How Can a Person with OCD Be Addictive?

Learn about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and how it can be addictive. 

Table of Contents

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

The way people use “obsessive-compulsive disorder” in everyday speech isn’t entirely accurate. People are not obsessive-compulsive simply because they enjoy keeping a neat desk or making their bed. Individuals diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorders often have a range of symptoms with varying obsessions. Furthermore, the condition can play out differently from person to person and comes with a high risk for substance use disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, more commonly known as OCD, is a mental illness under anxiety disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5 or DSM-V). Individuals with OCD typically show repetitive behaviors or experience recurring thoughts that are difficult to control.1

How Can OCD Impact Your Daily Life?

These thoughts and behaviors are chronic (long-lasting) and often intrusive, unwanted, and interfere with their daily lives. According to the DSM-5, a diagnosis of OCD requires the presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both for more than one hour each day, causes severe distress and impairs a person’s social life, work, or school.2

One aspect that makes OCD exceptionally distressing is that individuals with OCD have insight into their obsessive disease but can’t curb their actions. These individuals understand that their thoughts and behaviors are irrational and disruptive, yet they can’t stop them. These obsessions may get in the way of daily life, work, and school and can significantly affect their quality of life. People with OCD often want to stop but can’t do it independently. This awareness can lead to poor self-esteem, depression, abusive compulsive disorders, and suicidal thoughts.3

Life with OCD

Life with OCD isn’t about feeling satisfied with a clean room or a perfectly aligned table setting; it’s about constantly aligning the table setting over and over to the point that it becomes time-consuming and debilitating.

Everyone becomes focused on a thought or task sometimes — something sarcastic a friend said or an upcoming work presentation. It’s common to feel like checking if a door is locked or whether the stove is off. For people with OCD, however, those everyday experiences are persistent and consuming. For example, even after checking the door is locked, someone with the condition may feel the need to check nine more times. To reduce their anxiety, people with the illness feel the need to carry out their compulsions.

Because of their preoccupation with their obsessive thoughts or obsessive habits, they may become chronically late to school or work because checking the door over and over overtakes precious time. However, once at school or work, they may still worry about checking the locks on the door, and their preoccupation leads to unmet responsibilities. What’s more, personal relationships may suffer as loved one’s struggle to understand the illness.4

Adverse Effects of Having OCD

For the person with OCD, the struggle can seem hopeless. Some individuals may turn to substance use to self-medicate or reduce anxiety. Untreated OCD can result in:5

Disrupted routines and responsibilities

Low self-esteem

Difficulty completing schoolwork or work projects

Physical illness brought on by stress

Trouble forming and maintaining healthy relationships

A study of 100 participants with substance use disorder found that 67% displayed significant signs of anxiety. Furthermore, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that anxiety (26%), issues with alcohol (22.9%), and substance abuse (17.6%) were some of the most frequent reasons someone with mental illness visited emergency rooms.6

Symptoms of Obsessive and Compulsive Disorder

The symptoms and signs of OCD vary significantly from person to person. Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety. A compulsion is an overwhelming desire to carry out an activity, usually repeatedly. Some individuals with the condition may have only compulsive behavior disorders to carry out an activity, while others may have only obsessive thoughts, and others may have both.

OCD affects about 2-3% of people in the U.S., with slightly more women having the illness than men. Symptoms of OCD usually appear during childhood up until young adulthood, with 19 as the average age when symptoms first appear. For many, symptoms may worsen without treatment.7

Common OCD obsessions

Common OCD compulsions

General signs and symptoms of OCD

General signs and symptoms of OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Causes

The exact cause of OCD mental disease remains unknown. However, researchers believe that the cause may be multifactorial, with a few of the following factors present to some degree:

Genetic Factors

Studies involving twins and families indicate that having a parent, sibling, or child who has OCD places a person at high risk for the disorder. The risk increases the younger the relative shows their first symptoms. Research remains ongoing into what role genetics and gene expression have in mental disorders like OCD.7

Biological/Neurological Factors

Imaging studies from OCD research show disparities between the brain’s frontal cortex and subcortical structures in people with the condition. There appears to be an interplay between the illness and areas of the brain, but the exact connection remains unknown.7

Life Changes and Personal Experience

Childhood trauma can trigger mental disorders during childhood or later in life. Some studies indicate that adverse childhood events and chronic stress trigger OCD symptoms.7

Physical Illness

A child may develop OCD or OCD symptoms in some rare cases after having a streptococcal infection. This condition is named Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections, also referred to as PANDAS.7

Treatment for OCD

There’s no cure for OCD, but the management of the illness is possible. Fortunately, research into OCD causes and treatment shows that alleviating symptoms is possible. The standard treatment options for OCD include talk therapy, medication, or both. Many people with OCD also have a co-occurring disorder, like a substance abuse disorder or depression. Therefore, obsessive-compulsive behavior treatment options depend on the presence of any other conditions, but simultaneous treatment is recommended.

Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment

Treatment for OCD may occur in an inpatient or outpatient setting, depending on their status, OCD disorder type, and situation. Inpatient OCD treatment allows for the around-the-clock availability of trained staff, and the individual resides at the treatment facility for a recommended number of days. During the inpatient stay, the individual receives OCD treatment and learns how to manage symptoms.

Outpatient treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder works best for less severe forms of OCD or as a step-down from inpatient treatment. During outpatient treatment, the individual can live away from the facility and travel for scheduled treatments. 

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, involves comprehensive education and learning to manage symptoms. One example of psychotherapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps individuals reassess their harmful ways of thinking and beliefs. In turn, by changing their thoughts, they can modify their actions.

Another type of talk therapy approach for OCD is exposure therapy, depending on the individual’s OCD disorder type. During exposure response prevention (ERP) therapy, a person is exposed to situations that trigger their compulsive behavior disorders and symptoms. Then, they’re encouraged not to follow their compulsions, thus becoming accustomed to the anxiety and allowing the anxiety to subside.7

Stress Reduction Interventions

Activities that help reduce stress can be beneficial for people with OCD. For example, mindfulness techniques can help people become more aware of their emotions and thoughts, teaching them to exercise control over their reactions. Other methods like deep breathing, yoga, and massage may also reduce anxiety and OCD symptoms.7


Psychotropic medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and antipsychotics like aripiprazole (Abilify) or risperidone (Risperdal) can reduce OCD symptoms like obsessive thoughts, anxiety, and depression. People with OCD must be consistent with medication, and results may take up to 3 months to appear.7

Living with OCD

It’s possible to live with untreated mild to moderate OCD — and some people do — but a person’s quality of life wouldn’t be at its best. Moreover, living with untreated obsessive-compulsive disorder means undergoing unnecessary anxiety and distress, impacting physical health. For severe cases of the condition, managing OCD symptoms and treatment is vital. In extreme cases, individuals with untreated OCD experience worsening symptoms, causing complete incapacitation or sometimes resulting in suicide. Obtaining treatment and support may be what a person with OCD needs the most to live a full and satisfying life.

If you want to learn more about treatment for OCD, please contact us at The PAC Program. Our staff is committed to helping you adapt and integrate healing methods into your everyday life. Treatment is always available to you; mental illness doesn’t have to define you as an individual or negatively impact your life.

We look forward to working with you on your journey towards healing.


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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