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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental illness that can result in symptoms that interfere with daily life. Learn more about OCD and how to treat it.

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder OCD

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What is OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the most common mental illnesses in America. OCD causes repeated, unwanted, or solicited thoughts and sensations – known as obsessions and urges to do something repeatedly — known as compulsions.

Some people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions.

Often misunderstood, OCD is about more than irrational or bad habits like biting nails or thinking negative thoughts often. People with OCD are unable to stop themselves from doing or thinking certain things, even if these things cause them distress or interfere with their daily lives.

To be diagnosed with OCD, the person must have thoughts or actions that:
  • Take up at least an hour a day, but usually far more
  • Are beyond their control, even if they really want to stop
  • Are unpleasant or result in distress
  • Interfere with work, school, their social life, or any other part of their daily life

Types of OCD

There are many types of OCD, but most cases will fall into at least one of the following four categories:

  • Checking: this involves checking whether doors are locked, light switches are off, and checking alarms, ovens, and appliances repeatedly.
  • Symmetry and ordering: the need to have things lined up or ordered in a very specific way.
  • Contamination: the irrepressible fear that things might be dirty, and often involves a compulsion to clean.
  • Intrusive thoughts: this is an obsession that occurs with a line of thought. These thoughts may be disturbing and even violent.

OCD Symptoms

Most people with OCD know that their obsessive thoughts and compulsive habits are nonsensical and impractical. However, they are unable to stop themselves.

Obsessive thoughts caused by OCD are usually frequent and unpleasant urges or thoughts that result in the person feeling great anxiety and distress. Even if they try to ignore these obsessive thoughts, they are persistent and intrusive.

Often, the person with OCD will try to get rid of these thoughts by performing an action. These actions that are performed in order to manage or lessen the obsessive thoughts are called compulsions.

Obsessive thoughts caused by OCD include:
  • Worrying that they may get hurt or killed, or that a loved one may get injured or die
  • Constant hyper-awareness of body sensations such as blinking, breathing, and heartbeat
  • Suspicion and paranoia about things such as their partner’s loyalty, even without any reason for feeling that way
  • Intrusive thoughts of harming oneself or others
  • Thinking certain numbers are inherently good or bad
  • Fear of germs, viruses, or bacteria
Compulsive habits caused by OCD include:
  • Needing to do tasks in a specific order or a certain number of times in order to feel at ease
  • Needing to count things, such as the number of steps they take
  • The fear of using public toilets, shaking hands, or touching anything that may have germs on it, such as doorknobs
  • Excessive washing and cleaning
  • Counting, tapping, and repeating words or actions
  • Hoarding items that are either useless or that are not needed

An example of an obsessive thought leading to compulsion is if the person is afraid of germs, they will need to clean and sanitize their home multiple times a day, in a very specific order, way, and number of times.

What Causes OCD

Although doctors are not sure what causes OCD, some risk factors have been identified.

OCD is usually more commonly diagnosed in women than men and can appear during adolescence or young adulthood.

Risk factors for OCD include:
  • Genetics: there is some indication that OCD may be hereditary. People with OCD may have a parent, sibling, or child with OCD.
  • Brain chemistry: there may be structural differences in the brains of OCD sufferers as opposed to people without mental illness of any kind.
  • Mental illness: in some cases, people with OCD may already have other mental health disorders. Co-occurring mental illnesses include depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 
  • History of abuse: some patients with OCD have a history of childhood physical, sexual, or mental abuse.

OCD and Substance Abuse

People with OCD may turn to drugs or alcohol, or both, to soothe the effects of their mental illness. Often, they may feel as if their obsessions and compulsions make them different from everyone else, leading to isolation.

This isolation and withdrawal from society can lead to substance abuse as a means of coping. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol only provides short-term relief from unwanted thoughts and urges and can quickly develop into addiction.

It is estimated that nearly 30 percent of OCD sufferers have had a substance abuse problem at some point in their lives.

The key to treating OCD and co-occurring addiction is to treat both disorders simultaneously. If an individual has OCD and is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they will need to find a treatment center that is able to treat both disorders.

OCD Treatment

There is no cure for OCD. However, with the right treatment, it is possible to manage symptoms and live a fulfilled life.

OCD treatment usually is a combination of medications and therapy:
  • Psychotherapy: Talk therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help the individual change their thinking patterns. They will also be able to identify negative and self-harming thoughts and behaviors. They are taught how to adapt and change their responses to these thoughts and behaviors with more effective coping skills and strategies.
  • Medications: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often used to help control obsessions and compulsions. SSRIs commonly used in OCD treatment include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (Celexa), and sertraline (Zoloft). In more severe cases, antipsychotic medications like risperidone (Risperdal) or aripiprazole (Abilify) may be prescribed.
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS): TMS involves a non-invasive device being held above the patient’s head to induce the magnetic field. This field targets the parts of the brain that regulate OCD symptoms.
  • Holistic treatment: Things like meditation, massage, yoga, and exercise may help with managing OCD symptoms.

Only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose and treat OCD. That is why it is crucial that if you suspect you or a loved one has OCD, that you seek professional treatment.

Get Help for OCD

Getting the right treatment can help people with OCD manage their symptoms and maintain the activities and relationships they need to live a happy, fulfilled life.

At Addiction Rehab Treatment, we work with a wide range of mental health facilities and can help you find the right treatment for OCD. We also specialize in facilities that treat mental health disorders co-occurring with substance abuse.

Get in touch with us today so that our treatment navigators can help you or a loved one get on the path to recovery.

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