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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, Addiction

Drug and alcohol addiction often correlates with mental health issues. One of the less volatile yet still troubling abnormalities is obsessive compulsive disorder, where the person constantly worries about tiny risks and “what ifs.” To assure themselves, they over-clean and over-check everything. This makes it difficult for them to partake in normal activities.

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What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OSD) is defined by obsessions caused by irrational fears that lead to compulsive behavior. A person with OCD will fear all kinds of things that people deal with daily, such as germs, disorganized items and activities with tiny risk factors. The OCD sufferer engages in repetitive behaviors designed to mitigate these fears, but it’s never enough in that person’s mind.

Examples of OCD

OCD causes people to be fearful of anything that possibly could go wrong (but likely won’t) and double-check everything two or three times for reassurance. They’ll repeat simple hygiene acts multiple times in one sitting. Examples of OCD behavior include:

  • Washing and cleaning – People with OCD are obsessed with cleanliness and phobic of dirt and germs. While most people like things to be clean, the OCD sufferer is never convinced that things are clean enough. OCD causes people to over-scrub, excessively wash and repeatedly dust and vacuum the same things over and over.
  • Checking – OCD sufferers are never convinced that everything has been turned off and locked when they leave the house. They’ll turn off stoves, ovens and gas heaters before they leave, then turn around after driving off to double-check whether everything was shut off. They’ll do the same with candles and door locks. 
  • Counting – People with OCD count things repeatedly, never convinced they got it right the first or second time. When tallying up an invoice, they’ll add things on a computer and do it again to double-check, then do it by hand for reassurance. When buying items for a set number of party invitees, they’ll count and recount several times.
  • Orderliness – Obsession with order and tidiness are symptoms of OCD. The person will constantly fold and organize things. Once they examine everything from across a room, they’ll go back and refold, move things and dust a second time. Oftentimes, they do this to fight against stress, social anxiety and germaphobia.
  • Following a strict routine – OCD sufferers tend to micromanage themselves and everything (and everyone) around them. They’ll have a list of numerous things that must be done a specific way, every day, and constantly obsess about whether the list or the finished results are good enough. These people make dreaded managers and bosses.
  • Demanding reassurance – People with OCD are never convinced when things go well. When they dress up for an event, they’re never secure or confident about the finished look. They constantly worry about their hair and how the light reflects on their face. They’ll put themselves down constantly, fishing for flattery and encouragement, but it’s never enough.
  • Irrational fear – OCD sufferers are constantly plagued by fears over tiny things that most people cope with daily. While most adults pay no mind to the opinions of strangers they pass on the street, a person with OCD is always trying to second guess whether others are staring or gossiping about them.
  • Unwanted thoughts – People with OCD have disturbing thoughts and mental images that they can’t overcome. They might see a gruesome visual on the internet or somewhere out in the city and replay the image constantly. They might imagine some gruesome event as a possible outcome of some everyday activity and get paranoid about going through with tasks related to said event.

People with OCD find it difficult to enjoy themselves at restaurants and parties because they constantly fear germs, untidiness and (since the pandemic) public super-spreading.

What Causes OCD?

OCD can have its roots in multiple factors, from genetic to environmental. A person could inherit symptoms from neurotic, anal-retentive parents who constantly obsess about perfection and order. It could also come from a toxic, judgemental, domineering partner who always criticizes small details.

  • Genetics – OCD can be a genetic disorder passed between parents and children. If one or both parents have certain abnormalities in the structure of the brain, this could pass onto the child. Research shows that genetics are a likelier cause of OCD in subjects who are diagnosed as children than in subjects diagnosed as adults.
  • Brain abnormalities – In some people, OCD could be explained by abnormalities in the brain. The frontal lobe passes signals to the deeper brain. In some OCD subjects, structural issues cause communication problems that make it difficult for serotonin to pass through the neurotransmitters. 
  • Environment – Some people inherit OCD symptoms from their environment. If a person lives in a house of obsessive neat freaks or paranoid control freaks, he/she could easily develop similar traits. If a person grows up in an environment of judgemental, abrasive, nosey people, he/she could wind up paranoid and anal-retentive.
  • Trauma – In some cases, OCD results from personal trauma. People who’ve suffered sexual abuse are more prone to be distrustful of others and engage in obsessive behavior (compulsive cleaning) to avoid interaction and distract the mind. People who suffered abandonment as children often engage in compulsive behavior like hoarding to fill the emptiness inside.

Drug and alcohol abuse can exacerbate symptoms of OCD. People who drink and take energy drugs (meth, crack) are typically depressed and volatile. If a person tries to hide an addiction, he/she might take obsessive/compulsive steps to dispense with evidence and present an overly tidy, clean facade.

Obsessive Symptoms

People with OCD are often difficult to accommodate at public get-togethers. On dates and at social events, they’ll typically be fearful of possible germs on the utensils or in the public restrooms.

  • Fear of contamination – If someone shies away from restaurants because they think all reused utensils are dirty, this could be a symptom of obsessive germophobic disorder. The person might need to constantly wash his/her hands and shy away from handshakes due to germ anxiety. 
  • Fear of robbery and fires – One of the most distressing symptoms is the constant fear of home intrusion or fire. The person will turn off all the appliances before leaving the house, drive off, then drive back to double-check the appliance switches. He/she might also double-lock the front door and turn on the alarm, yet worry minutes later whether the house is really locked.
  • Stress over disorder – Another symptom is when people constantly obsess over the order of objects and how they’re arranged on a table or shelf. He/she might spend ten minutes placing them in order and sit down across the room, only to stare and obsess over how the objects look and decide to face them a different way. 
  • Heightened fear of violence – Obsessive disorder can make people paranoid about leaving home due to fear of some one-in-a-million possibility. They might fear getting hit by a car while walking the dog or getting decapitated in a roadside crash. In light of recent mass shootings, they might fear that something similar will happen at the next event they plan to attend.
  • Unpleasant sexual images – Another facet of obsessive disorder is the inability to get unwanted imagery out of one’s mind. The OCD sufferer might be fearful of sexual encounters and avoid getting sexually involved because of disturbing imagery they once saw in porn or in a real life sexual experience.  
  • Avoidance of emotionally challenging situations – People with OCD might avoid events or places where they won’t have complete control of the situation. If a person hates someone, he/she might avoid parties arranged by mutual friends, or might just cut off all mutual friends. If a man is fearful of beautiful women due to social anxiety, he might avoid places where he’s likely to see them.

People with OCD might be visibly uncomfortable at events where the mood is generally free flowing. Some people with OCD binge drink at parties to loosen up, which can lead to overdose if they consume drugs at the same time.

Compulsive Symptoms

Most people with OCD are already in the habit of washing, scrubbing and turning off lights and appliances. Therein lies part of the problem: these acts are so ingrained that they do them subconsciously. People often forget mundane, arbitrary tasks. People with OCD don’t trust themselves; they have to constantly re-check whether they’ve performed some mundane task.

  • Excessive hand-washing – People with compulsive disorder symptoms are usually never satisfied with their cleanliness. They’ll wash their hands repeatedly, even after the skin gets sore. Each time they touch something that other people have touched, they’ll wash their hands again, even when they’re not cooking or eating.
  • Writing in alliteration – This can be habit-forming for OCD sufferers who get into writing. They might get caught up on the cleverness of forming sentences out of words that all start with the same letter. For anyone who’s trying to communicate with words, alliteration should never be arbitrary. It’s difficult to maintain line-by-line and can leave the writer feeling stammered and frustrated.
  • Counting lines, patterns or letters – People with OCD often count and recount things that most people wouldn’t notice, such as the number of letters on a sign. This could be their way of biding time in the waiting area of a hospital or DMV. They might count the number of lines in a pattern square, then add them up square by square across the pattern.
  • Repeating words or phrases – A more ominous sign of OCD is when a person repeats the same words or statements over and over as if once wasn’t enough. They might think that repetition will help fortify their point to others. Oftentimes, they’re trying to convince themselves. If a person is more frightened than someone they’re trying to calm down, they might say “don’t worry” incessantly without explaining why there’s no reason to worry.
  • Arranging cans in the same direction – This would seem trivial to most people, but those with compulsive traits often obsess over the arrangement of mundane items like cans and bottles. They’ll need to have each product lined perfectly side-by-side with the labels faced outward. If you put these things in the cupboard, they’ll criticize your effort if you don’t do as they’d do.  

Some people with OCD get hooked on anti-anxiety benzos, which can easily be addictive when overused. Just as OCD sufferers constantly rewash their hands and recheck appliances, they retake medication that they’ve already taken yet can’t remember.

Treatment for OCD and Addiction

At rehab treatment centers across the US, people struggling with alcohol and drug addiction often get treated for co-occurring mental health disorders, including OCD, which therapists treat with the following methods:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy – This helps patients identify the deep-seated subconscious beliefs that hold them back in life. It’s hard to adopt a “fear not” mindset when the subconscious keeps reinforcing a “fear everything” attitude. With CBT, patients identify their toxic subconscious frameworks and reverse them. Once “fear not” becomes the subconscious mindset, it’s easier to make congruent surface adjustments.
  • Dual diagnosis therapy – This helps patients identify the root of their negative behavioral patterns. OCD is often rooted in trauma and early environmental factors that the patient hasn’t identified or confronted. DDT helps the patient identify and come to terms with these issues, which then makes it easier to conquer the negative behavioral outcomes of trauma, such as addiction and OCD.
  • Exposure and response prevention – This is an experience-based therapy where the patient gradually confronts fears and learns to overcome them. If the patient is a germaphobe, the ERP sessions may involve touching dirt and coming to terms. It might involve washing hands once and then eating. Turning off an appliance and taking a walk without rushing back. Learning to trust things.
  • Group therapy – At drug and alcohol rehab centers, patients meet in groups to discuss their struggles, fears, triumphs and progress. Most patients have co-occurring mental health issues that feed into their addictive behavior, such as OCD. By talking with other patients in a similar boat, everyone learns and gains valuable wisdom and coping skills on the road to recovery.

While there’s no clear-cut cure for OCD, people can overcome the symptoms and learn to conquer their fears. It takes practice and emotional control. Methods like CBT and ERP help OCD sufferers conquer the worst of their symptoms and lead normal lives.

Get Help for Drug Addiction and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

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Don't go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you're facing. Get in touch with one today.

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If someone you know struggles with addiction and/or symptoms of OCD, get that individual the help he/she needs. Call the addiction treatment centers in your area and ask about their mental health counseling programs and financing options. Your call could help someone live a happier, more fulfilling life.

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