What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
There may be no cure for OCD, but there are effective treatments available.”
Saying that someone is “obsessive-compulsive” has almost become a catchphrase in society today. Many of us jokingly say that someone is “a little OCD.” However, true obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is no joking matter. We all double-check things at times. We get in the car, and then cannot remember if we actually locked the front door. We go back to check. We lay down to go to sleep at night and then wonder if we actually shut off the oven.
We get up to check. When this becomes out of control, however, and we cannot stop wondering, cannot stop checking — a professional counselor can help.
In the name of this disorder are two things: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are the thoughts that take over the mind. Compulsions are the reactions to these negative thoughts. They may become ritualistic behaviors that you cannot control or stop performing. These compulsions take over daily life; they make it impossible to complete essential tasks. At the extreme, a person suffering from this disorder cannot even make it out the door to go to work because they have to check the door, the stove, the lights and many other things, so many times.
OCD takes many forms. A person may be obsessed with germs and thus wash their hands compulsively throughout the day. For others, the obsessions revolve around counting or symmetry. For example, they must always perform certain actions in groups of 2, 7 or 13. At other times, obsessive-compulsive disorder can center on not losing things or misplacing things, and then result in not throwing away anything — which can turn into hoarding.
All of us perform checking behaviors and have certain things that we are just a little different or quirky about in life. These actions become a problem when they take over life and prevent daily life from being accomplished, however.
Causes of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
There is no known cause for this disorder. It sometimes runs in families, but this gives little insight into where it actually comes from. There are several parts of the brain involved in anxiety and compulsion, but more research is needed to determine more scientific information about the anxiety disorders. These types of disorders often have an age of onset of 9 to 10 years old, but can come on at any time. Most people receive a diagnosis by age 19.
Researchers are also determining how stress and environment play a role in anxiety.
Signs and Symptoms
Compulsions and obsessions often have a theme. Cleanliness, counting, fears, checking, neatness, patterns, religious and sexual themes are all common in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Usually, the symptoms begin gradually and become more and more severe, to the point that they take over daily life. Adults usually recognize their obsessions and compulsions and may feel embarrassed about the disorder. On the other hand, children may not realize that they are obsessively counting or checking and may just feel a great deal of anxiety and fear.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is found in about 2.2 million American adults. One-third of adults with OCD develop symptoms as children. Before showing signs or symptoms of OCD specifically, a child may have a great deal of fears and worry. Symptoms usually come on gradually and become more and more severe as time goes on, and with varying levels of stress.
When to Seek Help
Many of us want our pantry arranged just a certain way. Many of us have gone back to check on a door or a stove. However, when these things start to take over our lives and prevent us from having healthy functioning relationships and getting tasks completed, this is when we need to seek professional help.
Individuals who are suffering from serious forms of OCD may exhibit the following:
- Hand washing until the skin is rubbed raw
- Refusing to leave the house because checking cannot be completed
- Spending hours getting dressed because certain routines must be followed
- Silently repeating phrases or words; thus unable to hold a conversation
- Unable to stop thinking of violent or aggressive behaviors
- Avoiding certain situations that make contain germs
- Having to do tasks in patterns of certain numbers, such as going through a door five times, every time a door is entered
These are just some examples of how OCD can manifest itself and what is looks like in reality. At it’s most basic, obsessions are unwanted, repeated, constant thoughts and urges. The compulsions are then also unwanted, repeated and constant behaviors that result from these obsessions.
In order to deal with these symptoms, many people suffering from OCD may begin to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs in order to try to escape the constant fear and anxiety surrounding their obsessions. Infections may also result from constant hand washing that makes the skin raw. Eating disorders are also seen in cases where the individual fears food, germs on food, or becomes obsessed with their body image.
Depression and other anxiety disorders often also accompany obsessive-compulsive disorder. An inability to have healthy relationships and accomplish goals is often seen in serious forms of OCD. When these types of symptoms are being seen, professional help is recommended.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is diagnosed with various exams and tests. A complete physical will most likely be performed, as well as a full psychological evaluation. These will help your providers determine if there are any other underlying conditions associated with your obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Treatment for OCD often involves a type of psychotherapy known as exposure and response prevention (ERP). Many professionals consider this the most effective treatment. In this type of therapy, you will be exposed to small levels or amounts of your feared object or situation. Then you will develop healthy ways to deal with the resulting anxiety and compulsive behaviors. Exposure and response prevention takes a great deal of commitment, patience and practice.
After learning this technique, you will most likely be able to manage your obsessions and compulsions more effectively.
Antidepressants are the type of medication most often used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder. These include such medications as Zoloft, Paxil and Prozac. They may take approximately 10 to 12 weeks to start working, and may have serious side effects.
Be sure to discuss any side effects with your doctor before taking medication.
Living with OCD
There may be no cure for OCD, but there are effective treatments available. Combining medication with cognitive therapy like ERP can help you regain control of your life. Finding an educated and experienced therapist or counselor is also a key step to recovery. Another step that can be very helpful is finding a support group. Hearing other people’s stories of living with obsessive-compulsive disorder can help you feel less alone and isolated in your struggles. It can help you see that recovery and change is possible.
Dealing with OCD can be very tiring and frustrating. But seeking treatment is the first step in improving your quality of life. You do not need to deal with this issue alone.
If you are struggling with accomplishing your day-to-day tasks, consider contacting a counselor or coach who can help.