Peace At The Bottom Of A Bottle – OCD & Alcohol

About 30% of people with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) have had a substance use disorder at some point of their lives. This is nearly double the rate of the general population. And I am pretty sure most of us can guess what the most commonly used addictive substance is: yes, it’s alcohol!

So, in today’s article I will try to explore why a lot of OCD sufferers turn to alcohol and I will share some of my personal experiences as I have had alcohol problems ever since my late teens.

Why Does OCD Increase The Risk Of Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol Abuse As A Response To OCD

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is “self-medicating”. And I can tell you this from my own experience. First of all, I need to tell you that I did not start to self-medicate with alcohol because I thought it would solve my issues or because I did not want to see a therapist. My OCD started in my teenage years and honestly, at that time I did not use to know what it was as I had not yet been diagnosed so I used to call it “my insanity”. Okay, I know – this doesn’t sound alright but I have been suffering from this disorder for over a decade so believe me, I would be the last person on earth to ever make fun of it or ever call someone with OCD “insane” but in my late teens I really believed that I was just going insane.

Anyways, going back to the alcohol topic. I will probably never forget the first time I got tipsy – and not because it was that horrible but on the contrary: it was an absolutely amazing feeling. It would just help me forget about my horrifying intrusive thoughts, about my crazy obsessions and about my anxiety. It just felt like…a way out if you see what I mean. Cause at the end of the day, what does OCD feel like? It’s like a maze..or like a vicious cycle that you just can not break. Never ending waves of terrifying thoughts that you just can not run away from. And many of these thoughts are so bizarre that you’re just afraid to talk about them and you may even be scared to seek professional help because “what if they think you’re insane and what if you’ll need to spend the rest of your life at a mental hospital?”

So there I was: a teenager who thought he was going crazy and who did not know that the best solution would be to see a therapist. But there was one thing I knew: that being tipsy was a great feeling. So what do you think I did?

Well, you guessed that right. I started drinking. At the beginning of my addiction, I did not drink everyday – I would only drink when I felt stressed or worried about something. But then it soon started to go out of control and I just descended into alcoholism. Soon, I ended up drinking every single day. And I am not talking about having a glass of wine in the evening. No, drinking everyday actually meant downing a bottle of wine every single day of the year.

At this point, you may ask if I am still having a bottle of wine a day and I am glad to tell you that the answer is no. But I would be lying if I told you that I managed to overcome my addiction. Sometimes it comes back. Not the way it used to, but I do not want to be hypocritical and say that it’s over. Especially nowadays because of this whole lockdown situation. But I am trying to keep it under control as much as I can and I am getting better and better at it – and I will share a few techniques that work for me at the end of this post! 🙂

But first of all…let’s look at the second reason why alcohol abuse is more prevalent among OCD sufferers. And this reason is more like a theory that I’ve read about on the internet and in a few books so I’d rather…just present it as a question:

Does OCD And Alcohol Addiction Share A Common Cause?

Well yes, I am not sure whether there’s any actual proof that could support this theory but honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was true as if you just think about OCD compulsions: people who’re suffering from this disorder usually have rituals (sometimes these are not even obvious as there are so-called “mental rituals”) that they just have to do.

Performing these rituals will just make them feel safe – and if you have OCD, you will probably know what I am talking about. It’s like when you just have to make sure that you’ve really locked the door or that you’ve really turned the gas stove off. Or sometimes the reason behind these rituals can be a kind of magical thinking. When you just need to blink exactly 3 times to protect your loved ones from a disaster.

So yes. I am really looking forward to finding more research data on this topic. But the logic behind this whole idea kind of made sense to me. Like I do not necessarily think that drinking is a compulsion – but having OCD can potentially make you more susceptible to addictions.

Does Drinking Alcohol Make OCD Worse?

Yes, it definitely does. Alcohol is a kind of sedative that affects the central nervous system. So drinking can actually reduce your stress and after a few glasses of wine, you will surely feel more relaxed and less worried but believe me, everything will get worse when you start sobering up. Not only because of having a hangover but because your fears will just seem to be more terrifying when you no longer feel the effects of alcohol.

How To Cut Down On Drinking?

Well, as you see I wrote “cut down” and not “stop drinking”. Why? Because I think it’s a better idea to do it “gradually”. I have already tried to suddenly stop drinking and in my case it was not really working as the withdrawal symptoms made my OCD much much worse. And when my OCD got worse, I would just start drinking again – and even more. Again, as I said earlier I am not an expert but what I worked for me was gradually cutting down on alcohol.

Things That Help Me (May Help You) Cut Down On Drinking

There are a lot of websites and book that share helpful tips to stop drinking. For instance, I have found this article pretty helpful 11 ways to curb your drinking (Harvard Medical School).

So I do not think that I could give you better pieces of advice than psychologists or university professors. That’s why instead of sharing general tips, I’d rather tell you about a few specific things that helped me cut down on drinking.

1. Tonic Water

Okay….I know…Do not freak out. I know it’s absolutely insane to tell people that tonic water can help them cut down on their alcohol consumption but for some reason, it did help me. I do not only like the way alcohol makes me feel but I also like the taste of it and enjoy the “process of drinking”. And maybe it’s just me, but I do think that tonic water tastes like alcohol. And you can drink it from a stylish glass with ice cubes. So it’s just a perfect alcohol replacement drink.

2. Keep yourself busy

Again, not sure if it’s just me but I do have the impression that when you’re bored, you’ll be much more likely to start drinking. So, why not going for a hike or visiting a museum (virtually, if your country is under lockdown – like mine)

3. Spending time on skincare

Reading this, you will think that I am crazy…or drunk (I am not). What does skincare have to do with alcohol addiction? In my case, spending time on skincare actually helps me forget about alcohol because I just feel much more relaxed after a peel. And also because I have always been a vain person (the dirty secrets of Mark…) and the idea of having beautiful skin keeps me motivated to cut down on alcohol.

4. Spending “alcohol money” on other things

Another thing that can keep me motivated to drink less is thinking about how much money I actually spend on alcohol and what other things I could spend that money on. Things such as traveling – which is my biggest addiction.

Your thoughts

There’s one thing that Mark enjoys more than writing his stories: reading yours. So please share your thoughts and your own tips to cut down on drinking in the comment section!

Mark Wester

Originally shared on the Overcoming OCD website