Treating OCD and Addiction

It has been found that, among American adults, over 2% have had obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in their lives.1 Often, OCD exists with substance use disorders.2

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD involves having obsessions and/or compulsions:1,3,4

  • Obsessions involve thoughts/images/urges that return again and again
  • Compulsions involve actions/mental acts that someone has an urge to do

For instance, an individual might have an obsession that shaking someone’s hand would contaminate the individual and might have a compulsion to wash his or her hands.2 Obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms might get in the way of an individual’s relationships, job, and/or schooling.3 Information from 2001 to 2003 indicates there was serious impairment in 50.6% of American adults who in the last year had OCD.1

Someone might have intrusive thoughts.2,4 There are several kinds of obsessions, including repeated doubts and contamination.2

Checking is one kind of compulsion (for instance, an individual might check the locks again and again), and there are several other kinds.2

OCD Risk Factors

Research indicates there is an elevated likelihood of OCD for children of and other first-degree relations of individuals with OCD, and there is an even more elevated likelihood if the individual’s OCD began when the individual was a teenager or child.3

According to some studies, there exists a link between symptoms of OCD and trauma during childhood.3

Anomalies in some brain areas seem linked to symptoms of OCD.3

An individual who has OCD might have less serotonin.5

After a streptococcal infection, a child might start having symptoms of OCD.3

An individual’s personality might impact the individual’s risk of OCD.5

OCD And Addiction

A person who has obsessive-compulsive disorder might also have another mental illness, such as generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and/or substance use disorder(s).2

The Journal of Anxiety Disorders published a study that looked at 323 people diagnosed with OCD and found 27% of those people at some time(s) in their lives fulfilled criteria from the DSM-IV for a substance use disorder; additionally, 70% of those who fulfilled criteria at some time(s) in their lives for a substance use disorder reported their obsessive-compulsive disorder started a year or more before their substance use disorder started.6

An individual who has OCD might drink alcohol or use other drugs to calm down.3 Symptoms of OCD might be worsened by some substances, for instance methamphetamine or cocaine.6

Treating OCD and Addiction

Usually, psychotherapy and/or medicines are used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder.3

woman taking part cognitive behavioral therapy for treating her OCD and addiction

Someone might be treated with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) such as fluoxetine or with another medicine.2

An individual might participate in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and a kind of CBT that could be used for OCD is exposure and ritual prevention (ERP), which is also known as exposure and response prevention.2 In ERP, a person is exposed to circumstances, thoughts, or another stimulus the person dreads but cannot do the compulsion the person generally would do when exposed to that.2,3,7

Someone’s addiction might be treated with motivational interviewing, CBT, motivational incentives, and/or another type of therapy.8 Understanding patterns of actions as well as thoughts and altering them are elements of CBT, and CBT might aid someone to stay away from and cope with circumstances where the person has the highest probability of using drugs.8,9

Medicine might be utilized to treat an individual’s addiction, such as naltrexone.8

If someone has an addiction as well as an additional mental illness, the person’s treatment ought to address both.10



  1. National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Advisory: Obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance use disorders.
  3. National Institute of Mental Health. (2019). Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  4. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
  5. NHS. (2019). Overview: Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
  6. Mancebo, M. C., Grant, J. E., Pinto, A., Eisen, J. L. & Rasmussen, S. A. (2008). Substance use disorders in an obsessive compulsive disorder clinical sampleJournal of anxiety disorders, 23(4), 429–435.
  7. Penzel, F. (2006). “But I love my kids …” — parents who think about harming their children.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). Treatment approaches for drug addiction.
  9. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Substance use disorders.
  10. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition).
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