what is obsessive compulsive disorder
what is obsessive compulsive disorder

What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Everything You Need To Know About OCD

There’s nothing more frustrating to someone suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) than hearing the phrase “I’m so OCD” banded around. But often those who do so aren’t aware of the severity of OCD in daily life, or rather, the relative insignificance of their own perfectionism.

So what exactly is OCD and how does it manifest in people? Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about OCD and its relationship with other neuropsychiatric disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a medical condition that causes intrusive thoughts, urges or images. These thoughts cause intense anxiety or distress for the person with OCD and significantly affect their quality of life.

People with anxiety disorders like OCD will often have compulsions and unhelpful beliefs as well. Compulsive behaviors are repetitive actions taken to relieve the anxiety from the obsessive thoughts, and they might be mental or physical actions that you often do and repeatedly.

Relief from compulsions doesn’t usually last long, and over time they may happen more often or take longer to complete. In this way, it’s similar to other risk factors like a chemical addiction (think alcoholism or drug addiction where intake increases over time). People may not be aware of the actions going on in your head, which can make them think you are slow or unproductive at work.

You may also deal with unhelpful beliefs that can make it feel like you have no control over your thoughts and OCD behaviors. It is recognized that OCD can affect 1 in 50 people, and it affects both men and women equally.

Man with spirit level doing DIY to represent perfection

Perfectionism in craftsmanship and checking a spirit level for two hours are not the same thing!

What Are the Symptoms of OCD?

The most common symptom of OCD is an obsession, which causes anxiety. These obsessions are thoughts, images, or urges that cause distress and do not help to control them. People with OCD often feel as though their obsessions will cause anxiety.

Compulsions are meant to reduce anxiety from the obsession(s). They are actions that a person feels they must do in order to get rid of the obsessive thoughts. Examples of compulsions include: hand-washing, fear of contamination, checking doors, alphabetizing household objects and getting upset if order is disrupted.

Some people try alcohol or drugs to calm themselves when they are experiencing OCD. Alcohol and drugs do not cure OCD but merely mask the emotional responses to the obsessions, which can lead some people to addiction through self-medication. Coupled with compulsive disorders such as Hoarding Disorder, this can lead to a life of chaos and self-destruction if interventions are not addressed soon enough.

How is OCD Diagnosed?

OCD is diagnosed by a healthcare provider, who will look at the symptoms you’re experiencing and compare them to the criteria in the DSM-5. There are four main criteria that must be met in order to receive a diagnosis of OCD: intrusive and unwanted obsessions, compulsions that are not pleasurable or relieving anxiety, take up more than one hour each day, or cause significant distress. Remember that “time-consuming” is an especially important criterion to meet.

It’s very common for people without OCD to have the presence of obsessions such as the occasional intrusive thought or repetitive behavior. But these thoughts don’t automatically mean you have OCD.

If you’re experiencing these thoughts or behaviors on a regular basis and they’re causing you distress, it’s important to see a healthcare provider. They are best equipped to determine whether or not you have a compulsive disorder such as OCD, hoarding disorder, or a comorbid condition such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

What Causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

There are many causes that can trigger Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in children and adults alike. Often, there are several reasons that all come together to create one bigger cause. Here are some examples:

Young woman obsessively cleaning her house wearing yellow gloves and holding cleaning spray

Cleaning is one of the most common yet stereotypical manifestations of OCD

Genetic Predisposition

Many studies show that genetic factors and family history play a role in OCD. If a parent has OCD, then it’s likely that the child will develop some form of OCD too. This means that OCD runs in families and while not guaranteed, the chances of developing OCD over time are much higher.

Cognitive Function

People with OCD tend to pay attention to details and worry about potential threats. For example, someone with OCD might notice every speck of dust or think about how the floor could slip out from under them. Cognitive functioning is linked to OCD because it makes it easier to recognize what is happening in our minds.


If someone experiences life trauma such as abuse, neglect, or other traumatic events, this can increase the risk of developing OCD later in life. While it’s more common in those with childhood trauma, a traumatic event at any age can trigger OCD, such as a burglary as a result of leaving a door unlocked.

Relationship Between OCD and Other Disorders

When someone develops Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it’s often accompanied by another mental health disorder. It’s also possible to experience both OCD and another mental health condition such as Dysmorphic Disorder simultaneously, despite being separate conditions.

For instance, someone may obsessively wash their hands after touching something contaminated and then be plagued with a depressive disorder. Or someone may feel compelled to check locks multiple times per day but also struggle with substance use issues.

These are common compulsive symptoms that are often the by-product of other disorders and traumatic events. Co-occuring medical conditions are known as comorbidities and they affect approximately 40% of people with OCD.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is another common comorbidity with OCD. In these cases, the obsessive-compulsive symptoms may manifest themselves in an obsessive desire to create a personal perfection, such as tattoo and piercing addictions, or excessive plastic surgery and body modification.

What are the Treatment Options for OCD?

There are a multitude of treatment options for people suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, from psychological treatment to medication. Here are some of the most popular ones:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

The most effective treatment for OCD is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). CBT helps people learn how to change their thinking patterns and develop new ways of coping with their obsessions and compulsions. The goal of Cognitive Behavior Therapy is to teach people to identify and challenge the common obsessions, especially the habitual patterns of negative thoughts and beliefs that trigger their OCD. This type of therapy is usually delivered in weekly sessions for 12 weeks.

Man with anxiety and OCD organizing boxes in numerical order

There are treatments available to help combat the debilitating nature of OCD

Medication for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Medications such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, and other medications can be used to treat OCD. SSRIs are generally considered first-line treatments because they are effective and have fewer side effects compared to other types of medication, this efficacy led to the Serotonin Hypothesis.

If you decide to use medication, it should be taken daily and only after talking to a mental health professional such as a doctor about what works best for you.

Alternative Types of Activity

In addition to traditional therapies, there are many alternative methods being explored to treat OCD and similar mental disorders. For example, hypnosis has been shown to be helpful in treating compulsive personality disorders and psychotic disorders. Other techniques include yoga, meditation, mindfulness, magnetic stimulation, and biofeedback.

What is Deep Brain Stimulation?

Deep brain stimulation, or magnetic stimulation, is one option being researched for OCD. Deep brain stimulation involves implanting electrodes into specific areas of the brain to stimulate certain nerves. This is done through a procedure called stereotactic neurosurgery.

It’s important to discuss all the possible options such as magnetic stimulation with a trained mental health professional who can over you the best suggestion for your personal obsessive-compulsive symptoms, as everyone is different in their presentation.

OCD Is Treatable and Doesn’t Have to Hold You Back

Having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can feel for many like a death sentence, whether that’s being unable to leave the house due to a fear of germs, or feeling like time is being wasted on a specific task. But knowing there are options out there to help can bring that much-needed relief to those who need it most. After all, life isn’t just about living; it’s also about enjoying every moment.

Keep reading for more inspiring content embracing neurodiversity!

Last Updated on December 7, 2022 by Neurodadversity

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30-Something Millennial with ADHD and suspected Autistic and Dyspraxic. Thought leader behind this website. Big visions of a better future for everyone, but forgets where he is half the time.Loves Rugby, his kids, and anything silly. Hates U2 and Marmite.

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