Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition in which a person has uncontrollable, repetitive thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that they feel forced to act on, even if they know that they are being irrational while doing so. The NIMH states that “an estimated 1.2% of U.S. adults had OCD in the last year” and that the “lifetime prevalence of OCD among U.S. adults was 2.3%”.
OCD is a serious mental illness that can be debilitating when left untreated. Thankfully, there are a number of treatments that can reduce symptoms of OCD and improve the lives of those who have it.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety condition marked by uncontrolled thoughts and ritualized repeated actions. People with OCD may be aware of the irrationality of their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, yet they cannot break free from them. OCD causes the brain to become fixated on a certain idea or urge that can be extremely disruptive to their normal functioning.
This is more than a habit or preference, and those with OCD often find that they:
- Can’t control their thoughts or behaviors, even when those thoughts or behaviors are recognized as excessive or irrational
- Experience these thoughts and behaviors at least 1 hour a day
- Don’t get pleasure when performing the behaviors or rituals, but may feel brief relief temporarily
- Experience significant problems in their daily life due to these thoughts or behaviors
Obsessions are uncontrollable ideas, pictures, or impulses that repeat in one’s mind. A person may not want these thoughts, yet they can’t stop them. Unfortunately, obsessive thoughts are frequently upsetting and distracting. They can reflect anxieties people have about themselves, the future, and life in general.
Common obsessive symptoms include:
- Unwanted or taboo thoughts involving sex, religion, or causing harm
- Fear of contamination
- Aggressive thoughts towards others or self
- Organizing things to an exact standard
In response to these obsessive thoughts, a person may feel compelled to perform repetitive compulsive actions.
Common compulsions include:
- Repeatedly checking on things, such as repeatedly checking to see if the lights are off or that the door is locked
- Excessive cleaning and/or handwashing
- Ordering and arranging things in a particular, precise way
- Compulsive counting or touching objects
Some individuals with OCD also have a tic disorder. Motor tics are sudden, brief, repetitive movements, such as eye blinking and other eye movements, facial grimacing, shoulder shrugging, or head or shoulder jerking. Common vocal tics include repetitive throat-clearing, sniffing, or grunting sounds.
Stressors, such as high-pressure social interactions, can increase the expression of tics. Treating these underlying causes of OCD can help to minimize the occurrence of tics.
OCD Causes, Risk Factors, & Diagnosis
Researchers still don’t know exactly what causes obsessive-compulsive disorder. We do know that it can affect people of all ages in all walks of life. However, most people with OCD are diagnosed by age 19.
Current studies suggest that both genetics, environmental factors and structural differences in the brain are the biggest causes and risk factors for OCD.
Imaging studies of people with OCD have shown that communication problems between the frontal regions of the brain and the deeper regions of the brain may be to blame. Though, it is unclear whether this is more causal or just an effect.
Genetics may also be to blame. Studies show that those with first-degree relatives have a higher correlation to OCD, suggesting a genetic link.
Environmental factors — like childhood trauma — can also play a part in developing OCD. There has even been cases of OCD in children following autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections.
Treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder may vary between different people and different diagnoses. For instance, OCD may come with co-occurring conditions such as anxiety, depression, or body dysmorphic disorders.
The good news is that OCD can typically be treated effectively, reducing symptoms and improving the lives of those who have it.
Medications that regulate serotonin [Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs)] are typically a first-line treatment approach. It may take anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks before seeing improvement with SRIs. When SRIs don’t do the trick, a doctor may prescribe antipsychotics. In some cases, there may be a combination of the two classes of pharmaceuticals.
Psychotherapy, with cognitive-behavioral therapies and related strategies, can be highly effective in reducing both compulsive behaviors and obsessive thoughts. Specific CBT strategies like Exposure and Response Prevention can be performed and adapted uniquely to each patient.
How We Can Help
If you or a loved one has been experiencing obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, it may be time for a proper diagnosis and treatment program. OCD treatment is typically more effective the earlier the condition is caught and cared for correctly.
SoCal Mental Health Center in Orange County, CA provides a safe and caring environment so that patients can get the effective OCD treatment they need. Our residential programs in Mission Viejo and Fullerton provide high-quality alternatives to fully institutionalized care and are designed to limit unnecessary stays in psychiatric hospitals, reduce emergency room visits, and avoid inappropriate incarceration.
In addition to providing crisis stabilization, we use goal-oriented approaches and therapies to help manage symptoms effectively and promote self-development, increased quality of life and decreased emotional distress. SoCal Mental Health in Mission Viejo, CA can help you find relief from symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder through medication and teaching important behavioral health.