Alcohol Use Disorder & OCD | Dual Diagnosis Risks & Treatment
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are commonly seen as co-occurring disorders. Some medical professionals estimate about 24% of people who had an OCD diagnosis will also struggle with an alcohol use disorder at some point in their lives.
Individuals with a dual diagnosis may have more severe mental health issues compared to those without. They may also be at a higher risk for physical health effects, such as alcohol poisoning.
More research may be needed to find the relationship between AUD and OCD. While treatment programs exist for both mental health disorders, the number of people who actually seek treatment may still be below.
Symptoms Of Co-Occurring OCD & Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol use disorders are characterized by an inability to stop drinking alcohol, even at the cost of your health. Binge drinking and long-term alcohol dependency are often seen in people with AUD.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder includes symptoms of persistent and unwanted thoughts, repetitive behaviors that feel urgent, and engaging in “tics” or small, repetitive movements.
OCD is likely diagnosed during childhood or adolescence. Alcohol use disorders are commonly seen in adults, though diagnoses in teenagers are also possible. A person with both conditions may have symptoms such as:
- symptoms of OCD that are worse than usual
- constantly avoiding social activities
- suicidal ideation
- reduced functioning (physically, mentally, socially)
Risk Factors For A Dual Diagnosis Of OCD & AUD
Some medical studies have suggested that AUD and OCD share similar systems, and even affect patients similarly. Both conditions have been linked to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which controls reward systems in the brain.
These similarities may also play a part in the risk factors associated with both conditions.
Genetic links may be a risk factor for both alcohol abuse and OCD. Family members who have a history of alcohol abuse can put you at a higher risk for alcohol use disorder. The same may be true for OCD.
Preexisting Mental Health Conditions
Many mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorders, and other forms of drug addiction have comorbidity with alcohol use disorder.
Drinking alcohol may be a coping mechanism for people with OCD as a way to “escape” their anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and other symptoms. While there is no evidence that drinking alcohol can cause OCD, the effects of alcohol can make symptoms of OCD worse.
A history of childhood trauma is linked to a higher risk of both AUD and OCD later in life.
Treatment Options For Co-Occurring Alcohol Addiction & OCD
There are few dual diagnosis treatments for comorbid alcohol use disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Despite some evidence that both disorders may affect your mental health similarly, more research and testing may be needed to find dual treatment.
Treatments that exist are likely to target the individual disorder. A treatment plan for comorbid AUD and OCD may involve one or more of these methods at the same time.
Exposure & Response Prevention
Exposure and response prevention, or ERP, is a form of behavioral therapy that helps patients manage their obsessive and intrusive thoughts.
It usually involves exposing an individual to a triggering situation but preventing them from going through with compulsive behaviors that are likely to follow.
One example of an ERP session may include a patient who has an obsessive fear of germs, putting them in a “dirty” situation and preventing compulsive hand washing.
The goal of ERP is to reduce a patient’s anxiety by showing them that catastrophic events will most likely not happen, even if they do not carry out their compulsions.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant that may be prescribed to treat OCD symptoms. For alcohol use disorder, naltrexone (an opioid antagonist) can reduce cravings and chances of a relapse.
Talking to your doctor or a treatment provider can help you find out if medication is the right treatment option for you.
Psychotherapy & Support Groups
Many forms of psychotherapy have been used to treat both disorders. This form of therapy involves teaching coping skills, identifying triggers that may lead to relapse or compulsive behavior, and finding the motivation to recover or quit.
Support groups are often used by people trying to recover from alcohol addiction. Support groups are shown to help prevent relapse in many cases. The most well-known support group for alcoholism is Alcoholics Anonymous, though many other groups exist for the same purpose.
To work out a treatment program that is best for you or a loved one, talk to your healthcare professional or contact us today.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
National Institute of Mental Health - Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
PubMed Central - Compulsivity in Alcohol Use Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Implications for Neuromodulation
PubMed Central - Substance Use Disorders in an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinical Sample
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