Naturally treatment for addiction is complicated by the presence of an overwhelming mental health condition like OCD. But as long as the treatment program is tailored to include all aspects of a patient’s dual diagnosis, lasting sobriety is achievable—along with a dramatic reduction in the disabling symptoms of OCD.

In our co-occurring disorder treatment program at FootPrints BHC we’ve helped many men and women get back on their feet again after a dual diagnosis of chemical dependency and OCD. If you or someone you love is caught in the vise of this potent combination, we can help end the torment once and for all.


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What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

The intensity and depth of OCD can vary significantly from person to person. In its most serious form OCD inflicts misery on its victims; if they try to ignore their urges the anguish they feel can be absolutely overwhelming.

A man or woman suffering from OCD is plagued by mostly irrational fears, ideas, insecurities and impulses, which manifest as obsessions they can neither resist nor abandon. The thoughts and images running through their heads are unwanted and incredibly distracting, but the harder they try to push them away the more insistently they come back, many time stronger than ever.

Out of these obsessions grow compulsive behaviors that provide momentary relief and comfort. These actions are usually repetitive or ritualistic and often seem completely pointless. But from the perspective of the OCD sufferer they are like scratching an irresistible itch, and they become convinced these actions are necessary to prevent terrible things from happening. The compulsions of someone with OCD are very much like superstitions, although their roots run much deeper and they tend to be far more persistent.


A fully integrated treatment program is the only appropriate form of rehabilitation for a person with a dual diagnosis of substance abuse and OCD.

– Nick Russie, Co-Founder


The Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD is easier to recognize than many forms of mental illness. Its symptoms are so distinctive they are hard to confuse with anything else.

If you have developed obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may be haunted by:

  • Constant concerns about dirt and bacterial contamination.
  • A fear that negative thoughts or emotions will cause harm in the real world.
  • Extreme discomfort when confronted by any type of disorder or disorganization.
  • Worries that you’ll miss or need items most people would throw away.
  • Endless feelings of responsibility for the health, welfare and safety of others.
  • Unpleasant and unwanted thoughts of a sexual or criminal nature, accompanied by fears that someday you’ll do something immoral or improper.
  • Doubts about everything and everyone, and a lack trust in others and in yourself.
  • Concern that you’ve forgotten to do something important and that disaster will strike soon as a result.


From these types of obsessive thoughts compulsive behaviors will inevitably emerge. When this happens you may find yourself repeatedly:

  • Washing your hands, taking baths or cleaning and re-cleaning household items. If it’s capable of being cleaned you may develop a powerful urge to clean it over and over again
  • Checking doors to see if they’re locked, stoves to see if they’ve been turned off, keys to see if they’re still in your pocket and so on
  • Calling, texting or emailing loved ones to confirm they are safe and sound
  • Performing rituals that are random or trivial but somehow seem vitally important
  • Re-organizing, re-arranging or straightening certain objects or collections of objects frequently, maybe several a day
  • Counting items everywhere or adding countdowns or numerical references to your daily activities, even when doing so is unnecessary and a waste of time
  • Carrying out odd routines in your mind to protect yourself or your loved ones, or to preserve order in the universe


There are many variations on these themes, but if you or someone you know suffers from OCD the overall pattern is undoubtedly familiar.

Many people manifest a few of these symptoms without actually having clinical-level OCD, so no final diagnosis can be made without the involvement of a trained professional. If you do have OCD it may be mild to moderate to severe, depending on how many symptoms you experience and how big of an effect they have on your thinking and behavior.

Why Do Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Substance Abuse Occur Together?

A few theories have been offered to explain why people with OCD are vulnerable to chemical dependency.

The most common assumption is that when victims of OCD don’t get psychological help for their conditions they may try to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. At least in the short-term these substances may allow OCD sufferers to escape from their inner torment and uncontrollable compulsions.

Demographics may also play a role in the association. Onset of OCD most frequently occurs around the age of 18-20, and coincidentally this is also when young people begin to experiment more heavily with alcohol and drugs. In these circumstances the fall into substance abuse for an OCD victim may come rather quickly and easily, with peer influence as a contributing factor.

Another problem is that people with OCD often end up alone and isolated because of their compulsive behavior, and loneliness and the depression they experience as a result may predispose them to drug and alcohol abuse. This is yet another form of self-medication, and when you’re isolated you may not have anyone around who knows and understands you and can warn you when your use of drugs and alcohol start tipping into the danger zone.

Why Must OCD and Substance Abuse Be Treated Together?

Treatment for addiction is always based, at least partly, on the assumption that deep emotional issues lie at the root of a substance abuse disorder. This is clearly true when OCD has been diagnosed, and an addiction recovery regimen that didn’t acknowledge and provide comprehensive treatment for a co-occurring obsessive-compulsive disorder would not be effective.

If the core causes of substance abuse are not tackled head on, relapse is virtually certain. At the same time even if it were possible to treat chemical dependency while leaving OCD unaddressed doing so would be a disservice to the patient, whose goal entering rehab is to return healthy and whole to a normal life.

The side effects of substance abuse tend to mimic those of mental illness in many instances, but that is not the case with OCD, which is a distinctive condition with clear warning signs. This makes it easier for a mental health professional to diagnose OCD even when chemical dependency is co-occurring.

Statistics on OCD and Substance Abuse


Approximately 5.7 million men and women in the United States currently suffer from bipolar disorder. This represents 2.6 percent of the adult population.

– National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)



56 percent of those who’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder have experienced substance abuse issues, and 46 percent of the people in this group have been addicted to alcohol.

– American Journal of Managed Care



Four million American adults have co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders, and among this group less than 50 percent have ever received treatment for either of these conditions.

– Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)


Our OCD/Substance Abuse Dual Diagnosis Treatment Program

Few treatment centers are as well prepared to help you overcome the debilitating effects of a dual diagnosis as FootPrints BHC. By adding life-renewing holistic healing methods to the traditional recovery menu, we’ve created a substance abuse treatment program that is flexible and adaptable and can be easily expanded to include intervention for mental illness when necessary.

When you undergo treatment for chemical dependency and OCD simultaneously, you will have a lot on your plate and that is unavoidable. But with our specially customized, integrated treatment program the merging of the two halves of your recovery regimen will be smooth and seamless. In your instructional classes, support groups and therapy sessions you’ll receive the targeted, multi-dimensional assistance you desperately need, as you learn to cope with OCD and overcome your drug or alcohol abuse dependency.

In OCD treatment programs cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven effective for thought and behavior modification. Your recovery team at FootPrints BHC includes addiction counselors and mental health professionals with extensive CBT experience, and we can teach you how to control the extremes of your condition and regain your freedom to choose—which includes the freedom to stay clean and sober.

Medication is often included in treatment regimens for OCD, and in some instances you may also use medication to help moderate your withdrawal from drugs and alcohol. But regardless of your personal circumstances, your daily consumption of medication will be tracked and monitored for maximum effectiveness and safety. We take great care when dispensing pharmaceutical drugs, to make sure they only help you recover.

In addition to traditional services our holistic health practices are ideal for the restoration of mental and emotional balance, which is vitally important to anyone working through issues with OCD and substance abuse. Throughout the recovery process we’ll provide ample instruction and guidance in these areas, and in all others, as we help you develop life skills and coping abilities that will help you reimagine and reinvent a future free from domination by your co-occurring disorders.

Medications for OCD

Treatment for OCD normally includes a combination of therapy and medication. Antidepressants have shown an ability to help some sufferers manage their OCD symptoms, although they do have strong side effects (weight gain, nausea, drowsiness, insomnia, nausea and sexual dysfunction) and are not right for everyone.

The list of antidepressants most frequently prescribed for adults with OCD includes:

  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Fluvoxamine (Luvox CR)
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)

These drugs effectively reduce the symptoms of OCD in about two-thirds of all cases. They do take some time to work, however—relief from the symptoms of OCD usually comes after two or three months of regular consumption. From that point on the drugs will continue to be administered for another six months to a year before being discontinued.

How Family Members and Friends Can Help

When someone you care about shows symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, your frustration may get the better of you. Instead of being supportive you may lash out at them in anger and impatience—which is understandable, but with OCD it can be especially destructive.

You can contribute to your loved one’s healing by staying positive and hopeful, without offering “constructive” criticism. You should be patient and tolerant when they’re performing their rituals; it is possible to be understanding in these situations without encouraging or enabling unwelcome behavior. It’s all a delicate balancing act, but if you are calm and loving and can keep your cool you can be a powerful force for change in your friend or family member’s life.

A substance abuse disorder is a difficult complication, but it won’t alter an OCD sufferer’s need for positive energy. In fact it will only increase that need. From family therapy through aftercare you can be there making a difference, letting that special person know that despite your frustration and disappointment your love and support is unconditional.




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