Patrick’s story highlights the complex nature of obsession, which can manifest as persistent, unwanted thoughts or fleeting yet destructive impulses. He often found himself contemplating drinking, even while fully aware of the consequences. These intrusive thoughts, along with his ongoing battle with substance use, significantly impacted his life.

His journey to recovery began in his teenage years, marked by numerous setbacks and relapses. At sixteen, Patrick’s struggle led to an altercation with a police officer, resulting in his first stint in rehab at seventeen. Though he experienced periods of sobriety, they were frequently interrupted by relapses, including a significant one after his divorce at thirty-five. His addiction led to severe personal losses, including his home, car, and financial security.

Despite hitting multiple rock bottoms, Patrick’s determination to overcome his addiction never wavered. Seeking help from his father, who had maintained sobriety for twenty-eight years, marked a pivotal moment in his recovery. This period included attending meetings, daily prayers, and a renewed commitment to sobriety, though it was again interrupted by a relapse. A visit to a Big Book study group provided him with a crucial breakthrough, as he found support in the shared experiences of others, helping him address the underlying causes of his drinking.

Patrick’s self-awareness became a key to his recovery.

Recognising the detrimental effects of selfishness, resentment, and fear, he embraced the principles of the Twelve Steps, which shifted his focus from self-centeredness to helping others. His dedication to supporting others, particularly those in jail with similar struggles, further solidified his sobriety. By sharing his story and guiding others through their recovery, Patrick found fulfilment and freedom from his addiction. His path to recovery highlights the importance of surrendering, seeking help, and maintaining strong connections with others.

Understanding Obsessions in OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves two key aspects: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are persistent, intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses that cause significant distress. These unwanted thoughts can be about a variety of topics, including contamination, harm, and morality, and they often lead to compulsive behaviours aimed at reducing the anxiety they provoke.

The term “obsession” comes from the Latin “obsidere,” meaning “to besiege.” For someone with OCD, these thoughts can feel like a relentless siege, causing deep anguish. The individual may try to block or resist these thoughts, but they typically return, leading to mental and physical exhaustion. People with OCD usually recognise their thoughts as irrational, yet they feel compelled to perform behaviours to prevent perceived harm, even if there is no logical connection between the thoughts and actions.

To illustrate the power of obsessive thoughts, a common teaching exercise involves asking people to write down something horrific happening to a loved one. Despite agreeing that thoughts can’t make things happen, most people are unable to complete the task or destroy the paper afterwards. This demonstrates how even fleeting intrusive thoughts can cause significant distress and lead to compulsive behaviours to alleviate anxiety.

Research shows that up to 80% of people experience unwanted intrusive thoughts similar to those found in OCD. However, for those with OCD, these thoughts are more intense, frequent, and harder to control. The difference lies in how people with OCD respond to these thoughts, interpreting and dealing with them in ways that can lead to debilitating compulsions. Common obsessions include fears of contamination, harm, and unwanted sexual or violent thoughts, which significantly impact daily functioning and require professional diagnosis and treatment.

These obsessions, such as fears of contamination or harm, are distressing and significantly disrupt daily life, leading to issues like chronic unemployment and social isolation. Compulsions, like repeatedly checking the stove or excessive hand washing, are attempts to prevent perceived dangers, even when there is no rational connection. OCD is a serious mental illness affecting 0.8-2.2% of the population annually, with symptoms often beginning in childhood or adolescence. The disorder can cause significant disability, and individuals with OCD frequently have higher rates of substance abuse, further complicating their condition.

The causes of OCD are linked to neurochemical imbalances and structural brain abnormalities. Genetic predispositions and environmental factors may also contribute. OCD often coexists with substance abuse, which can exacerbate symptoms and lead to a vicious cycle of addiction and compulsive behaviour. Effective treatment typically involves Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), particularly Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), which helps individuals confront and manage their fears without resorting to compulsions. Medications like SSRIs may be used when therapy alone is insufficient. Comprehensive treatment, especially for those with dual diagnoses, is essential for improving outcomes and addressing both OCD and any co-occurring substance use disorders.

OCD and Addiction

There is evidence suggesting a link between obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and addiction, although the relationship is complex. Studies have shown that individuals with OCD are at a significantly higher risk of misusing drugs and alcohol compared to those without OCD. They are 4.5 times more likely to have alcohol-related disorders, 6.7 times more likely to have any drug-related disorder, and 10.5 times more likely to have sedative-related disorders. By age 32, 23% of individuals with OCD had alcohol- or drug-related disorders, compared to 5% in the general population. Shared impulsivities and dysregulation of the brain’s reward system, particularly involving neurotransmitters like dopamine, may contribute to the co-occurrence of OCD and addiction. However, not everyone with OCD develops an addiction, and the nature of this relationship varies among individuals.