OCD and Alcohol

We will give you the support and guidance you need to get started on the road of long-term recovery.

Get Help with Addiction Treatment

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that can occur at any age. It is often developed after a traumatic event and results from people needing to feel safe or in control. OCD concerns a combination of obsessive thoughts and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted images, intrusive thoughts, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are the repetitive behaviors people engage in to relieve painful thoughts. These rigid thoughts and behaviors disrupt a person’s life and can interfere with work, relationships, and daily functioning. Sometimes, people may just have obsessive thoughts and not compulsive behavior.

For many people, having these thoughts and behaviors makes them feel trapped and powerless and interferes with more than just mood. To cope, many people may turn to using alcohol to numb, distract, or avoid the events triggering the OCD symptoms.

Let’s learn more about OCD, the risks of using alcohol, and treatment for this dual diagnosis.

If you or someone you love has been struggling with an alcohol-use disorder and mental illness, Guardian Recovery is available to help. Our recovery program tackles all existing conditions simultaneously, assisting clients in maintaining recovery for years to come. Our dedicated and compassionate team of professionals has combined decades of experience in alcohol abuse and mental health and developed a comprehensive and highly individualized recovery program. If you want to learn more about your recovery options, please contact us today.

Start Healing Today!

Choose recovery and take control of your life, it’s the path to a brighter future filled with health, happiness, and fulfillment.

How Does Alcohol Worsen Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Many people use alcohol to cope with stress, improve sleep, and induce relaxation. However, as we have discovered, alcohol often worsens anxiety, sleep, and coping abilities.

Alcohol worsens OCD symptoms for numerous reasons. The first being alcohol interferes with serotonin levels. When a person has normal levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, people feel emotionally balanced and stable. However, when a person receives too much serotonin, psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression can occur.

Research indicates that people with OCD have reduced serotonin transmitters and a reduced capacity for serotonin uptake, which means people with OCD have trouble regulating serotonin in the brain. Alcohol increases serotonin levels, producing a giddy, excitable feeling when drinking. Suppose a person’s brain has trouble regulating and balancing the amount of serotonin. In that case, one may have too much serotonin in the brain from alcohol which leads to increased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and emotional instability.

Additionally, low serotonin levels have been linked to alcohol use disorder in people, and people with OCD have been found to develop an alcohol use disorder after OCD symptoms emerge. In addition to alcohol impacting serotonin levels, it also is known as a central nervous system depressant because it interacts with a neurotransmitter called GABA and slows down activity in the brain related to breathing, thinking, moving, and balancing. Once the body rebounds from this effect, increased anxiety and OCD symptoms may be triggered.

Risks of Using Alcohol to Cope With OCD

In addition to alcohol worsening OCD symptoms, there are other risks of using alcohol to cope with OCD. There are increased feelings of shame, increased emotional instability, increased alcohol dependence and worsening alcohol addiction, and possible negative substance interactions if a person takes medication for their OCD.

Research has shown that specific OCD disorders, particularly those associated with skin picking, hair pulling, and hoarding, feelings of shame are significantly high. This increase in shame may lead to maladaptive coping, resulting in increased alcohol use. When alcohol use is increased, this dependence may lead to emotional instability, and further problems may result. A cycle of emotional dysfunction, shame, and alcohol dependency may emerge, intensifying mood disorders, behavioral dysregulation, and issues generalizing to other areas of a person’s life.

Another important thing a person must do if they have OCD and are using alcohol to cope is to be aware of possible medication interactions with alcohol. Common drugs prescribed to treat OCD include Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. If alcohol and antidepressants are mixed, there can be adverse side effects.

Adverse Side Effects of Alcohol & Prozac: 

  • Increased anxiety and depressive symptoms.
  • Reduced attentiveness and response time.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Amplified effects of alcohol.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, is an evidence-based therapy that helps clients identify and change self-destructive thinking patterns. Most men and women who struggle with alcohol use disorder experience automatic negative thoughts, which often contribute to symptoms of anxiety and depression. A wide range of proven strategies is employed as part of CBT, all geared towards helping clients identify negative thinking patterns and ultimately challenge and change these thoughts, replacing them with more constructive and objective ideas.

Complimentary Insurance Check
Find Out Today!

"*" indicates required fields

Name

Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder & Alcohol Addiction

There are evidence-based therapies found to treat OCD effectively. This, and a combination of antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil, has increased success in reducing OCD symptoms. Research indicates that 7/10 people will benefit from medication and therapy for their OCD, and with treatment, people can expect to see a reduction of their symptoms by 40-60%.

Evidence-based therapeutic interventions found to be successful in treating OCD are cognitive behavioral therapyexposure and response prevention, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, is an evidence-based therapy that helps clients identify and change self-destructive thinking patterns. Most men and women who struggle with alcohol use disorder experience automatic negative thoughts, which often contribute to symptoms of anxiety and depression. A wide range of proven strategies is employed as part of CBT, all geared towards helping clients identify negative thinking patterns and ultimately challenge and change these thoughts, replacing them with more constructive and objective ideas.

Exposure and Response Prevention

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. It is a highly successful protocol designed to manage the intrusive thoughts and behavioral rituals associated with OCD. Exposure includes facing intrusive thoughts or fears that trigger intense anxiety and fear. Examples may include holding a piece of trash or drinking milk a day after it has expired if a person has a contamination phobia. The response consists of finding new coping skills other than engaging in the compulsion to reduce feelings of anxiety. Systematically desensitizing the triggering events and replacing behaviors can help retrain one’s brain to improve coping and prevent further OCD symptoms from developing.

EMDR

As mentioned earlier, OCD is a disorder that can often develop after a traumatic event. According to the Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, this therapeutic method was first developed in 1987 to treat men and women with post-traumatic stress disorder. This client-centered therapy involves bilateral stimulation and eye movements to help clients process trauma in a non-verbal manner. Clients briefly focus on traumatic memories and simultaneously undergo bilateral stimulation, effectively reducing the emotional discomfort associated with the painful memory. Not only are there specific protocols of EMDR specific for alcohol use disorder and addiction, but there are also protocols that have been designed and studied to treat OCD effectively.

Additionally, if alcohol use disorder is a problem, a person must seek treatment for their dual diagnosis. At Guardian Recovery, we treat various dual-diagnosis disorders, including OCD and anxiety.

Guardian Recovery Dual Diagnosis Program Services: 

  • Psychiatric assessments upon admission.
  • Individual, group, and family therapy.
  • One-on-one sessions with an on-staff psychiatrist.
  • Medication management services.
  • Informational workshops exploring the connection between substance abuse and mental health.
  • A focus on life skills and healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Relapse prevention training that applies to both mental health concerns and substance dependence.

Our Locations 

Our Facilities & Teams Transform Lives

Changing lives by providing comprehensive support and rehabilitation, empowering individuals to overcome addiction and regain control of their health and well-being.

Contact Us to Learn More

Do you, or a loved one, have OCD and an alcohol use disorder? At Guardian Recovery, we offer comprehensive and highly specialized clinical services geared towards helping men and women of all ages and all walks of life overcome long-term substance abuse and mental illness. Contact us today to learn more about our dual diagnosis program, begin your healing journey, or help your loved one get started. You don’t have to navigate this alone. Call today for a free, no-obligation insurance benefit check and learn more about how we can help.

SELF-ASSESSMENT:

Do I have an Addiction issue?

Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00702-007-0785-6
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826824/#:~:text=Summary,of%20specific%20serotonin%20receptor%20proteins.
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4252512/
  5. https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/ocd-treatment/meds/#:~:text=About%207%20out%20of%2010,as%20directed%20by%20their%20doctor.
  6. https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/ocd-treatment/erp/
  7. https://connect.springerpub.com/content/sgremdr/1/2/68

Get Local Help

Helpful, Recovery
Resources

Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

More About Author
Guardian Recovery

Check Insurance Coverage

Find out today what options are available to you. Fill out the form below.

Do it for YOU, Do it for LOVED ones

Live a BRIGHTER Future Today!

Guardian Recovery is here to assist you in your journey of healing.

Do it for YOU, Do it for LOVED ones

Live a BRIGHTER Future Today!

Guardian Recovery is here to assist you in your journey of healing.

Do it for YOU, Do it for LOVED ones

Contact Alumni Services Today!

Guardian Recovery is here to assist you in your journey of healing after coming to one of our facilities.

Your Name

Stay in touch ALUMNI

Join our alumni newsletter to get up to date information on events, news, and more.

Name

Personalize Your Experience

Allow us to guide you to the information your looking for.

Begin HEALING Today

Check Insurance Coverage

Find out today what options are available to you. Fill out the form below.

Do it for YOU, Do it for LOVED ones

24/7 Help: (888) 693-1872