Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and alcohol use have a complex relationship. You may be more likely to develop alcohol use disorder (AUD) when living with OCD. Drinking can potentially make certain symptoms of OCD more severe.
OCD is a mental health condition defined by intrusive thoughts, known as obsessions, and compulsions, which are ritualistic reactions to relieve obsession-related distress.
As with many other conditions featuring heightened anxiety, there’s a complex relationship between OCD and alcohol use.
For some people living with OCD, alcohol use can make certain symptoms feel worse.
Mood and behavior are among the many brain functions affected by alcohol consumption. When you drink, alcohol alters regulatory chemicals that control mood, impulse control, and judgment.
In the moment, alcohol’s ability to reduce inhibitions and enhance emotions may feel like a quick fix for the symptoms of OCD.
When alcohol wears off, though, it can exacerbate certain symptoms, particularly anxiety, that come with obsessions and drive compulsions. This is part of the effect of alcohol withdrawal.
As alcohol leaves your system, your depressed central nervous system
This can make mood OCD symptoms feel more intense. It may make obsessions and compulsions feel worse too.
The reasons for this relationship aren’t clear, but self-medicating, shared pathologies, and underlying genetic predispositions may all play a role.
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OCD symptoms may also influence how much you drink and how often.
In some cases, alcohol use itself
An example of alcohol as a compulsion would be neutralizing an intrusive thought with exactly three shots of whiskey. It could be that you felt better after drinking three shots the first time you experienced that obsession, so now you’re compelled to drink that exact number every time.
You can reduce or stop alcohol use with OCD whether you also have AUD or not.
Changing your relationship with alcohol can be challenging. You may need professional guidance and support, especially while navigating alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Peer, professional, and social support are all important factors in reducing alcohol intake.
Peer support involves connecting with others who share your goals and experiences related to alcohol use. It can help you stay on track and feel less isolated.
To find peer support resources, try visiting:
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Alcohol Treatment Navigator
- Alcohol support from the National Health Service (NHS)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline
For some people with alcohol dependence, withdrawal symptoms can be severe and life threatening. In these cases, it’s vital to work with a medical professional to create a safe plan to taper your alcohol consumption.
Professional support can also help you manage the relationship OCD has with alcohol use. Learning to manage OCD through other ways can help reduce the need for self-management with alcohol.
Social support comes from the loved ones around you. If you want to reduce your alcohol intake, having a conversation with friends and family about how they can support you can make a difference.
Social support initiatives include:
- reevaluating activities and relationships that involve drinking
- educating loved ones on why limiting alcohol is important to you
- developing new hobbies and outlets that don’t include alcohol
- finding a local support group for people in alcohol recovery
You can ask family and friends to support your efforts by:
- not offering you alcohol
- limiting alcohol use around you
- not criticizing or making fun of your choice not to drink
- attending support activities with you
- encouraging time together without alcohol
- providing mocktails or other alcohol alternatives at events
OCD and alcohol use can go hand-in-hand. If you live with OCD, you may be more likely to misuse alcohol. Using alcohol may intensify certain symptoms of OCD.
Help is available for both OCD and reducing your alcohol intake. Peer groups, professional guidance, and support from family and friends can help you manage symptoms.