10 FAQs About OCD

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

Whether you are supporting someone with it, or experiencing it first hand, OCD is a brain disorder that is often nuanced, and can at times be difficult to understand. Here are some of the key things people should know when learning about Obsessive Complusive Disorder.

OCD is an anxiety disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is considered a brain and behavioral disorder that involves obsessive thoughts and compulsions. In the medical field, OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder.

The causes of OCD are complex and not fully understood

The disorder doesn’t seem to be attributed to any one single factor. There can be a genetic component, as it sometimes runs in families. Stressful events can also account for the onset of OCD in roughly one in three cases. Additional data suggests that the neurotransmitter serotonin may play a role, as studies have shown that people with OCD tend to have brain imbalances of serotonin.

In other instances, some people have particularly high sense of personal morality, which may or may not include a religious faith. Concerns over certain thoughts can heighten their awareness of these thoughts and make it harder to shake them off.

It was once thought that parenting style contributed to the development of OCD. And while there is some evidence that overprotective parenting can increase the child’s risk of developing OCD, upbringing generally is not considered to be a factor.

Infections and OCD may be linked

There have been instances of children developing OCD after a severe streptococcal infection. The theory is that the infection doesn’t cause OCD, but instead triggers the disorder in children already genetically predisposed to the disorder.

Only a small fraction of men and women get OCD

Estimates suggest that one in 50 people will develop OCD. It generally starts during the teenage years, but not everyone seeks help, or more so, they put off seeking help sometimes for many years.

Statistics from The National Institute of Mental Health show that men and women are affected equally, and that approximately 2.2 million American adults have the disorder.

Obsessions and compulsions usually come together

Most people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions though it’s estimated that as many as 20 percent have obsessions only while 10 percent simply experience compulsions.

“OCD Spike” is a popular term among those who experience OCD

The use of the term OCD ‘spike’ is frequently and increasingly used by support groups and forums to describe a wide variety of triggers. This can rage from an obsession to the distress caused by related anxiety. It‘s therefore fairly vague and unhelpful for those attempting to grasp the essentials of OCD.

There are mainly 5 kinds of obsessions

The hallmark of OCD early on is having excessive thoughts and behaviors that are senseless. Obsessive thoughts can be about any subject, but usually fall into one or more of five categories which include:

  • Relationships such as doubts over faithfulness and a need for reassurance.

  • Sexual thoughts that include fears of becoming attracted to family members, people of the same sex, touching children inappropriately.

  • Magical thoughts or the mere thought of something could make it happen.

  • Religious thoughts such as having negative thoughts in a place of worship, sexual thoughts involving saints, God or other religious figures, fear of swearing during an act of worship.

  • Violent thoughts such as harming a loved one, self-harm, acting on a violent impulse.

Hoarders and neat freaks are some of the most well known examples of compulsives

Compulsions can involve many different things, but they generally fall into the categories of checking, hoarding, cleanliness and the need to prevent contamination, and symmetry and orderliness. People tend to be much more familiar with these examples as they’re frequently portrayed in real-life documentaries or looked upon as humorous or quirky traits of characters such as fictional detectives or writers.

Self-help has shown to be effective

Self-Help is an important aspect of recovery. For example, many structured programs in the form of DVDs or self-help books can help. It is also always helpful to talk to a trusted person. For example, it can be very helpful to talk with a religious leader if obsessive thoughts are related to religion or one’s faith. Do not try to control intrusive thoughts with drugs, alcohol or look for distraction in other ways.

There are medical treatments for OCD

Professional help for OCD is available through cognitive behavioral therapy as well as medication. About three out of four people who use CBT tend to show great improvement, but around one in four will experience a relapse. An estimated six out of 10 people who try medications, typically antidepressants, experience a reduction in symptoms -- but roughly half will relapse once medication is stopped. However, when both are combined the chances of relapse are much reduced.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.