OCD and Alcohol

by pong freedigitalphotos.net

by pong freedigitalphotos.net

As many of us already know, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a disease of doubt, fueled by uncertainty. But in some ways, certain aspects of OCD can also be viewed as an addiction. In this post, I talk about Jon Hershfield’s description of reassurance-seeking behaviors:

If reassurance were a substance, it would be considered right up there with crack cocaine. One is never enough, a few makes you want more, tolerance is constantly on the rise, and withdrawal hurts. In other words, people with OCD and related conditions who compulsively seek reassurance get a quick fix, but actually worsen their discomfort in the long-term.

So are those with OCD more prone to addictions? Are they more likely to become dependent on alcohol, or illegal drugs, than those without the disorder?

I thought it was an interesting question, so I decided to research it a bit, focusing mainly on alcohol addiction. I found a lot of articles stating that yes, those with OCD are more prone to becoming alcoholics than the general population. Statistics varied, hovering around the twenty-five percent mark. These articles were full off anecdotal evidence, but I didn’t come across any scientific research on the subject. So who knows?

It is not surprising that people who are suffering greatly in general might resort to alcohol to dull the pain. Many of us know people who “self-medicate” or we might even take part in this ourselves. For those with OCD who self-medicate, alcohol can indeed take the edge off the anxiety they’re feeling and even help free them from obsessive thoughts.

But….once the alcohol has worn off, anxiety as well as obsessions are likely to return with a vengeance, leaving the previously “self-medicated” person with not only worsening OCD, but an alcohol problem as well. Another thing to consider is that many people with OCD take medication for the disorder, and alcohol is known to interact with these medications, including SSRIs.

I’m fortunate that my son Dan never resorted to self-medicating. In fact, he went in the totally opposite direction. He does not drink alcohol at all. When I once asked him about it, he told me that when his OCD was severe, and he was overly medicated as well, he felt totally out of control of his life. It was a horrible feeling, and he hated it. Why would he drink and willingly put himself in that position again? He said he realized there were a lot of things in his life that were out of his control, but he was going to do his best to control the things he could. Ah, good ‘ol Serenity Prayer.

Makes sense to me.







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12 Responses to OCD and Alcohol

  1. Karen says:

    Hi Janet! Just wanted to put an interesting twist onto your post. I will start by saying that I don’t have an addiction problem–I don’t use drugs (never have), I am sort of weird about taking medications (partly that is due to my OCD obsessions and being afraid of having a reaction to something) and I don’t drink alcohol. Although I used to drink on occasion socially, I have not drank alcohol for probably about 10 years (that is also partly due to moral/scrupulosity OCD issues and feeling like I am a bad person if I consume alcohol, but also partly because I am afraid that the “numbing” effect that alcohol may have on someone may just ease the pain of OCD and I am deeply afraid of ever using that as a coping mechanism). But alas, onto my point. My husband has compared my OCD to an addiction. I do not believe he understands OCD at all, and unfortunately he will not talk about my personal journey with OCD which has made it really difficult to be in a marriage together for several reasons. His theory is that OCD is like an addiction in some sense, and he has stated this on several occasions, comparing me to an alcoholic or someone with any type of addiction. Of course coming from an angry, frustrated person this sounds very offensive, but coming from your post it kind of makes sense. After all the reassurance is comforting. The compulsion is comforting. Doing what we feel we need to do to achieve a moment of peace. I just wish he would understand how hard I work to bring myself out of it and I don’t just “pick and choose” my obsessions and compulsions. Thank you for all you do to bring awareness to this disorder. It desperately needs it.

    • Hi Karen,
      Thank you so much for sharing and for your insights. I’m sorry you feel as if your husband doesn’t understand your OCD. I do think that’s one of the most difficult aspects of the disorder for those of us who don’t have it – we can’t understand it. It is even common for those with OCD to not understand OCD in others: https://ocdtalk.wordpress.com/2015/06/28/the-loneliness-of-ocd-2/
      That being said, I don’t think understanding OCD is that important (especially since it’s hard to understand something so illogical). What is important is that we understand our loved ones are suffering, understand they are trying their best, and support them in appropriate ways. I wish you all the best as you continue your fight!

  2. Hi Janet. Thank you for sharing this topic. Blake, while still 17 and not old enough to drink, has said that he never wants to drink or use drugs. He has had a little alcohol for religious celebrations and he noted that he does not like the way it makes him feel. He did, on his own (after listening to a celebrity he respects talk about addiction), compare his OCD to an addiction. He said that his obsessions create a craving for his drug, which are his compulsions. I think that was a wise observation on his part. Although, reading Karen’s comments, above, I’m sure it would not feel good to have someone compare your OCD to an addiction. I think, for Blake, it was just a useful comparison at the time.

    • Thanks for sharing, Angie. Blake has so much insight into his OCD; it’s really amazing! Glad to hear he doesn’t plan to drink or use drugs. One less thing to worry about :).

  3. Paul says:

    After reading Karen’s comments about her husband’s “thoughts on OCD”, I very much want to share my experience of how OCD affected my marriage. If you don’t find this helpful Karen, then please just ignore me. I do not mean to pry into your personal life. I just want to share (with ALL the readers of this wonderful blog) how OCD impacted my marriage:

    When I was diagnosed, my (now ex) was very supportive in that she stayed by my side when I was barely able to function. She was very strong about it and I give her a lot of credit for that. We did not have children, but she basically had to “run the household” by herself for the better part of 10 years. Looking back, I realize I was so overwhelmed by trying to hold onto my job and participate in treatment that I didn’t have enough energy left to support HER life and her needs. I did my best, but it wasn’t enough. She stuck it out for those 10 years before saying: “I just can’t do this any more.” We divorced 16 years ago, and I’m grateful to say I have improved perhaps 50 or 60% since then, but my OCD symptoms are still moderate to severe. I also do NOT blame my ex for leaving. She did what she had to do to protect herself and to search for more happiness.

    So what is my point here? It is this: When my wife asked for a divorce, she (finally) told me that she did not believe in mental health problems at all. She said I simply was not strong enough to defeat OCD via “mind over matter”. When I heard those words I simply could not believe it. I’m surprised I didn’t pass out. She had hidden this opinion about mental health issues from me for all those years and was just waiting for me to “toughen up.” Looking back I realized that I had missed something very important. She supported me by waiting for me to get better and by carrying a huge workload, but she REFUSED to participate in my treatment by going in to see my psychologist either with me or by herself. I was SO ill at the time that I just accepted that she wasn’t interested in working on “family counseling”. It never occurred to me to ask her WHY she felt that way.

    And that is basically my experience with OCD and marriage. All I can say is that if you suffer from this nasty disease and your spouse shows signs of “not getting it”, I believe you need to keep a close eye on how “healthy” your marriage is. I’ve had people ask me how I could have possibly missed the signs that she was in trouble. My answer is simply that she was THAT GOOD at hiding her true feelings. Since my own divorce, I have met others who have had similar experiences. Therefore I do not believe my story is one of a kind.

    I hope these words are helpful to someone out there.

    Thanks for “listening.”


    • Thanks for sharing, Paul, and I’m sorry to hear you went through such tough times in addition to your OCD. There certainly are people out there who do not believe that OCD is a real illness and I appreciate your insight.

  4. I’m totally with your son about alcohol! I don’t drink at all. I think at first it was because I wasn’t 21 and feared breaking rules, but now I think it’s mainly because I like to control what I can. When so few things are in our control why willingly give some up?

  5. 34 years old and have never had a drink!

    I have a very obsessive and addictive personality, plus a lot of family history of alcohol abuse. Better for me to never start. 🙂

  6. I’ve observed that highly anxious people turn to stimulants (like coffee) more than alcohol, perhaps as a way of trying to control things more. Of course, the stimulants deplete coping resources and make things worse in the long run. As Eckhart Tolle says, “addiction is an unconscious refusal to face and move through your own pain.” This is the epitome of OCD, so yes there is a connection.

    • Thanks for your insightful comment, Dustin, and I appreciate your view. I guess it comes down to “facing your fears” which, as you say, is a big part of OCD. Thank you for sharing and I hope to hear from you again,

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