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Addiction and OCD

What is Addiction?

Addiction is the compulsive use of a substance, and the inability to control your intake of said substance despite the negative consequences it has on your life, work and interpersonal relationships. Commonly abused substances are tobacco, alcohol, recreational drugs and prescription medications.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 21.5 million Americans ages 12 and older battled a substance abuse disorder in 2014. Of those 21.5 million, 80% struggled with alcohol abuse, and 7 million struggled with drug abuse. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that almost 8 million American adults battled both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, or a co-occurring disorder.

OCD & Addiction

Dr. Weiner discusses the relationship between OCD and addiction.

Common symptoms of addiction are:

  • The inability to control the intake of a substance.
  • The need to take more and more of the substance to achieve a desired effect.
  • Avoiding work or school to use the substance.
  • Having fights with a spouse.
  • Spending a lot of time seeking the substance out.


Alcohol is a legal substance that’s easy to acquire if you’re of legal drinking age. Alcohol addiction is very easy to maintain because of its availability. Prescription drug addiction is also common. Prescription drugs are often prescribed by a psychiatrist or general practitioner for anxiety disorders or as painkillers. You can quickly become addicted to these substances if you’re not careful of usage.

How Does it Relate to OCD?

Many sufferers resort to drug or alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism for their OCD. They abuse substances in an attempt to drown out the thoughts in their head. It provides a sense of relief. One study found that 23% of participants with OCD also met the criteria for substance-abuse disorder. Unfortunately, for many people drugs and alcohol can worsen OCD symptoms in the long term. Once the effects wear off, their intrusive thoughts and anxiety are stronger than ever.

What Can I Do About it?

If you’re struggling with addiction and OCD, treatment can be difficult. The two co-occurring disorders can complicate therapy and medicinal options. That said, there are solutions available that can greatly improve your life.

Most people who need treatment for addiction, but don’t get it, don’t feel they need it. If loved ones are concerned about your drug or alcohol dependencies, listen to their concerns.

For OCD, Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) is recommended. ERP is when you voluntarily exposing yourself to a fear over and over and over again until your brain stops obsessing over it. By repeatedly engaging in something you’re afraid of, you force your brain to recognize how irrational it is. For addiction, common treatment approaches include:

  • Group therapy
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Inpatient and residential treatment
  • Peer support services
  • 12-step programs

Sufferers must make sure they are working with professionals who are well versed in both disorders. Treatment plans are often personalized based on a person’s specific OCD ruminations and their addictive tendencies.

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