OCD and Addiction Treatment

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues experienced in America today. Perhaps the most common of these anxiety disorders is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD occurs when someone experiences recurring, near-constant irrational thoughts or fears. Those who suffer from OCD often engage in ritual-like behaviors, such as obsessive hand-washing, turning on or off lights, or repeatedly opening and closing doors.

Often, people who suffer from OCD will self-medicate to try and curb their obsessive behaviors. As many as 1 in 4 people who suffer from OCD also suffer from substance addiction. Having more than one diagnosis at once is known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. 

Self-medicating is dangerous because a) there is no doctor supervision and b) it leads to a developed tolerance which in turn can lead to more use and addiction. Alcohol and drug use can often worsen the symptoms of OCD leading to a downward spiral of addiction. Here at The Key to Recovery, we have specialists in both OCD and addiction that can help individuals conquer this difficult dual diagnosis. 

Obsessive Behaviors Often Lead to Addiction

Consoling woman with ocd and addiction

The common portrayal of OCD in media and movies isn’t a positive one. Characters with OCD are often mocked and parodied as insane people with no control over their behaviors or bodies. While OCD certainly presents challenges, with treatment, these portrayals can be made completely untrue.

The most common symptoms of OCD are seemingly uncontrollable thoughts that lead to nervous or tic-like actions. People who suffer from OCD often struggle with anything new or out of place or anything that doesn’t stick to a regimented routine. 

Most patients with OCD are fully aware of the quirks of their behavior but feel unable to control them. This awareness, shame, and struggle can often lead to drug or alcohol use in an attempt to numb negative thoughts. 

Other Facts about OCD and Addiction

  • Over 2 million Americans suffer from OCD
  • There is research that suggests OCD can be related to genetics, just like addiction
  • Patients with OCD often have a secondary mental health issue, such as depression
  • OCD patients don’t respond to placebo nearly as much as those who suffer from other mental health disorders
  • It can take as long as 12 weeks to judge the effectiveness of medication for OCD

Signs and Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

While OCD can take different forms, it’s often associated with similar symptoms including but not limited to:

  • Extreme fear of anything unclean
  • Obsession with numbers and patterns
  • Extreme focus on religious topics or imagery
  • Desire to self-isolate and avoid others
  • Recurring fear of sickness and death
  • Ritualistic tics such as cleaning, walking through doorways, or turning light switches off and on

Identifying Addiction

According to the National Health Center, more than 20 million Americans have some form of substance addiction, but as few as 10% seek treatment. Often those struggling with addictive behaviors will go to great lengths to hide their behaviors from family and friends. It can be challenging to identify an addiction, but some common signs of addictive behavior include: 

  • Obvious inability to control the use of a particular substance
  • Walking away from commitments, relationships, or job responsibilities
  • Physical changes such as increased sweating, nervous tics, or increasingly bad hygiene 
  • Constant financial struggles 

Underlying Causes of OCD and Addiction

Addiction can happen to anyone and there is no immunity from temptation, but there are some factors that may contribute:

  • Genetic predisposition – Mental health tendencies and addictive behaviors can be inherited from one or both parents
  • Trauma – Traumatic events can lead to substance abuse or the development of mental health disorders, such as anxiety 
  • Physiological imbalances – Both OCD and addiction can be a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. For example, low levels of serotonin (a mood-regulating chemical) can lead to depression or an increased chance of alcohol abuse

The Effects of OCD 

Woman frustrated because of OCD and Addiction

The uncontrollable thoughts and actions associated with someone who suffers from OCD can have a hugely negative effect on everything from employment to family and social relationships. 

As these symptoms worsen, those who suffer may revert more to avoidance and withdraw significantly from public life around them. They may have a strong aversion to things that trigger their irrational fears, such as crowds, unknown places, or situations where they feel they don’t have complete control. 

People who suffer from OCD are generally overly aware of their behavior and will go to great lengths to disguise it.  This can cause strain on families, workplace relationships, and the like. At The Key to Recovery, we try to involve the family in the healing process as much as possible and are here to help patients manage the stress of OCD plus the rigors of beginning treatment. 

The Relationship Between OCD and Addiction

People who suffer from anxiety disorders are more likely to struggle with substance abuse issues. OCD (and other mental health issues such as depression) can feed substance abuse/addiction and vice versa. 

When assessing a dual diagnosis, it’s important to understand both issues individually and how they can affect each other. As noted, there are many reasons why OCD can increase the likeliness or severity of addiction or vise versa. 

How To Help Someone With OCD and Addiction

The first step to recovery from a dual diagnosis involves care and attention. While it’s difficult to bring up the subject of someone’s OCD behavior or addiction, ignoring this can lead to several health issues or even death. According to experts, intervention in the case of a dual diagnosis (OCD and addiction) can have a high rate of success. 

Interventions have a significantly higher rate of success when led by trained professionals, like the ones on staff at The Key to Recovery. We believe it’s important to approach someone suffering from these disorders with care, empathy, and professionalism. 

At The Key to Recovery, we’re committed to providing resources and treatment options that take the fear out of moving towards recovery or helping a loved one do the same. 

It can be overwhelmingly difficult to feel helpless in the face of OCD and addiction, but there is always hope. It’s important to understand as much as possible about the underlying disorders and what can aid a healthy recovery. Our recovery programs focus on helping family and friends be positive catalysts for change. 

Treatment Options for Dual Diagnosis of OCD and Addiction

A dual diagnosis occurs when someone meets the criteria for both a mental health disorder (such as OCD) and an addiction disorder such as alcohol or cocaine addiction. Patients with a dual diagnosis of OCD and addiction must receive specialized care from professionals that understand how these disorders can affect one another. 

At The Key to Recovery, we understand that treating a dual diagnosis presents a unique challenge. Our professional staff receives training in both mental health and addiction to best pursue strategies that can help. At The Key to Recovery, we are trained to assist with the following proven treatments for both OCD and addiction:


Many types of psychotherapy, most notably CBT or cognitive-behavioral therapy, have proven effective for treating OCD. One other popular therapy, called ERP (exposure response prevention), involves the gradual introduction of fears/phobias and learned coping mechanisms that can help overcome them. 


Medications approved for the treatment of OCD include, but are not limited to Anafranil, Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft. These medications are only acceptable to use under the direct supervision of trained professionals. 

Outpatient or Residential Treatment Programs

Comprehensive residential or outpatient treatment programs, such as those found at The Key to Recovery, often prove effective for treating OCD and addiction. These programs can vary in intensity level and last anywhere from a few weeks to a year. They include individual therapy, group sessions, mentorship, and all our beautiful Southern California campus has to offer. 

Experience The Key to Recovery Difference Today!

People experiencing symptoms of both OCD and addiction require specialized treatment that recognizes and treats both issues independently. At The Key to Recovery, we are prepared to help with all forms of anxiety disorders and various levels of addiction, including detoxification. Our program offerings range from individual therapy to group options, to outpatient recovery and even inpatient, live-in options for more severe issues. 

Our beautiful SoCal facilities (located in Huntington Beach) are designed to help make the transition to recovery as easy as possible. We offer a pet-friendly, inclusive environment with year-round comfortable temperatures and endless sunshine. 

At The Key to Recovery, we have nurses, wellness coaches, and board-certified psychiatrists on hand to help find the proper combination of treatment and/or medication. Contact us today to discuss your options!