When I first began to figure out I was dealing with some mental health issues, before I even went to see a therapist of any kind, I told a friend of mine who had spoken to me about his own mental health struggles. In particular, he had dealt with alcohol addiction, and his perspective on my compulsions was extremely helpful because he’d had a lot of success through Alcoholics Anonymous. So he encouraged me to get help and to stop engaging in my compulsions.
As far as a brain is concerned, there really isn’t much of a diference between OCD and a substance addiction: There were behaviors I engaged in that resulted in tiny bursts of dopamine in my brain, resulting in relief from my anxieties…temporarily. However, since, actions don’t release nearly the dopamine a drug does, I had to engage in those actions repeatedly. And just like any addiction, I got accustomed to those tiny hits of dopamine and they no longer relieved my anxiety in the same way they had in the past, so I developed new compulsions and spent more time on compulsions and structured my life around compulsions.
I credit a lot of my recovery to having a friend that saw my mental health challenges through the framework of beating addictions. Although I’ve learned that some people find this suggestion surprising, I often recommend that people who are struggling with compulsions of any kind go and check out an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. That type of structured, collaborative approach to supporting others in being healthy and abstaining from compulsions is lacking in the OCD community and in many other communities built around specific mental illness symptoms. Regardless of your superficial symptoms, the fundamentals of AA can be adapted and applied in your life, to your particular symptoms. For many researchers and many mental health organizations, there seems to be an artificial wall constructed between mental illness and addiction. Luckily for me, I had a great friend who didn’t discriminate between the two and that’s really helped to shape my approach to recovery, understanding my brain, and understanding how to stay healthy.