Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

A child struggling to control his thoughts

Do you ever find yourself performing specific tasks repeatedly, even though it may be a waste of time? Have you noticed that these repetitive tasks are often accompanied by thoughts or feelings that make them difficult to ignore? If so, you may be dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It’s estimated that about two to three million Americans have this disorder, so you’re not alone. If you don’t know what it is, here’s a look into OCD and how it affects those who struggle with its symptoms.

What is OCD?

At its most basic level, obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by specific unwanted thoughts, impulses, and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These can lead to significant distress in day-to-day life. In addition, people with OCD often have difficulty controlling these thoughts and behaviors, which can lead to substantial emotional distress.

Common Symptoms of OCD

The symptoms of OCD vary from person to person, but some common signs and symptoms can help identify whether someone is struggling with this disorder. Common obsessions include:

  • fear of contamination or dirt
  • fear of making mistakes
  • the need for symmetry or perfect order
  • aggressive or violent thoughts
  • intrusive sexual thoughts
  • superstitious beliefs
  • preoccupation with religious ideas
  • invasive body image-related thoughts

Common compulsions include:

  • washing hands excessively
  • counting and repeating numbers or words
  • repeating phrases silently or aloud
  • arranging items in a specific way
  • avoiding contact with objects or people perceived as “contaminated”
  • checking locks multiple times before leaving home
  • seeking reassurance from others numerous times a day

A girl with OCD getting therapy

Risk Factors for OCD

Various people can get OCD, and here are the most common risk factors for it:

Genetic Factors

Genes play a significant role in an individual’s risk of developing OCD. Studies have indicated that having a family member who suffers from OCD increases your likelihood of developing it yourself; this risk is even higher if more than one family member has been diagnosed with the disorder. Additionally, scientific research suggests that genetic mutations may be at least partially responsible for cases of severe obsessive-compulsive behavior and thought patterns.

Environmental Factors

The environment in which people live can also contribute to their risk of developing OCD. For example, studies have found that stressful life events (e.g., the death of a loved one, divorce, etc.) are linked to a greater chance of experiencing symptoms related to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Additionally, physical traumas such as head injuries have been linked to the development of certain types of obsessive-compulsive behaviors and thought patterns.

 Brain Chemistry Imbalances

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has also been connected to imbalances in brain chemistry and brain structure abnormalities—particularly in areas relating to emotion regulation and stress management/coping mechanisms. It is believed these imbalances can lead to an increased risk of developing symptoms associated with OCD, such as intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors meant to reduce anxiety caused by those thoughts.

Treatment Options for OCD

If you think you might have OCD, you must speak with a doctor about your symptoms as soon as possible. The good news is that effective treatment options are available for those suffering from this disorder. Here are some of them:


One of the newer treatments for OCD is ketamine. Researchers have found that ketamine treatment for anxiety has been quite successful, and since OCD is related to stress, this new treatment may be beneficial for those living with OCD. Ketamine works by blocking the NMDA receptor in the brain, which is believed to be involved in anxiety and other mood disorders. However, it’s essential to speak with a doctor about this treatment option’s possible risks and side effects.


Certain medications are prescribed to people with OCD as they can provide relief from symptoms such as intrusive thoughts and compulsions. The most commonly prescribed medications for OCD include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), escitalopram (Lexapro), and fluvoxamine (Luvox). Other medications have been shown to help reduce symptoms, such as clomipramine, tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics, and MAOIs. It’s essential to consult with your doctor about which type of medication might be right for you or your loved one.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another effective treatment method for managing OCD symptoms. CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors through cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy, and response prevention techniques. During cognitive restructuring sessions, individuals will work with a therapist to identify dysfunctional beliefs and replace them with more rational thoughts. Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing an individual to situations that cause anxiety while teaching them how to cope without engaging in compulsive behavior. Finally, response prevention teaches individuals how to resist compulsive behavior when confronted with anxiety-producing situations.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be incredibly debilitating for those who suffer from its symptoms. Therefore, it is essential to understand the signs and symptoms of this disorder so that appropriate treatment can be sought if needed. With the right treatment plan, individuals suffering from OCD can learn how to manage their condition effectively to live happy and healthy lives free from compulsive behaviors.

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