Mysophobia and Substance Abuse

When the television show Deal or No Deal was playing on almost every set in America, viewers became accustomed to host Howie Mendel’s fist-bump greeting of each and every guest. The viewers may have found it charming or amusing, but in reality, the host used this physical gesture as a replacement for the common handshake because he has mysophobia, according to an interview he gave to ABC News. Mandel’s crippling fear of germs can keep him scrubbing his hands in the bathroom for hours, and touching handrails and elevator buttons is absolutely petrifying for him. Mandel has learned to deal with his condition through therapy and medications, but unfortunately, some people turn to substance abuse as they try to cope.

Constant Cleaning


People with mysophobia are overwhelmingly worried about germs and contamination. These aren’t fears that pass through the mind and then fade away when something new and interesting happens. Instead, these are phobias that persist and grow stronger with time, and nothing the person does can seem to dislodge the concern. People may try to control the condition, however, by:

  • Washing their hands repeatedly
  • Using disinfectant wipes in public places
  • Wearing gloves or surgical masks
  • Cleaning the house, over and over again
  • Avoiding crowded areas

Some people develop such severe cases that they feel incapable of going out in public at all, and they may struggle with common tasks like raising children, caring for pets or growing a garden. Germs are everywhere, after all, so triggers for germ fear are also everywhere.

Substance Abuse


Mysophobia is typically considered part of the obsessive-compulsive spectrum of diseases, and it’s well known that people with OCD have an increased risk of addiction. For example, in one study of the issue in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, researchers found that 27 people who met the criteria for OCD also had a substance abuse disorder, and in 70 percent of these cases, the OCD symptoms came before the substance abuse began. Studies like this suggest that people are leaning on addictive substances in order to deal with their mental health issues, and that addictions are quick to follow in this environment.

It’s easy to see why substance use would blossom in people with mysophobia, as addictive substances seem to provide a little boost of happiness and power, and those changes can make a person feel as though the germs really aren’t all that important. For once, life might seem livable, although the creeping sensation that danger is near might return when the drugs have worn off. People might need to take very high doses of drugs, over and over again, to keep fears at bay, and as a result, chemical damage might be intense. Addictive substances can leave small points of damage behind, even though the person feels sober when the drugs are gone, and those little trigger points can blend and meld into a focal point of addiction. The chemical damage can lead to intense cravings that are hard to control, and when combined with the mental health issue, the damage can be devastating.

At Alta Mira, we specialize in complicated cases of addiction just like this. Our therapists use a comprehensive approach that treats the addiction and the mental illness at the same time, with targeted therapies that can bring intense results. Please call us to find out more about our approach, and to find out if we provide the kind of help you might need.