Managing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in Recovery

Individuals sometimes use substances to cope with co-occurring disorders like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Another common mental health condition many individuals struggle with is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Struggling with OCD may cause you to use drugs or alcohol to manage symptoms. For that reason, a significant amount of time in treatment may have been spent learning to cope with OCD and your struggle with substance use disorder (SUD).

Perhaps you are experiencing cravings and triggers now that you have returned to your life post-treatment. That is entirely normal. Readjusting to everyday life is a transitional period that takes some getting used to. Treatment will have hopefully prepared you for the challenges life will present. However, managing co-occurring disorders requires dual diagnosis care. Hopefully, you received a dual diagnosis and proper treatment in response while in treatment. If not, there are ways for you to manage your SUD and OCD simultaneously in recovery. Doing so is vital to your long-term recovery prospects.

What Is OCD?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes OCD as a "common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable reoccurring thoughts" or obsessions accompanied by behaviors or compulsions that the person feels "the urge to repeat over and over." Individuals repeat actions in the hope of trying to make intrusive thoughts — obsessions — go away. These thoughts or compulsions can be upsetting or even harmful, making it difficult to function day-to-day. 

Some obsessions are banal, while others may be or become intense and severe. Common examples include handwashing due to a fear of germs, counting, cleaning, checking on things like light switches, or constantly checking that the oven is off. The cause of OCD remains unknown, although several factors are recognized as risks for its development, such as a family history of OCD. Some researchers believe certain brain circuits function improperly in individuals with OCD. 

It can be challenging to recognize the symptoms of OCD within yourself. However, there are signs and symptoms you can be on the lookout for. The NIMH divides these symptoms into two categories: compulsions and obsessions. 

Signs and Symptoms of OCD

The NIMH defines obsessions as "repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety." They list typical obsessions in individuals with OCD as follows: 

  • A fear of germs, getting sick, or contamination 
  • Taboo thoughts about things like sex, religion, or harm 
  • Experiencing aggressive thoughts toward yourself or others 
  • Needing to have things symmetrical or in a specific order 

Additionally, the NIMH defines compulsions as "repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD feels the urge to do in response to an obsessive thought." Common compulsions among people with OCD may include: 

  • Excessive cleaning and handwashing 
  • Arranging things in a specific order 
  • Constantly checking on things, such as checking to see if light switches and ovens are off and doors are locked 
  • Compulsive counting 

Now, some of these obsessions and compulsions seem mundane. We all have little quirks or strong desires that are difficult to control from time to time. However, an individual with OCD can not control their thoughts and actions. They spend a significant amount of time obsessing over things, resulting in anxiety that can only be assuaged by completing the compulsion. These individuals also frequently struggle to function in their daily lives. This can ultimately impact their relationships, work, and other areas. 

Treating Your OCD

Unfortunately, OCD has no cure, though it can be managed through medications and psychotherapies. The most effective OCD treatment is often a combination of both. Medications reduce symptoms, while psychotherapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you manage symptoms and teach healthy coping skills.

Some people may wonder if OCD medications are right for them if they struggle with SUD. Unfortunately, there is no right or wrong answer to that question. That is dependent on each circumstance. Talk to your doctor or treatment team to discuss the right route for you regarding medication and recovery.

SUD and Co-Occurring Disorders

After spending time in treatment, you may be weary about taking medications to manage your OCD symptoms. This is a valid concern, which is why dual diagnosis is necessary. A dual diagnosis considers any other co-occurring conditions you may have upon entering a rehab facility. That way, your treatment can be tailored to your unique circumstance and include effective coping techniques to manage your co-occurring disorder. 

You may or may not have already experienced challenges threatening your newfound recovery. Whether or not you had a dual diagnosis at your treatment facility, you can manage your OCD symptoms while in recovery. 

Managing Your Symptoms in Recovery

The best way to start managing your OCD symptoms while in recovery is by identifying your red flags or triggers. Chances are, you know what triggers your obsessive thoughts, which lead to compulsive behaviors. If you can identify your triggers, you can work through them to stop obsessions and compulsions in their tracks.

Another way to manage your symptoms is by attending therapy. This will help you with your OCD symptoms and maintain your sobriety. It is also critical to be open with your support network. When compulsive thoughts seem never-ending, and you feel the urge to cope with substance use, tell a sponsor or friend immediately. They can help you through those challenging times and aid you in your recovery journey. 

Maintaining recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) can be challenging in and of itself. Throw in a co-occurring disorder; it can seem more daunting to maintain long-term sobriety. Nevertheless, it is possible to handle mental illness symptoms in recovery. One co-occurring disorder some people may struggle with is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is characterized by experiencing uncontrollable thoughts and behaviors. These obsessions and compulsions can be so debilitating that it causes you to cope with substance use which leads to dependency. You can manage your OCD symptoms while in recovery by attending therapy, recognizing triggers, and being honest with your support network. For support managing OCD in recovery, contact NorthStar Transitions at (303) 558-6400

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