otherwise known as dual-diagnosis or co-occurring conditions.

In order to properly understand obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction, as well as treating both illnesses, we must be educated on each subject. In this article, we will run through the basic understanding of what obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction are. Once we have developed a basic understanding, we will look at three ways in which we can take steps toward recovery.

Finally, if you have navigated to this page, odds are you struggle with one (or both) of these illnesses. This page is for you, and all of us going through the process of recovery. We at the Discovery Institute want to help you. We want to provide you with the kickstart to taking your life back. Please consider seeking help, today.

What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a common mental illness in which a person may have uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) which they feel the need to perform over and over. This can include flipping the light switch on and off repeatedly every time they enter a room. Or, perhaps, it can be having to polish every doorknob they open. There are numerous possibilities of what these obsessions or compulsions can manifest in. However, as we can see, it is much more complex than simply “hyper-cleanliness.”

Since we have discussed what Obsessive-Compulsive disorder is not, in order to understand the connection between obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction, we must understand what it is. These obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety. They can include common symptoms such as aggressive thoughts towards others or self, unwanted taboos sexually, religiously, or harmfully, or needing to have objects symmetrical/in order. 

The compulsions a person often deals with are the behaviors which someone with OCD feels compelled to do, in response to the obsessive thoughts. These can include compulsive counting, obsessive reordering of objects, or repeatedly checking on things. 

A person suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder does not get a sense of pleasure from these tasks. But there may be a brief relief from the anxiety caused by obsessive thinking. Most people who suffer from OCD are diagnosed by 18 and roughly 1.8% if adults were diagnosed in the past year. There is also an estimated total of 2.2 million people living with OCD.

Now that we have a brief overview, we must look to determine whether addiction is a disease. If so, this yields helpful access to the connection between Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Addiction.

Is Addiction a Disease?

While many argue that addiction is a choice, just like any other, what science tells us is that addiction (or substance use disorder) is actually a disease. Recently the surgeon general has declared addiction to be a disease, which sparked much debate. The problem surrounding the idea that addiction is a choice stems from ignorance of science and the benefits of the disease model. 

No one would refer to lung cancer as a choice, nor would an ordinary person call diabetes a moral failure. While a person’s choice has influenced their illness, it is commonly known that both cancer and diabetes are diseases. The same goes for addiction. Although, we were the ones who have partaken in the substance initially, even then addiction is not a black or white choice. Many of those who suffer from an addiction to opiates have simply become dependent upon painkillers, or individuals who suffer from alcoholism unknowingly developed a dependency on alcohol. While we may have chosen to use a substance, no one chooses addiction.

See, the way our brains are wired is to want more things that make us feel good. Due to evolution, we are wired to want the tastiest fruit or the yummiest berries. These were usually the most healthy. However, when we use substances such as narcotics or alcohol, our brain starts to change. The substances literally rewire the memory, pleasure, and motivation centers in our brain, so we no longer feel normal without the substance. This is called dependency. “Choosing” is never black and white when it comes to addiction.

Does it Really Matter?

If someone were to ask, “what is the point? What difference does it make?” This is a valid question, however, the way we stigmatize, look at, or call someone impacts how the person handles it. You would never make someone feel guilty for having lung cancer, you would send them to the doctor. In the same way, when people refer to addiction as a moral failure it affects how we handle our addiction. Feelings of guilt, shame, depression, and isolation are all simultaneously triggers to relapse, and effects of the stigmatizing of addiction. However, if we refer to addiction as a disease, it simply means we have a chronic illness that we need treatment. Now, we can look at co-occurring disorders, and what that means for treating Obsessive-Compulsive disorder and addiction.

What Is A Co-Occurring Disorder?

A co-occurring disorder, or a dual diagnosis, is when two diseases occur simultaneously. You would be remiss to assume that this is a fancy term for struggling with two diseases. When a person has a co-occurring disorder, it is not just two different illnesses in one body. Instead, they intertwine and strengthen one another. This makes it even more difficult to cope, and more difficult to treat both illnesses. This is why it is so important to treat the whole person. Holistic care is an incredible way to combat co-occurring disorders. 

All too commonly, co-occurring disorders are seen in the context of mental illness and addiction. Not only do these two illnesses intertwine, they can depend on one another, cause one another, or trigger a relapse of each one. This not only affects how we cope (self-diagnosing), it affects how we recover. No longer is it possible to simply treat one disease. Many now argue that proper treatment must act as though the co-occurring disorders are one disease, and tackle both together (rather than separate).

Now that we have covered co-occurring disorders, we are able to address the connection between Obsessive-Compulsive disorder and addiction. We at the Discovery Institute believe dual diagnosis must be treated together, and want you to know that we are here for you with the most medically backed treatment there is. 

Is There A Connection BetweenObsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Addiction?

Unfortunately, there is a close tie between those who struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction. Of those who have obsessive-compulsive disorder, roughly twenty-five percent also struggle with addiction. Thus, forming a co-occurring disorder.

Symptoms of OCD can often be debilitating for many individuals. Individuals who struggle with this disorder constantly have anxious thoughts and compulsions. In an attempt to escape these thoughts, it is easy to want to nullify the brain.

Professionals are not certain whether, in a dual diagnosis case, addiction causes mental illness or vice versa. But self-medicating, isolation, and anxiety are all triggers to addiction. The connection between obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction is clear. Substances are a quick relief to those suffering from OCD. Yet again, the choices we make are not so black and white. 

Alongside this, secrecy and isolation is a hallmark of OCD. Many of those who struggle with this disorder feel as though they cannot be around people due to their thoughts and compulsions. However, this is yet another trigger of addiction.

Now that we have looked at the connections of obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction, it is imperative that we turn to the most important topics on this page: treatment.

How Do I Know If I Have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and an Addiction Problem?

As we discussed previously, a few signs of this particular dual diagnosis include:

  • Isolation
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms
  • Exasperated OCD symptoms 
  • Even more enhanced feelings of paranoia and anxiety

If you believe a loved one is struggling, consider an intervention. Interventions are a great way for loved ones to motivate us to recover. However, they can be complex. That is why the Discovery Institute has an intervention guide available to you. If your loved one exhibits the above signs, perhaps it is time to step in and help.

What Are Three Ways to Cope With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Addiction?

Treating OCD as a Dual Diagnosis is not an easy matter. However, we know more today, have better equipment, and are better trained than ever before. We at the Discovery Institute want you to know several ways that are the most effective ways to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction. Furthermore, the most important thing you can know is that recovery is a lifelong journey. If we get knocked down, we never stay down. You owe it to yourself to take your life back. Here are three ways to cope with OCD and addiction.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Since OCD focuses on thoughts and compulsions, one of the best ways to treat it can be cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy focuses on changing thoughts that affect actions. It sounds pretty similar to OCD, only almost reverse. In cognitive behavioral therapy, you focus on your habits, coping mechanisms to harmful thought processes. But you learn how to rewire your brain to cope in healthy ways, as opposed to unhealthy ways. This is an indispensable form of treatment for anyone dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction. One way in which people develop a dual diagnosis is through unhealthy coping mechanisms. So, a natural solution is to change cognitive processes and coping methods for the better.

Holistic Care

Holistic care is helpful for treating dual diagnosis since it focuses on treating the whole person. Mind, body, and soul are all involved in holistic care. Many who struggle with addiction are separated from the naturalness of life, such as mindfulness, nature, meditation, and focusing inward.

This is one of the reasons holistic care is so helpful. It is all about treating the whole person. The practice of fully embracing nature, truly looking inward, and practicing mindfulness (the idea of being completely aware of the moment) has been a proven form of treatment for those who struggle with addiction.

It is also a very helpful way for those of us with anxious thoughts to look past them, to our truer and deeper thoughts. Alongside this, dual diagnosis treatment works when treating both diseases as a whole. That is exactly what holistic care is all about.

Develop a Community

People who are in recovery should never feel alone. Those on the road to a new life should work together, offering support and accountability to one another. Developing a community of loved ones who care about you and have gone through this journey with you helps tremendously.

Consider engaging in group therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or going on outings with your recovery group. The more you can be open with others, engaged in social bonding, and helping build each other up; the better our recovery journey will be.

Contact Us

It is never too late to get help. We at the Discovery Institute are here for you at all hours of the day. Recovery seems daunting, but you owe it to yourself, your loved ones, and all of those in recovery to try. You deserve to take your life back. We have people available to connect with you, whenever you are ready. All it takes is a phone call. Please do not hesitate.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.