What is OCD?
OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is an anxiety related mental illness in which a person has unwanted, uncontrollable, recurring thoughts, and performs ritualised behaviours. These thoughts and behaviours become so excessive in nature that they start interfering with one’s daily life. Often, these thoughts are irrational but a person suffering from OCD will not be able to resist thinking about them all the time. Most of these thoughts cause unwanted fear and anxiety in the person. Hand washing, cleaning, organising, and counting items are few of the behaviours a person compulsively does all the time if they suffer from this disease. Some people believe that if they don’t carry out these tasks, someone near them will be harmed. Performing these tasks gives the person relief. But this is only short lived for panic and anxiety return soon after they stop, sometimes even stronger.
Some of these common symptoms include:
■ Constant fear of germs/dirt
■ Wanting things to be in a particular/perfect order
■ Excessive cleaning
■ Repeatedly checking on things (checking if the gas stove is off, etc.)
■ Obsession with numbers that are considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’
■ Counting compulsively
■ Fear of falling sick/loved ones getting sick
■ Fear of being harmed/loved ones being harmed
■ Unwanted taboo thoughts involving religion or sex.
■ Aggressive thoughts towards self or others.
Why do OCD patients turn to alcohol/drugs, and why is this combination so dangerous?
It is common for people with OCD to turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. When someone is anxious or scared, drugs or alcohol can make them feel that they are free from their obsessive thoughts. Unfortunately, these thoughts come back right after the effects of these substances wear off. In-fact, a lot of illegal drugs can worsen the symptoms of OCD, allowing this illness to completely control a person’s life.
Having OCD will interfere with almost every part of a person’s life. It will become extremely tough for them to maintain personal relationships, their job, and to follow hobbies that they are passionate about. They might also face clinical anxiety, paranoia, depression, and eating disorders. On top of this, if they use drugs or alcohol to self medicate, they will most likely face the following emotional and social consequences of substance addiction:
■ Financial difficulties
■ Loss of interest in activities that used to be interesting
■ Depression and anxiety
■ Fatigue and weakness
■ A need to hide addiction from friends or employers
■ Risk-taking behaviors
■ Thoughts of suicide
What about treatment?
People with OCD live with it for years before they decide to get it treated. All this while, they may have used alcohol or drugs to help them overcome the symptoms. The sooner OCD is detected, the sooner sufferers and their family can start addressing the obsessive thoughts and behaviours with appropriate treatment instead of using illegal substances.
The occurrence of both the disorders in the same person makes treatment challenging. OCD patients find it very difficult to focus and are often very restless and fidgety. Hence, they would need need shorter therapy sessions. They might feel very nervous to be a part of group therapy sessions since not every patient who comes for therapy would be suffering from both of the illnesses.
In such cases, a dual diagnosis procedure should be applied, in which patients must receive specialised care from professionals who understand how these two illnesses overlap and react with each other. Those who suffer from substance abuse and OCD will rarely speak up about their situation, so the involvement of friends and family is crucial. Intervention is very necessary for these patients to get the help they need.