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What If You Have OCD and Addiction? The link between OCD and Addiction and what you can do to treat it!

A young woman is sitting on her bed in her bedroom. She has her hands pulling her hair back, as she has a stressed facial expression.

What If You Have OCD and Addiction? The link between OCD and Addiction and what you can do to treat it!

A young woman is sitting on her bed in her bedroom. She has her hands pulling her hair back, as she has a stressed facial expression.

Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be challenging on its own, but when coupled with addiction, the road to recovery becomes even more complex. The intersection of OCD and addiction creates a unique set of obstacles that individuals must navigate to achieve holistic well-being. Every person will benefit from having their own “game plan,” one that looks at their experiences, passions, schedule, weaknesses, strengths, and goals.

Both OCD and addiction come with own their stigmas and misconceptions, so folks who struggle with both are often subjected to unhelpful and isolating commentary. Creating a lifestyle rooted in community and collaboration can help to assuage that pain. Investing consistent time into self-care is essential to combat instincts of self-punishment or self-neglect.

When OCD and Addiction Coexist:

OCD and addiction often go hand in hand, forming a formidable duo that requires a comprehensive approach to treatment. Individuals with OCD may turn to substances as a way to cope with the overwhelming anxiety and distress caused by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. On the flip side, addiction can exacerbate OCD symptoms, creating a vicious cycle that is difficult to break. The underlying connection lies in the brain’s reward system, where compulsive behaviors and substance use both trigger the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, providing temporary relief from distress.

3 Ways to Overcome Your OCD with Addiction

1) Integrated Treatment Plans:

A young woman is sitting beside a medical professional. The woman is is smiling at her and writing on a notepad.

Seeking the expertise of mental health professionals who specialize in dual diagnosis is essential. These experts can develop personalized treatment strategies that encompass evidence-based therapies for OCD, such as exposure and response prevention (ERP), alongside addiction-focused interventions. We see patients who struggle with addiction at our practice that offers OCD therapy in Woodland Hills. ERP is a form of CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) wherein responses to thoughts and patterns are re-trained through behavior modifications.

When we look at OCD treatment and ERP, we see the parallels between OCD behaviors and addiction actions. Much like the way OCD is a pattern of having an intrusive thought and acting on it to make the thought stop, addiction is often a series of having the urge or craving, followed by substance use. In both these scenarios, there was likely a trigger. Learning how to be exposed to a trigger and respond with a more beneficial behavior is the key, whether we are talking about avoiding a ritual or walking away from a substance. Learning to identify negative thoughts and respond differently than you feel compelled to do is a big part of OCD treatment.

Both OCD and addiction treatment can bring up unpleasant thoughts, past events and behaviors, impulses and compulsions that create shame, and more. These conversations can feel incredibly vulnerable, and you may find yourself resisting them or having a hard time putting your story into words. Therapy is a safe space that requires honesty to work. Take care to remind yourself that your therapist is there to help you, to guide you through CBT, to facilitate you speaking up for yourself, and to set boundaries around your needs. A therapist who specializes in OCD and addiction understands that you are nervous, embarrassed, and ashamed sometimes. Their goal is to help you see yourself in a life where you don’t have to feel that way, where you are empowered to move forward positively.

Because of the ways addiction and OCD interact, you may feel overwhelmed by treating them both. It is sometimes helpful to focus on one or the other despite knowing they are interconnected. If you are worrying about the big picture, your anxiety may overtake your ability to manage your OCD. When you focus on keeping a handle on your obsessions and compulsions, you are more able to reduce the anxiety that can lead to addiction behaviors, and vice versa. Separating the two in your mind to make them less intimidating still benefits your overall treatment of both, so be sure to communicate with your therapist if the need arises to bring the focus in sometimes. This doesn’t mean that you stop working on an integrated plan; it simply means that you decrease the big picture for yourself (with guidance) from time to time.

Addiction treatment features a set of behaviors, from consistent self-care routines to obtaining support for abstinence. You cannot abstain from your thoughts the way you can abstain from using a substance, but the treatment you undertake can help to reduce negative thoughts. In both the cases of OCD and addiction, we look at self-supporting behaviors like having a regular sleep schedule, eating enough food and drinking enough water throughout the day, and having outlets for stress, such as exercise, journaling, meditation, and artistic expression. We seek to create a safe and stable environment where triggers are reduced or eliminated, and we have a plan in place for when triggers arise unexpectedly or can’t be avoided.

Certain medications can be prescribed in the treatment of OCD and addiction to be used as part of an overall wellness plan. This decision should be made with a doctor and with full transparency involved.

2) Support Groups and Peer Networks:

3 young women are sitting beside each other in a support group. One of the women has her hand on her chest as she speaks.

Joining support groups and engaging with peer networks can provide a sense of community, understanding, and shared experiences. Connecting with others who have walked a similar path fosters a supportive environment where individuals can share coping strategies, celebrate successes, and offer encouragement during difficult times.

In a community, you can understand and normalize the aspects of your struggles that make you feel ashamed and alone. Most people who have OCD struggle with taboo thoughts, for example, but are afraid to talk about it. It is beneficial for you to be able to reduce the stigma for yourself, and understanding that you are not alone is a great way to do so. With this kind of open communication, you can have a community that recognizes warning signs that call for your attention before there is a bigger incident.

Connecting with people in your life who have not had to cope with OCD and addiction is also beneficial. These folks might not bring the same understanding as some of your other networks, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help you out. OCD and substance use can isolate us from the people we love, the people who love us. By maintaining those relationships, you can see that you are not alone, that your issues don’t exclude you from love, and that there is something to be lost if you turn away from your people. To set you and your loved ones up for success, make sure that you know, establish, and maintain boundaries with the people in your life. If you cannot be around alcohol, share that. Those who don’t respect your needs aren’t the community for you at this time. Those who do will be happy you shared with them how best to support you.

Having a support network can motivate you to continue the work laid out for you in therapy. Being able to report back that you are still trying, that you figured out a way to make something easier, that you learned from a setback, and that you achieved a specific success; all of these things are facilitated by having a peer network. Accountability makes such a big difference when you are working on something that requires daily focus and effort. Even just showing up in a group chat to say that you’re doing your best right now reminds you to keep trying!

This network will also be full of people that you can support. It’s easy to make the mistake of feeling like we’re the only ones who need help, and therefore, there is something specifically “wrong” with us and us alone. We may have friends and family members who have shown up for us time and time again, and we may experience guilt and/or shame around that. Being able to give aid to others combats some of our negative feelings. Everyone in this world needs help sometimes, just like everyone in this world can offer help. Without setting aside your own needs and self-care, contributing assistance when and where you can helps you build self-esteem. Seeing what you tell others is also a great test of your progress. Often, when talking to ourselves, old narratives get in the way. When you are communicating with another person, what do you say? How do you say it? What can you learn about your journey when you listen to your advice? Do you show yourself the same compassion that you show to other people?

3) Mindfulness and Coping Skills:

A young African American woman is sitting on the couch of her living room. She has her laptop open in front of her and is wearing headphones.

Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and impulses, allowing them to respond to them more effectively. Developing healthy coping skills, such as stress management and problem-solving, empowers individuals to navigate the challenges that may contribute to the cycle of OCD and addiction. You can learn and practice these techniques in the safety of OCD therapy and take them home with you to put into practice in your daily life.

When we utilize mindfulness, we develop our ability to take note of our circumstances in real time without judgment. When an impulse to partake in an OCD behavior can be observed without shame and self-flagellation, we can more quickly address the issue and take steps to avoid compensatory behaviors. The same goes for the impulse to use a substance. When we are attuned to our inner workings and present in our lives, we can notice shifts in our emotions sooner. Where in the past, we might have ignored those first small warnings that we weren’t balancing our needs the way we strive to, mindfulness allows us to divert our attention and adjust our behavior.

As much as we might try, mindfulness cannot prevent surprises. Developing methods of coping with triggers can help to alleviate symptoms when under duress. For example, if you are expecting your usual daily routine and then you are assigned an emergency task at work, the instinct to cope with the change might be to take an action that makes you feel as though you are still in control. This action, the compulsive behavior, would, in all likelihood, only delay your work. Instead, you want to reach for an effective technique to regulate your nervous system. Not only does this allow you to do the work that needs to be done, but it also lessens the stress that could have you seeking comfort through a substance as a coping mechanism.

As part of a daily routine, mindfulness can also reduce stress. This means that we utilize our toolkit not only when we are triggered but also when we are not. Not only does regular practice make it easier to utilize techniques when we are in a state of duress, but it can pull us farther from that state so that it is more difficult to trigger us. Think of your emotional state as a ladder, where the bottom of the ladder is peace, and the top is anxiety. If you are near the bottom step and a stressor makes you take a step up, you’re still relatively near the bottom. If you are one step away from the top, one stressor will send you over it. The more we can exist in a regulated state, the easier it is on our nervous system and the harder it is for disruptions to rattle us.

Find a space and time for meditation that works for you. It might be a few minutes in the morning and a few in the evening; you may listen to guided audio, make time to write in a journal, or go for a walk and let your connection to your body put you into a meditative state. Whatever works best for you is the best method for you. If you feel as though you don’t have time for meditation, remind yourself that you’ll have to make equal or more amounts of time for stress later. If you tend to forget to meditate, set an alarm as a reminder. Set yourself up for success in any way you can think of.

Two young women are walking together on the busy streets of Los Angeles. Both of the women are smiling at each other.

Obsessions, compulsions, and addiction interfere with daily life on such a monumental scale that you may have often wondered, “Why me?” In your darker moments, you might have determined that you “deserved it” somehow or that you are being punished for something. You need to realize that you are worthy of feeling better and seeking the help that you need. You deserve to support your wellness with self-care, therapy and treatment, and the love and community of others. Some days, you will experience your OCD and/or the impulses of your addiction in a more heightened way. That is inevitable but also manageable as long as you continue to stay focused on your therapeutic goals and stay connected to your support system.

OCD Treatment in Woodland Hills 

There can be a variety of comorbidities when dealing with OCD, which means that while suffering from OCD, you may also have an eating disorder, addiction, or depression. Working with an OCD specialist who is also trained to treat addiction, depression, and/or codependency in the Woodland Hills office may be the most effective treatment option for you. To understand the OCD cycle and how to create changes in your life to manage it better, you need to work with our OCD specialist here in Woodland Hills or virtually for OCD treatment that utilizes ERP, CBT, ACT, and mindfulness techniques. 
Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Admin Team today!

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