Alcohol and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Many suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder use alcohol to "self-medicate," which can quickly turn into alcoholism if left unchecked.
The Relationship Between Alcohol and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, (OCD), is a common co-occurring disorder that is often present alongside alcoholism. The compulsions one feels seem to be lessened with the effects of alcohol; however, alcohol actually can make compulsions become more intense.
What is OCD?
OCD is characterized as experiencing unreasonable, “obsessive” fears and responding to them with repetitive, “compulsive” behaviors. These compulsions can get to the point where they interfere with other responsibilities or activities and cause significant stress.
Ignoring these obsessions will only increase the stress one is experiencing, pushing the person until they finally give in and perform the acts tied to that stressor, becoming a near-ritualistic behavior. A common example is someone who can’t stop washing their hands. This may be tied to a fear of germs. The unreasonable fear being that if they can’t wash their hands, even for a moment, the germs will spread, and they will get sick.
It has become common for people to declare “they’re OCD” about something, but it is usually something they can leave undone or ignore if they want to. People truly afflicted with OCD can’t deny these feelings and have to resolve whatever is triggering their disorder.
How Alcohol Affects People with OCD
Given that alcohol lowers inhibitions, many who suffer from OCD find it to be a relief. It dulls the mind, making it easier to ignore the insatiable compulsions they experience sober. However, some have reported even worse feelings the day after alcohol consumption, as the alcohol leaves their system and they begin to sober up. This, in turn, can cause someone to use alcohol again and again so that they can avoid these thoughts.
As with anyone, continued abuse of alcohol may eventually turn into a dependency. This can develop even quicker when the person is trying to self-medicate for a co-occurring disorder such as OCD. Failure to address and instead trying to escape it can cause a more severe spiral into alcoholism.
Alcohol And Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Statistics
- Over 25% of people with OCD also suffer from a substance use disorder (SUD).
- 70% of people surveyed, who suffered from OCD and an SUD, recalled having OCD before developing their SUD by at least one year.
- An estimated 1.2% of people in the US had OCD in 2003.
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Treatment for Alcohol and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Co-occurring disorders can pose additional complications when recovering from an alcohol use disorder. In the case of OCD, the compulsions that were put off for so long can come back. Coupled with the regular symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, the recovering person will be exposed to incredible physical and psychological pain. This can make the afflicted more likely to relapse and less likely to try again.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with OCD and are seeking treatment for an alcohol use disorder, it is important to remember to treat the cause, not just the symptoms. Alcohol may have created strain in your life and hurt your relationships, but it was only a coping mechanism. Not treating the OCD, or any co-occurring disorder, can lead right back to temptation.
Finding a clinic that can treat underlying problems is the best strategy to fight alcoholism. If you don’t know where to look or how to start, try reaching out to a dedicated treatment specialist today. They’re here for you.
- Medical Reviewer — Last Reviewed: April 24, 2019
Aquire, Sally. (2017). How Alcohol Affects OCD. Retrieved March 21st 2018 from http://www.ocdsymptoms.co.uk/how-alcohol-affects-ocd.html
Mancebo, Maria C. PhD; et al. (2009). Substance Use Disorders in an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinical Sample. Retrieved March 21st 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2705178/
Mayo Clinic. (2016). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Retrieved March 21st 2018 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354432
National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Retrieved March 21st 2018 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd.shtml
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