Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder


What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder associated with repeating uncontrollable thoughts or behaviors that result in fear and worry. In an attempt to reduce this fear and worry, people with OCD often feel they have to perform a specific or series of behaviors (i.e. checking and rechecking locks, repeated hand washing) or thoughts (i.e., counting in patterns). With OCD the obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviors are at extreme levels that overwhelm the person and cause major problems in everyday life. People with OCD may realize that their obsessions and repeated behaviors do not make sense, but they feel “stuck” and powerless to stop them. People with OCD may check to see if their door is locked 20 times, wash their hands until they are raw, or be unable to throw anything away due to a fear that something bad may happen if they go against these ritual behaviors. OCD usually begins during adolescence or young adulthood and without treatment, it can become a life-long struggle. With treatment, you can break free of the unwanted thoughts and irrational urges and take back control of your life.

How Prevalent is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that two to three million adults and around 500,000 children and teens in the United States have OCD. OCD is about as equally common in men and in women.

What Causes Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

OCD is believed to be caused by both chemicals in the brain and strongly linked to anxiety. When a person feels anxiety, it may feel like they are in danger. People with OCD may not initially know how to react, but over time they learn that certain behaviors lessen their anxiety or uncomfortable feelings. Although these behaviors usually don’t make sense to others or the person doing them, they are done because the person has learned that these behaviors briefly make them feel better. OCD in childhood frequently occurs after exposure to the streptococcal virus.

How Do I Know if I Need Help?

Everyone feels the need to double-check that the stove is off or the door is locked at times, but for people with OCD, these obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviors are at extremes that cause major problems in everyday life. These thoughts and behaviors can impact all areas of a person’s life (job performance, relationships) and if this is the case you should get help.

What Are Some of the Signs and Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

People with OCD may have reoccurring thoughts about things such as hurting family and friends, germs, intruders, sex, excessive intolerance for imbalance in their environment (e.g., things placed in order, picture slightly crooked being intolerable), and things needing to be perfect. These uncontrollable thoughts result in anxiety and fear. In an attempt to lessen this fear, people with OCD may do behaviors over and over again like counting steps taken, washing hands, keeping unneeded items, and checking and rechecking doors. People with OCD do not enjoy doing these behaviors and they get in the way of their daily life.

Getting the Help You Need

Treatments typically include medication and counseling in order to learn new ways to manage symptoms. Counseling can help manage the underlying anxiety and learn to challenge the obsessive thoughts and stop the repeated behaviors common in OCD. Families may benefit from counseling as well to help them better understand OCD and teach them how to help their loved ones overcome this controlling illness. Psychotherapy can offer the help needed to empower people impacted by OCD and allow them to regain control and improve their quality of life.


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