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OCD, or Obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as Obsessive compulsive neurosis, is a type of anxiety disorder in which people have repeated and unwanted thoughts or behaviors.  These thoughts and behaviors result in compulsions and obsessions such as having to check and re-check things (locking doors, closing windows), having to have all furniture sitting at a certain angle or all in a perfectly straight line, double checking your actions, counting, etc.  Often the behaviors are to get rid of the obsessive thoughts but the behavior only provides temporary relief and eventually people feel that not performing such rituals can cause more stress and anxiety.

OCD affects around 2% of the entire population, more than 1 in 50 people.  Around 3.3 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 54 live with OCD.  Males and females are equally capable of getting OCD.  This makes OCD  a very common disorder.

What causes obsessive compulsive disorder?  Those who develop OCD usually show symptoms of the disorder by age 30.  There are many theories of how OCD is caused, however, none have been confirmed.  One biological theory is that there is something wrong with circuits in the brain that control basic aspects of human behavior such as sexual drive, aggression and bodily excretions.  This circuit tells us to do things such as wash our hands after we use the restroom.  If the circuit is damaged it could send the message of washing our hands several times.  Some studies show that there are brain abnormalities in those with OCD and others have linked OCD with infections and head injuries, but more research is needed before any of these theories can be confirmed.  1 out of 5 of people with OCD have tics which may be related to Tourette syndrome but this link is not clear. In these cases medication may help treat OCD.

However, we also know that environmental factors can trigger OCD or can even worsen the disorder.  These factors include, abuse, illness, loss or death, major life changes, separations, interpersonal disputes, etc. Clearly, there are environmental and psychological aspects to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that must also be addressed.

Warning signs or symptoms of OCD can include: Obsession or compulsions that interfere with everyday life or that cause major distress (such as having to repeat an act a certain number of times every time you do it); hoarding unneeded  items in large amounts, need for exactness or symmetry, unpleasant thoughts that will not leave your mind and inability to ignore the thoughts.

Common compulsions include: repeatedly checking locks and stoves; repeatedly bathing, washing hands, or showering; refusing to shake hands or touch door knobs; need to do things a set number of times, such as closing a door, any repetitive behaviors that must be done a certain way that are done to prevent or reducing distress or preventing some event.

The most effective treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder consists of both medication and therapy.  Medications usually consist of antidepressants.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be one of the most effective types of psychotherapy for OCD.  This consists of the patient being exposed to a situation that triggers their obsessive or compulsive behaviors several times so that they can learn to tolerate the anxiety and resist the urge to do the compulsion.

You can see that the answer to the question “What is obsessive compulsive disorder?” is complicated.  At Mental Health Resources in Memphis, TN, we recognize the many faces of life style addictions, including obsessive compulsive behaviors that feel out of control.  Our intensive outpatient program treats lifestyle addictions, including obsessive compulsive disorders.  If you need help for OCD, call us for an assessment as the next step in your recovery.