Alcohol and OCD

Kimberly Carter
8 min readMar 25, 2021

Is drinking a trigger or reward for obsessive rituals?

Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash

I wasn’t always a daily drinker. From college to my late twenties, alcohol was something that I enjoyed with friends, never on a schedule, never a part of the habits I’d created to soften the blow of anxiety attacks. For a long time, I didn’t use alcohol to make me feel safe in a world filled with uncertainty and danger.

That all changed in my thirties. Trapped in a marriage that was a sham, married to my business partner, we worked together in the horse industry where danger was a given, and the minute rituals of my OCD were rewarded. Carefulness kept a horse from escaping a stall or dying from ingesting a toxic substance. Attention to detail kept these massive, but fragile, creatures alive.

Always the last one to leave the horse stable at night, I compiled an intricate checklist of things to examine, monitor, triple-check. Were all the light switches off and power extinguished by flipping the breaker box? The barn was old, wooden, filled with dust. Barn fires are an industry nightmare and a legitimate fear, dust and hay igniting around huge creatures who are biologically driven to panic at the first sign of smoke. It’s difficult to remove the horse from danger or, worse yet, if they are trapped in their stalls with no way to escape, they’re doomed.

Were their stall latches shut? That was another big item on the pre-close check list. Horses have prehensile lips. They use them like fingers. A clever horse easily learns how to open a latch with its mouth, and some can even maneuver a snap added to the bolt as double security.

I’d walk through the hallways and study each latch. Was the door really closed? I’d walk back and check again. And again. An again. A routine that should have taken ten minutes began to stretch into an hour, sometimes more. I’d drive away from the farm with an all-encompassing sense of wrongness. Maybe I’d forgotten something. I’d turn my truck around and return to the barn to check again, the sleepy horses eyeing me suspiciously from their stall windows.

But they knew what was up. Horses, like humans, develop ritualized behavoir to counteract stress. Their fight/flight response is what keeps them alive in the wild, but also like us, that system isn’t adapted to life in a relatively safe…



Kimberly Carter

Life coach, riding instructor, writer, I was raised in a barn and now spend my time figuring out how farms heal us.