OCD & Alcohol Addiction | Symptoms, Risk Factors, & Treatment

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on July 29, 2023

Mental health disorders like OCD can lead to the development of alcohol use disorder (AUD). Personalized dual diagnosis treatment takes both of these conditions into consideration during recovery, improving treatment outcomes as well as long-term health and wellbeing.

OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a prevalent but sometimes mischaracterized mental health condition that affects as many as 2.3% of US adults in their lifetimes. 

OCD is characterized by intrusive thoughts, obsessions, and compulsive behavior that can severely impact overall well-being and quality of life. This may cause a person to use the effects of alcohol to temporarily relieve these thoughts and urges. 

However, self-medicating through alcohol abuse can lead to the development of an alcohol use disorder and a whole host of severe long-term negative psychological and physical health effects, as well as a more nuanced recovery process.

Symptoms Of OCD

OCD symptoms can vary widely from person to person and, depending on the situation, a person may or may not realize that their obsessions and compulsions are excessive or irrational. 

However, symptoms may severely interfere with the person’s daily life, time management, and personal wellness, especially in severe cases.

Symptoms of OCD are defined by obsessions and/or compulsions.


Obsessions are persistent, intense, unwanted thoughts, fixations, mental images, or urges that generate distress, insecurity, disgust, fear, and other negative emotions. 

Common examples include contamination (germs), a fixation on order and symmetry, religious taboos, sexual fixations, or self-harm.


Compulsions often develop in response to these obsessions and involve some form of ritualistic behavior, often a repetitive behavior, that a person performs to try to satisfy and relieve their obsessive thoughts and anxieties. 

Examples can include hand washing, cleaning, organizing, hoarding, praying, touching specific items, researching, and more.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a pattern of excessive alcohol consumption that develops when a person becomes physically and psychologically dependent on drinking alcohol (a potent central nervous system depressant). 

Someone with AUD is also unable to manage or moderate their drinking despite it causing harm to themselves and those they care for.

Symptoms of AUD can include:

  • failing to limit your drinking in specific situations
  • being unable to quit drinking, even if you genuinely try
  • having alcohol cravings
  • spending large amounts of time drinking, getting more alcohol, and recovering from drinking
  • experiencing negative health effects related to alcohol use, including physical effects and mental health effects like anxiety and depression
  • having social or financial problems because of alcohol
  • using alcohol in unsafe situations (before driving, at work, with medications, etc.)
  • building up a high tolerance to alcohol
  • experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking

Risk Factors For Co-Occurring OCD & AUD

Those who experience OCD often begin abusing alcohol as a coping mechanism to help them live with their condition. In fact, according to some estimates as many as 20% of those with OCD develop some form of substance use disorder

While alcohol intoxication may provide some short-term relief, it is a deeply flawed and dangerous solution to mental health disorders like OCD.

Other risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing both AUD and OCD as co-occurring disorders include:

  • genetic predisposition, revealed through a family history of OCD, alcohol addiction, or other mental disorders or behavioral health disorders
  • experiencing traumatic or stressful life experiences, especially during childhood
  • experiencing other co-occurring mental illnesses like anxiety disorders, depression, tic disorders, and PTSD,
  • engaging in alcohol or other substance abuse from an early age
  • not receiving early or effective treatment for OCD

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Co-Occurring AUD & OCD

Left untreated, those who experience both AUD and OCD may have more severe and more frequent OCD symptoms, may develop more intense anxiety or depression, and may experience other severe life issues related to the harmful effects of chronic alcohol abuse.

However, dual diagnosis treatment programs are available to address both of these disorders in tandem using a personalized, flexible, and adaptable treatment plan.


Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a specialized form of behavioral therapy that can help a person manage their obsessive and intrusive thoughts by gradually exposing them to their feared situations or stimuli and preventing them from performing their compulsive behaviors.

ERP may be supported with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a common addiction treatment therapy that can help participants identify and change negative beliefs and patterns of thought that contribute to alcohol abuse, as well as joint therapy with family members and other loved ones.


OCD treatment often features the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are a type of antidepressant that often reduce OCD symptoms by boosting the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin active in the brain.

Alcohol dependence and addiction, likewise, is frequently treated using medications including naltrexone (which removes the feeling of reward that comes with drinking), acamprosate (which can help rebalance a person’s brain chemistry), and disulfiram (which produces an uncomfortable reaction when a person consumes alcohol).

Support Groups

Peer support can be a key part of recovery, helping those struggling with OCD and AUD feel heard, understood, and supported by those who are going through the same challenges or who have already persevered through them. 

Groups may be available either in-person in your local area as well as online.

Find Treatment In Ohio

Inpatient dual diagnosis care can make a life-saving difference for those experiencing severe mental and behavioral disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder and alcohol addiction.

At Ohio Recovery Center, our team is proud to offer expert dual diagnosis treatment services, including:

Please contact our treatment center today to learn more.

  1. International OCD Foundation https://iocdf.org/expert-opinions/co-occurring-ocd-and-substance-use-disorder-what-the-research-tells-us/
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder
  3. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma16-4977.pdf

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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