When we think of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), many of us think of one of the most well-known rituals associated with the condition. A person who is obsessed with germs will wash their hands repetitively, to the point that their hands become dry and painful. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can take many forms outside of this stereotypical behavior.
According to the International OCD Foundation, an obsession is a thought that occurs repetitively and outside the control of the individual experiencing the thought. It can also be an impulse – a desire to do something – or it can be an image. Another aspect of compulsion is that the person does not enjoy the compulsion, rather they find it disturbing or they simply can’t understand it. He or she may experience discomfort or even fear associated with the compulsion. For instance, an individual may feel a compulsion to open and shut the door a certain number of times before locking it to prevent a home invasion. While it is normal – particularly if one lives in a high crime area – to ensure one’s doors are locked, the repetitive behavior or ritual that takes place in this example indicates that a condition may exist.
Other common obsessions include:
- Fear of harming oneself or family members due to carelessness
- Fear that one’s actions will determine whether something horrible happens
- Fear of offending God
- Fear that one will forget crucial information
The actions that one takes to relieve the anxiety produced by the obsession are known as compulsions. Having a routine can be a healthy practice, according to Psychology Today. Waking up every morning at the same time, fixing a cup of coffee, taking a shower and brushing one’s teeth may become rituals, or habits, if an individual completes these actions at the same time every day in the same order. This does not indicate a problem, because it does not cause disturbances or alleviate anxiety to such an extreme as one might experience if he did suffer from OCD. However, a problem might exist if one believes catastrophic repercussions will occur if they are out of coffee grounds and cannot include this aspect of their morning ritual.
How Is Drug Use Associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Research published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine indicates that there is a correlation between obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance use disorder. In the course of their research on the prevalence of drug abuse among individuals suffering from OCD, 70 percent of individuals who suffered from both conditions stated that the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder came before their substance use disorder.
For just a moment, picture yourself in the position of someone who might suffer from OCD. Every day, several times each day, you are assaulted by horrible thoughts and anxiety. If you don’t complete a certain task, your world will be destroyed. If you don’t wash your hands one more time, you will contract a horrible disease. If you don’t get out of bed to check the windows one more time, someone will come into our home and steal your children. This is a frightening way to live.
Some individuals may not realize that this is a legitimate condition or that treatments are available. They only know that they want relief from the pressure and anxiety that haunts them every day. The use of prescription drugs may relieve some of this anxiety. While there are prescription medications available, if an individual does not seek the help they need, they may resort to using illicit drugs instead.
Dangers of Unsupervised Drug Use Associated With OCD
The process of obtaining a prescription to treat any kind of condition is rather involved. According to an article from CNN, doctors take into account the fact that their patients are either emotionally or physically unwell when they interpret the answers to questions posed during the diagnostic process. Doctors generally will not even prescribe medications to their own family members because their emotional attachment to the patient – their spouse or child – can cloud their judgment concerning dosages or the types of medication to prescribe.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has established a system that should be used prior to prescribing medications to anyone. These parameters are in place to ensure against later problems that might come from this diagnosis, misuse of the drugs, or even drug interactions.
These parameters include:
- Establish what is wrong with the patient.
- Determine what is hoped to be achieved by the medication.
- Choose the right drug to prescribe.
- Be specific as to how the drug should be used.
- Consider alternatives to medication or additional treatment options that do not include medication.
- Provide the patient with all the available information, including instructions and warnings about abuse potential.
- Consistently revisit the dosages of the medication as well as whether or not the desired outcome has been reached
It is also important to have a working and thorough knowledge of the patient’s possible allergic reactions to certain medications, as well as what other drugs he or she may be taking to avoid significant and sometimes life-threatening combinations.
In the case of illicit drug abuse, the individual taking the drugs has avoided the diagnostic process altogether. Someone suffering from OCD may have heard through the grapevine that doctors like to prescribe Xanax, for instance. He or she may have a friend who receives this prescription, but the friend always has leftover pills each month and doesn’t mind sharing. The person who is suffering from the symptoms of OCD in this example can take too much of the drug. For instance, he or she may have experienced relief with half the small dosage they are taking illicitly. As tolerance develops, they may increase their dose in order to get the same kind of relief. Ultimately, they may find that the euphoric feelings are pleasurable side effects of the drug so they take even more of the drug to maintain them. Had they gone to a doctor to obtain this same medication, they would have been educated on the addictive properties of the drug in order to avoid this end result.
Treatment Should Involve More Than Medication
Those who choose to use illicit drugs to treat their OCD symptoms robs themselves of a variety of additional treatment methods that have been shown to be effective. ABC News has reported that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help individuals overcome their obsessions and compulsions by retraining them in how they interpret their world. Exposure therapy, or presenting real-world situations that create anxiety and discomfort in a specific individual, can help them increase their tolerance for the activity. For instance, someone who is terrified of germs might be asked to repeatedly touch something they fear – the handle of an escalator or the door of a public restroom – without washing their hands immediately afterward. The overall goal of this type of therapy is for the individual to learn new and better ways to handle stress in life.
Once an individual has turned to drugs or alcohol to alleviate the symptoms of OCD, addiction may have already taken hold. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is also used for the treatment of some types of drug addiction, which can be a benefit when treating the two conditions simultaneously.
Treatment for Both Drug Use and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
If someone you love has resorted to using drugs to alleviate the symptoms of OCD, simply treating the addiction has been shown to be ineffective. Certainly, an individual can refrain from abusing drugs while they are in a rehab setting, but if the OCD is left unchecked, the chances of them returning to illicit drug use is higher. They will still experience the anxiety and shame associated with OCD, and this may cause them to return to substance abuse after rehab. By utilizing available treatments for OCD at the same time one addresses the addiction disorder, the reasons the individual used drugs in the first place might be addressed.
If you’d like more information on treatment for substance abuse and OCD, call us here at The Oaks at La Paloma. We can answer any questions you may have and help you find care that will work for your unique circumstances.