Tag Archives: OCD

Compulsivity and Addiction: How Compulsive Behavior and Substance Abuse Are Related

Characters with compulsive tendencies have been depicted often throughout the years in television, film and theater. Modern examples include the character Adrian Monk of the television series “Monk” and Robert McCall of “The Equalizer” film franchise. A more classic example would be Felix Unger of “The Odd Couple,” as seen on Broadway and on the small and silver screens.

Although none of these three characters have problems with drug use or alcoholism, people with compulsive tendencies are generally at greater risk of substance abuse than the rest of the population.

People can also fall prey to compulsive exercising, gambling, shopping, dieting and eating, but in this article, we would like to focus on when compulsivity collides with drug or alcohol use. Why? The combination could unravel one’s life and even turn deadly.

If you know someone who compulsively drinks or uses drugs, find out why you need to act quickly to get this person help before their physical and mental health goes significantly downhill.

What Causes Compulsive Behaviors?

Compulsive behaviors are borne out of a desire to manage anxieties. For instance, someone who develops a heightened awareness or fear of germs may become a compulsive hand washer – or they may refuse to touch certain everyday items at all. The behavior gives them a sense of control over, and relief from, their anxiety.

This is why obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is classified under anxiety disorders. Although you may notice a lot of people with unique quirks and compulsive tendencies, the symptoms of OCD must be severe and persistent. Thus, OCD diagnoses are actually quite rare.

In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that only 2 percent of the U.S. population will be diagnosed with OCD in their lifetime. At any given time, roughly 2 million Americans are actively suffering from OCD.

The Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

For someone with full-blown OCD, they will have persistent symptoms in two areas: obsessions and compulsions. Yes, the compulsions are usually borne out of the obsessive thoughts.

Someone with OCD will show signs of obsession, such as:

  • Aversions to germs or dirt
  • Repeated unwanted ideas
  • Aggressive impulses
  • Fixation on symmetry and order
  • Persistent sexual thoughts
  • Thoughts of being harmed, or harming loved ones

And the OCD sufferer will show signs of compulsion, such as:

  • Constant checking – such as to make sure doors are locked or appliances are in working order
  • Counting and recounting everyday objects
  • Repeated hand washing
  • Stubbornly sticking to a routine or ritual
  • Constant cleaning of various items
  • Arranging items to face a certain way
  • Organizing collections in alphabetical or other type of order
  • Hoarding items already used or of little to no value

OCD sometimes emerges as a way of managing another type of mental illness. In fact, the risk factors of obsessive-compulsive disorder include:

  • Genetics – a family history of the disorder
  • Extreme anxiety – especially borne out of living through traumatic or highly stressful events
  • Existing mental disorder – such as a mood disorder, other form of anxiety disorder, or a substance use disorder

The Compulsive ‘Reward’

Compulsive behaviors all relate back to dopamine and the reward system of the brain. Going on an invigorating run, for example, can give the person a “runner’s high,” in which a large amount of dopamine is released in the brain, eliciting a state of euphoria.

The person may then begin to repeat the same action in hopes of re-experiencing that original high. Sometimes they will achieve it; but, in most cases, they won’t. Nonetheless, the person keeps doing the same action to the point where it’s almost involuntary and ritualistic. This is compulsive behavior.

According to Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D., a prolific author and a psychology professor at the University of Sussex (England), the brain registers all pleasures in basically the same way – with a release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, located in the basal forebrain. This pleasure can be brought on by eating a slice of cake, taking a drug, exercising, a sexual activity, winning a jackpot, beating a level in a video game – you name it.

Compulsivity and Substance Abuse: When Compulsions Turn Harmful

Some compulsions are largely innocuous and even healthy, such as exercising or counting calories (although these can be taken too far). One can even have the recurrent compulsion to thoroughly clean up after oneself after cooking and/or eating, and it’s hard to find much wrong with that. These can be considered “positive compulsions,” although it’s important to be mindful of moderation in these.

But when a compulsive person turns their attention to drugs or alcohol, red flags should be popping up left and right. Getting high on a new drug or getting inebriated to a certain point can result in a rush of dopamine in the brain and a state of euphoria, as we spoke of a moment ago. If it’s a positive and memorable experience for the user or drinker, a compulsive person will be hard-pressed to resist chasing that high again.

That high can never be exactly replicated, but a compulsive person will keep trying to relive or achieve it again. Before long, tolerance to alcohol or drugs increases, and then the person becomes used to having a certain level of that substance in their system each day. If they were to suddenly stop at this point, painful withdrawal symptoms will ensue.

OCD and Substance Abuse

For people with full-blown OCD, co-occurring substance usually has the following role: The person begins using drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating the OCD symptoms. Thus, you can conclude that having OCD is a risk factor for drug or alcohol addiction.

Getting Help for Compulsivity and Addiction

Do you have a family member or close friend with compulsive tendencies (such as gambling, shopping or eating) and who has taken an affection to drinking or a specific drug? Seek help on this individual’s behalf soon. Their quality of life can quickly deteriorate.

You may need to start with an intervention to get them to go into treatment. Compulsive people are usually not aware that their behaviors are unhealthy or abnormal; and even if they are, their compulsions usually override their willpower to stop. An intervention can help break through their current tailspin.

It’s also important that they enter a dual diagnosis treatment program, one that can address their mental health symptoms. Reflections Recovery Center in Prescott, AZ can help your loved one learn to manage their compulsive inclinations in healthy ways as they recover from alcohol or drug abuse.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for OCD and Compulsivity

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Men: (OCD) Symptoms and Treatments for Men

Men suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) know just how debilitating the effects of this mental illness truly are. Unfortunately, OCD often goes undiagnosed, and in an attempt to manage their OCD, many men will turn to drugs and alcohol for relief.

When you have OCD, addiction treatment becomes more complicated. But by educating yourself about OCD, you are taking the first step toward regaining control over your life.

What Is OCD

OCD is a mental health disorder that causes a person to become trapped in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions:

  • Obsessions take the form of unwanted and involuntary thoughts and urges that spark powerful feelings of distress.
  • Compulsions are the behaviors that OCD sufferers take part in to manage or lessen the thoughts that cause their distress.

OCD can be difficult to identify in men. After all, everyone experiences troubling thoughts from time to time. OCD, however, takes these universal emotions and amplifies them to the point of mental illness.

Signs and Symptoms of OCD

While OCD was once considered to be an anxiety disorder, the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has classified OCD in a separate category of mental illnesses that involve obsessive and repetitive fears and behaviors.

However, fear and anxiety still play a major role in OCD. Some of the most common sources of fear and anxiety among men suffering from OCD include:

  • Fear of becoming ill, getting injured or dying
  • Fear of loved ones becoming ill, getting injured or dying
  • Fear of germs or being unclean
  • Fear of causing harm to others
  • Fear of upsetting a higher power
  • Fear of losing personal objects
  • Intrusive sexual thoughts
  • A need to maintain perfect order or symmetry
  • Superstitious beliefs

Men suffering from OCD will often turn to ritualistic behaviors in order to calm their fears and anxieties. But because their fears arise so frequently and are often only loosely grounded in reality, such behaviors only offer temporary relief and must be repeated over and over again.

Common ritualistic behaviors among men with OCD include:

  • Excessive hand washing, showering, etc.
  • Arranging objects in specific patterns
  • Obsessively checking one’s work for errors
  • Obsessively dwelling on and reviewing one’s actions
  • Compulsive hoarding or collecting objects of little value
  • Behavioral tics such as touching a doorknob five times before turning it, or tying and untying one’s shoes multiple times before feeling satisfied.

The Link Between OCD and Substance Abuse

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in men: (OCD) Symptoms and Treatments for MenMany addiction treatment specialists have observed that among patients with a mental illness and substance use dual diagnosis, OCD is one of the most commonly observed psychological disorders.

Men suffering from OCD are usually aware of the fact their fears and compulsions are irrational. However, this doesn’t make it any easier for them to control their ritualistic behaviors on their own. This internal conflict creates extreme levels of mental distress. It should come as no surprise that many men will turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms of their OCD.

While drug and alcohol use may be an effective short-term strategy to control the anxiety resulting from the symptoms of OCD, it doesn’t take long for this pattern of self-medication to transform into a powerful chemical addiction.

In fact, the Journal of Anxiety Disorders released a study showing that out of 323 American adults suffering from OCD, 27 percent met the diagnostic criteria for a co-occurring substance use disorder. Because OCD and addiction feed off one another, patients suffering from co-occurring OCD and substance abuse need a comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment program that includes intensive OCD rehab therapy.

Types of OCD

OCD can manifest itself in an endless number of ways. However, experts have identified five primary subtypes of the disorder. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that many men will experience different combinations of these OCD subtypes at the same time.

Harm Obsessions

Men suffering from this type of OCD experience frequent thoughts about potential harm coming to themselves or others. Men with this type of OCD will frequently become obsessed with so-called “checking rituals” in an attempt to control their anxiety.

For example, a father may constantly dwell on thoughts of his child becoming seriously ill, leading him to excessively take the child’s temperature, schedule frequent check-ups, inspect the child for signs of illness, etc.

Contamination Obsessions

With this type of OCD, intrusive thoughts are centered on feelings of being unclean. For instance, simply shaking hands with a stranger may produce an overwhelming sense of contamination. The resulting anxiety can only be relieved by the OCD sufferer quickly washing his or her hands.

While it’s normal to feel dirty and want to clean up from time to time, men with this type of OCD have been known to wash their hands until they bleed, and some even scrub their bodies raw with abrasive substances like steel wool.

Symmetry, Ordering and Counting Obsessions

Men with this subtype of OCD experience an overwhelming need to arrange objects, thoughts or words until they feel “just right.” This may manifest as arranging books or CDs in perfect alphabetical order, repeating words or phrases until they sound perfect, or even chewing food an equal number of times on the left and right side of the mouth.

Failing to maintain perfect order can lead to feelings ranging from a mild sense of unease to the fear of impending doom.

Violent, Religious or Sexual Obsessions

This type of OCD does not always lead to outwardly visible compulsions. Many men with this subtype of OCD are constantly battling intrusive thoughts about upsetting subjects. For example, a man might constantly imagine himself attacking strangers while in public, and attempts to stifle these thoughts only causes them to arise more frequently.

Hoarding Obsession

Hoarding has recently become recognized as a type of OCD. Men suffering from hoarding disorder experience extreme anxiety and discomfort at the thought of throwing away even the most useless items. Usually, the anxiety centers on the fear that the item may be needed later, or that the item has some imagined sentimental value.

Common Myths About OCD

Myth: OCD primarily affects women.

Research conducted by the International OCD Foundation has shown that this disorder affects both men and women at the same rate.

Myth: OCD is not treatable.

Through intensive OCD therapy and proper medication, anyone can overcome their struggles with obsessive and compulsive thoughts and behaviors.

Myth: If you are a neat freak, you have OCD.

A fixation on maintaining cleanliness and order does not necessarily mean a person has OCD. In order to be diagnosed with OCD, a person’s obsessions and compulsions must:

  • Cause significant and prolonged distress.
  • Consume excessive amounts of time and mental energy.
  • Negatively impact one’s ability to function in day-to-day life.

Myth: Men with OCD just need to relax.

Not only is this common myth untrue, but it also makes it harder for OCD sufferers to recognize their need for professional treatment.

Getting the Help You Need

If you or a man in your life is suffering from a co-occurring substance use and mental health disorder, the best way to achieve lasting recovery is by getting help for both problems at the same time through a dual diagnosis treatment program.

Reflections Recovery Center specializes in dual diagnosis treatment, and our unique approach to holistic recovery has led to our being positioned among the best addiction treatment providers in Arizona. We accept clients not only from our home state, but also from all around the country.

Keep exploring our site to discover how we can help you or your loved one achieve a life free from both OCD and substance abuse.

Learn More About Dual Diagnosis Treatment