Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Its Connection with Addiction

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a term that is often used in casual conversation, typically in reference to an individual who is very particular about their diet, wardrobe or living space. While many individuals hold these strong preferences, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a debilitating mental illness that impedes everyday functioning.

OCD is characterized by intrusive, repetitive thoughts (obsessions), accompanied by urges to complete certain actions (compulsions). People suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder are often aware that their actions are irrational and even harmful, but they also feel powerless to stop them.

Characters with OCD are frequently depicted in film and television, from Felix Unger in “The Odd Couple” to Adrian Monk in “Monk” and Howard Hughes in “The Aviator.”

OCD Symptoms

Statistics - OCDAccording to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), More than 2 percent of the U.S. population will be diagnosed with OCD in their lifetime. The symptoms of OCD can be broadly categorized as either obsessions or compulsions.

To the individual with OCD, the symptoms and actions that stem from this disorder do not feel like abnormal behavior. Not until these individuals are made aware that their behaviors are preventing them from living a healthier, happier life do they think to seek treatment.

For that reason, improving awareness and understanding of OCD and its symptoms has major benefits for public health.


Obsessions are defined as irrational, intrusive and frequently reoccurring thought patterns. These thoughts are generally upsetting, so individuals may go to great lengths to suppress them. Obsessions almost always feed into compulsive behavior, which individuals with OCD perform in order to alleviate the anxiety created by their obsessions.

Common examples of obsessions associated with OCD include:

  • Fixation on symmetry and order
  • Aversion to germs or dirt
  • Persistent, unwanted thought patterns
  • Idealizations of self-harm


To relieve the stress associated with these obsessions, the brain creates the urge to complete repetitive acts, called compulsions. For those afflicted with OCD, completing these compulsions brings on a feeling of intense relief. Similar to how OCD patients struggle to manage their obsessions, individuals may go to great lengths to perform compulsive acts.

Common examples of compulsions associated with OCD include:

  • Counting and recounting common objects
  • Repeatedly checking kitchen appliances
  • Repeatedly locking and unlocking doors
  • Persistently sticking to a set routine

Risk Factors for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD - Stats - Mental HealthStudies show that core differences in brain structure and functioning may explain the onset of the obsessive-compulsive disorder. Imaging studies have demonstrated that individuals with OCD display major differences in their frontal cortex and subcortical structures in the brain.

While these structural differences may be connected to the onset of OCD, there are many other influences that scientists believe contribute to the mental illness manifesting in an individual.

The following factors indicate a high risk of developing obsessive-compulsive disorder:

  • Extreme Anxiety: Individuals who have experienced a string of traumatic, highly stressful events are more prone to developing symptoms of OCD, even later in life.
  • Family Medical History: Any person who has a family history of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or another mood or anxiety disorder, is more susceptible to developing OCD.
  • Co-Occurring Mental Illness: The presence of a separate mental illness, ranging from an anxiety or mood disorder to a substance abuse problem, greatly increases an individual’s risk of developing the pattern of intrusive thoughts that are indicative of OCD.

Getting Help for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Addiction

It’s not uncommon for people with mental health conditions to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol in an attempt to control their unpleasant symptoms. Unfortunately, this method of self-medicating only makes the symptoms of OCD more severe in the long run. When people attempt to manage their mental illness with drug or alcohol use, doing so inevitably leads to a toxic cycle of intensified symptoms and dangerous self-medicating.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with OCD and also suffers from alcohol or drug addiction, The Treatment Center by The Recovery Village can help. Our team knows that the simultaneous treatment of a co-occurring mental illness, also known as dual diagnosis, along with the substance abuse problem produces the best outcomes in recovery.

Each of our patients is assessed by a licensed psychiatrist and upon admission, and we then create a unique treatment plan that addresses both the mental disorder and the addiction. Call us at (866) 295-6003 for more information. Our admissions counselors are available 24/7.

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