Alcohol and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD and alcohol use frequently co-occur, but dual-diagnosis treatment can help. Read on to learn about treatment options.

Table of Contents

What Is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder characterized by recurring and unwanted ideas, sensations, and thoughts, known as obsessions. To eliminate or reduce the impact of these obsessions, someone with OCD will perform repetitive behaviors or rituals.

These rituals are known as compulsions. Examples of familiar compulsions include checking, washing, and counting. The need to repeatedly perform compulsions can dramatically interfere with one’s relationships, social interactions, and daily obligations. 1
OCD and Alcohol

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How Alcohol Affects People With OCD

When someone drinks alcohol to cope with OCD symptoms, it is considered self-medicating. The common misconception is that alcohol helps OCD by making the symptoms “go away.” This may be true in the short term, but once the intoxicating effects of drinking begin to fade, alcohol inevitably makes OCD worse. Statistics suggest between 2%, and 3% of the US population has OCD. 2
Reports on the prevalence of alcohol abuse in America show almost fifteen million Americans over age twelve have an alcohol use disorder. 3 Additionally, according to a report published in the Journal of Anxiety disorders, up to 27% of those who seek treatment for OCD also meet the diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder. 4

What Causes a Person with OCD to Become Dependent on Alcohol?

Alcohol is a depressant drug that slows down the function of the brain and other activities in the body. For someone with OCD, finding a coping mechanism that can calm the mind and reduce the effect and persistence of obsessions is highly desirable. It is the desire to dull OCD symptoms that lead someone to use alcohol for OCD symptom management. 5
Alcohol only remains active in the body for a short time. Once it travels through the system and is metabolized by the liver, the effects of drinking quickly fade. This means OCD symptoms return, usually worsened, within a matter of hours. To ensure ongoing relief, OCD sufferers will continue drinking, often with greater frequency and at higher amounts, to keep their symptoms at bay. This can create an alcohol dependence or addiction.

How Does Alcohol Worsen OCD?

Having OCD and drinking alcohol is a risky combination. Someone with OCD who begins drinking to cope with their symptoms is at a greater risk of developing an addiction later in life. When someone self-medicates, they are more likely to become addicted. But before addiction occurs, tolerance and dependence on alcohol develop.

When someone develops a tolerance to the effect of alcohol, it takes larger and more frequent amounts of alcohol to achieve the same impact. This means where one drink used to help calm OCD symptoms initially, it may now take two, three, or five drinks. Soon, OCD and alcohol abuse become a simultaneous mental health concern. Long-term use of alcohol to self-medicate can also cause new mental health conditions, including worsening OCD symptoms, anxiety, and depression. Alcohol abuse is also a root cause of many medical health consequences, including cancers and diseases of the liver and digestive system.

How Can Alcoholism Affect the Daily Life of an OCD-Sufferer?

When someone has OCD and alcohol addiction, it is called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring conditions. Co-occurring conditions like OCD and alcohol abuse often share several highly intertwined symptoms and root causes. In most cases, it is difficult for treatment providers to separate the symptoms of each condition, as each affects the other.

The most effective way to help someone with OCD and an addiction to alcohol is at a treatment program specializing in dual-diagnosis care. In a specialized dual-diagnosis treatment program, medical and mental health providers work closely with patients and their families to develop a care plan that addresses the symptoms of both OCD and alcohol abuse. A plan of care that addresses the mental obsession of alcoholism and the invasive nature of common OCD compulsions helps one to heal from the effects of both alcohol and OCD.

What’s the First Step to Begin Treatment?

Depending on the individual’s needs as they begin treatment, the first step will likely be detoxification. Choosing a program with medically supported detox makes quitting drinking with OCD more successful than it might be without treatment help.

What To Do If You Have a Dual Diagnosis of AUD and OCD

If you have a dual diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder and an alcohol use disorder, there are certain things you should do to help monitor and manage your symptoms. Consider the following tips:
  • Pay attention to how drinking makes you feel
  • Track how much you are drinking
  • Learn how alcohol might impact obsessive-compulsive disorder medications
  • Ask for help when you need it

Treatment For Co-Occurring OCD and Alcoholism

If you have a dual diagnosis of OCD and an alcohol use disorder, it is crucial to seek treatment at a specialized treatment program. Although all addiction and mental health treatment programs strive to provide comprehensive care, not all are equipped to manage the unique nature of dual-diagnosis treatment. Addressing one condition without addressing the symptoms of the other may increase your chances of relapse.


The first step in treatment for someone with alcohol addiction is typically detoxification. Detox allows your body the opportunity to cleanse itself of any remaining toxic substances. The next stage of treatment involves psychotherapy and other supportive care in an inpatient rehab program.

Inpatient Rehabilitation

Inpatient rehabs are best suited to address dual diagnosis conditions because you can access daily care and support. Also, inpatient rehabs generally offer a higher level of clinical care than outpatient or partial hospitalization programs.
As part of an inpatient program, you will participate in various types of psychotherapy, including evidence-based treatment models, individual sessions, group sessions, and peer support groups. Depending on your specific needs, your care team may recommend medications to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms.

Get Help for OCD and Alcoholism at Profound Treatment

OCD and Alcohol

The best treatment for OCD and alcohol addiction is dual-diagnosis care. At Profound Recovery, our team of medical and mental health providers is trained in using multiple evidence-based and alternative therapy models, along with some holistic treatment options as well. A wide variety of treatment options allows us to design a treatment based on your treatment goals, not your diagnosis.

We understand that the journey to success looks different for each person who chooses our Woodland Hills, California, inpatient rehab. We will work closely with you to ensure the therapy models used to help you heal from OCD and alcoholism reflect your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Reach Out and Begin Your Wellness Journey

If you would like to learn more about getting help at Profound Recovery, contact a member of our admissions team today to start the detox journey. We will work with you or your loved one to create a treatment plan specific for your needs.

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