OCD: Cousin of Addiction?
Visceral discomfort takes hold, but I can still think logically and know I shouldn’t give in. The distress is too intense, though, the desire too strong. I can’t seem to help myself. And the anguish! My muscles are tense; my brain is hot. I want to scream. Why not just kill that pain right now, quick and easy? Why endure it until it fades when I can squash it?
It sounds a bit like I’m talking about the temptation of using drugs, doesn’t it? Well, I’m not—not in the usual sense, anyway. I’m talking about the anxiety produced in the obsessive-compulsive brain and the accompanying urge to perform nonsensical rituals to make it go away. I know the experience all too well, and it occurred to me recently that a whole lot like some of the addiction stories I've heard. So while I personally have never suffered from drug or alcohol addiction—and definitely take what I say here with that significant grain of salt—I imagine that OCD is not too terribly different.
One might describe OCD as “a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences.” Except, wait: that’s the definition of addiction. Feeling compelled to engage in behavior that makes you feel better in the short term but that harms you in the long run. Hiding your behavior from loved ones so that they don’t know you’re choosing the unhealthy option. Feeling ashamed and embarrassed. Again, I haven’t been addicted to drugs, but I have had OCD for close to two decades, and that (along with a sense of overwhelming anxiety) describes it pretty much on the nose: I know that OCD rituals are not the healthy way to deal with OCD-caused stress. I know that, say, restarting my computer (often losing unsaved work) every time I think I see a glitch or read a scary word costs me time and productivity. I know that spending mental energy trying to “undo” junk, “bad” thoughts only gives the junk thoughts more power. And I know that every OCD ritual I perform makes it harder for me to resist it next time. But the nature of this disorder is a chemical imbalance that makes it near impossible not to do it anyway. That, to me, sounds like addiction.
I don't intend to make light of addiction in any way; much the opposite, since the experience to which I’m comparing it is intense, scary, and difficult. OCD is anxiety and fear that only seem to go away when I opt for the unhealthy quick-hit. It's a daily struggle. My quick-hit isn't a substance, but it is an unhealthy behavior ( the compulsion or ritual of OCD). I don’t pretend to truly understand the horrors of drug and alcohol addiction, and I don't know whether similar parts of the brain are involved with OCD. But having one of the two problems and knowing a bit about the other, I do think that looking at OCD like a sort of addiction can help provide a better understanding of the struggles it creates.
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