OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a common condition where obsessive thoughts lead to compulsive behaviors. Many people misunderstand this condition, making jokes about being “so OCD” when they choose to organize their closet by color. However, the actual disorder can be debilitating.

A Definition of OCD

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder include repeated thoughts or urges, such as a persistent fear of germs, need for order, or taboo thoughts. The compulsions happen in response to the thought and can include excessive cleaning, counting, or repeatedly double-checking on things, in addition to needing everything to be organized in a particular way.

Of course, everyone double-checks things occasionally, and wanting your home to be clean does not mean that you have OCD. These behaviors do not become a disordered condition until it is overwhelming, such as when a person spends a large amount of time on their compulsive behaviors, finds that they interfere with daily life, and can’t control either the thoughts or behaviors. Usually, those affected can recognize that their behaviors are not logical, but are unable to stop engaging in them.

There are many risk factors for OCD. The first is genetics – if you have an immediate family member with OCD, you are more likely to develop it yourself. Brain scans have also shown differences in the frontal cortex and subcortical structures of people with OCD compared to those who do not suffer from the disorder. Additionally, individuals who’ve experienced childhood trauma are more likely to develop OCD.

Substance Abuse and OCD

People with OCD often turn to substances to ‘self-medicate’ the anxiety that they feel. However, this only helps briefly (by distracting the user from the initial thought). That means that a person can get into a habit of drinking or using drugs whenever they feel those obsessive urges arising. Eventually, an addiction can form. In fact, a full quarter of people seeking treatment for OCD also have a substance abuse issue. The rate of OCD is also higher among addicts than it is overall.

Substance abuse is very common in individuals with a mental illness of any kind, including OCD. It can also be triggered by the feeling of social isolation – common when suffering from OCD or other mental illnesses. When affected, it becomes difficult to make friends or participate in normal social situations, which may lead them to turn to drugs or alcohol.

Approaching Treatment

When there is a dual diagnosis (such as a substance abuse disorder and OCD, or another mental illness), it is important to treat both of those disorders at the same time. Using effective cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, we can effectively address both issues.

Especially in situations involving OCD, where the patient seeks to control situations, we give special attention. Rehab is an environment where patients do not have the control that they do in their daily lives. For those with OCD, seeking treatment is extremely hard. They often approach it due to a friend or family member’s recommendation.