Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a mental illness and behavioral disorder which causes severe anxiety in the form of obsessions and compulsions which take over a patient’s life. This type of document would likely appear in a psychology course or a peer-reviewed journal. The International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) presented the following example of OCD thinking:
“Imagine that your mind got stuck on a certain thought or image…then this thought or image replayed in your mind over and over again no matter what you did…”
What is OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
IOCDF noted that the feeling is unwanted, overwhelming, and includes intense anxiety which can be very distressing to the person suffering from OCD. OCD often allows little time for other activities that a person enjoys, thus resulting in lower quality of life. This sample research paper created by the writing services of Ultius explores this affliction and tries to make better sense of the disorder.
What is an obsession?
Anxiety is designed to alert a person to danger, so with these feelings, there is an intense drive to “respond, react, and protect.” The problem comes when the issue is not truly a danger to the patient, and a lot of time gets spent trying to both alleviate the feelings and understand that the danger is not real. IOCDF stated that:
“if you have OCD, the warning system in your brain is not working correctly. Your brain is telling you that you are in danger when you are not” (IOCDF).
An obsession is a:
“persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea of feeling,” a “compelling motivation,” or “a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal” (“Obsession,” Merriam-Webster).
IOCDF defined it as:
“thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again and feel outside of the person’s control” (IOCDF).
Obsessions include intense, negative emotions such as:
- The feeling that things are being done incorrectly and should be done only in a certain way
The line between OCD and an obsessive personality trait is very minimal – but people suffering from OCD have very time-consuming obsessions which cause them to miss important activities and events in their lives, as the obsessions become the most important thing always.
Common misinterpretations of obsession
The word obsession is used casually in the English language in a much less worrisome way – obsessions with a loved one, for example, are viewed in a positive light at times. In this way, the term is often used lightly, which subtracts from the intense feelings that OCD sufferers feel (IOCDF). Although everyone worries about making mistakes in life, getting sick, or thinks about a new lover often, these are not necessarily OCD symptoms. “Momentary concern” over an issue, which is then put away while the person continues with his or her day is normal. Intrusive thoughts for those with OCD, on the other hand, happen frequently and include “extreme anxiety” which causes problems with day-to-day functioning (IOCDF).
Common OCD obsessions
There are many common OCD obsessions, including:
- Losing control
- Unwanted sexual thoughts
- Scrupulosity (religious obsessions)
- Fear of contracting a chronic illness
People with OCD might fear becoming contaminated by bodily fluids such as urine or feces, diseases such as herpes or HIV, environmental contaminants, dirt, or household chemicals. Some people with OCD might demonstrate:
- Fear impulses to hurt themselves or others
- A tendency blurt out obscenities
- A need to steal things
- Forbidden or perverse sexual thoughts
- Impulses involving homosexuality, children, incest, or sexually aggressive behavior
- Extreme social anxiety (IOCDF)
What is a compulsion?
A compulsion is:
“a very strong desire to do something” or an “irresistible persistent impulse to perform an act (as excessive hand washing or eating)” (“Compulsion,” Merriam-Webster).
IOCDF noted that compulsions are the second part of obsessive compulsive disorder, represented by repetitive behaviors the person repeats over and over in an effort to neutralize, counteract, or eradicate obsessive thoughts. Compulsions are temporary solutions in order to avoid trigger situations in many cases. Repetition is not always compulsion, according to the IOCDF, as new skill learning or memorization both include it.
The context of the behavior signifies whether it is OCD; if the behavior is enjoyed by the person, or necessary in the context of a job or hobby, it may not be compulsive. If it is something the person does not want to do, it may be an OCD-associated compulsion.
Common OCD compulsions
There are several common OCD-associated compulsions and activities which are the result of, or the result of an attempt to avoid, obsessive OCD thoughts. Common compulsions include:
- Washing and cleaning hands, the body, or household object excessively
- Avoiding imagined contaminant contact
- Checking and rechecking in various situations to make sure that no harm is done,that a mistake was not made, or that nothing “terrible” happened
- Constant bodily checks of persons or a loved ones
- Constant phone calls to a loved one
- Repeated checking of the same procedure even though it was performed correctly the first time (IOCDF).
Repetition goes along with checking and rechecking, and can also be compulsions for those suffering from OCD, involving:
- Frequent rewriting or rereading of text
- Repeated routine activities
- Repeated body movements that resemble tics
- Repeating tasks a certain number of times because it is a “good,” “right,” or “safe” number of times to do things
- Rearranging things because they don’t “feel right”
- Repetitious conversation (IOCDF)
Who suffers from OCD?
OCD can appear at any time in life, but between the ages of eight and twelve years old and the late teen years and early adulthood are the most common times for diagnosis (IOCDF). The IOCDF estimates that one in 100 adult or two to three million people in the United States currently have OCD. In addition, nearly one in 200 children and teenagers have it; nearly the same number as have diabetes (IOCDF).
What causes OCD?
Scientists and medical doctors are still unsure about what causes OCD and many research papers have been written on the subject, but problems with brain communication may be to blame. Some people with OCD can be partially cured through the use of serotonin leveling medications like serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) or cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Although it has not been confirmed, OCD tends to run in families and genes “likely play a role in the development of the disorder” (IOCDF). According to the Mayo Clinic, OCD may also be a:
“result of changes in your body’s own natural chemistry or brain functions” or “environmental factors such as infections”.
OCD can also be caused by substance abuse or medication, in some cases (MNT).
Methamphetamine use and elevated OCD behaviors
Semple, Strathdee, Zians, McQuaid, and Patterson found in a 2010 study that:
“[methamphetamine] use has been identified as a risk factor for elevated levels of obsessive-compulsive disorder” (OCD).
This indicates that with an increase in methamphetamine use, the commonality of OCD behaviors increase as well. Increased sexual risk factors may be a result of this OCD behavior increase, but further studies need to be done in this area.
How is OCD diagnosed?
Therapists seeking to diagnose or treat OCD look for three major indicators in patients for their diagnoses. First, the person must have obsessions. Secondly, the person must perform compulsive behaviors, and third, these obsessions and compulsions must take so much time out of the person’s life that they subtract time from important activities such as work, school, and spending time with family, friends, or a loved one (IOCDF).
Methods and treatment for OCD
OCD can be treated best through cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and medication which reduces anxiety in the patient (IOCDF). Exposure and response prevention, or ERP, is the most effective type of CBT, while use of serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) are the most effective type of medication. ERP is performed with set biweekly appointment times by:
- A psychologist
- A social worker
- A mental health counselor (IOCDF)
An estimated 70% of patients respond well to ERP and medication when used together. If this type of outpatient care does not work, more intense levels of therapy and treatment can be used, such as:
- A day program at a mental health center which can be one to five days a week
- Partial hospitalization
- Residential time in a mental health treatment facility
- Inpatient as the last resort (IOCDF)
This last option is based on a locked mental health unit and may help patients who are a
“danger to themselves or others” (IOCDF).
Group therapy ERP, teletherapy (therapy delivered via videoconferencing), or acceptance and commitment therapy can also be effective in certain cases. The most important factor in treating OCD is a support network of people to talk to about obsessions and compulsions, as well as relapses and successes. Specifically, families should avoid encouraging, participating, or making drastic changes to work life, home life, or leisure activities because of the OCD behaviors – avoidance of enabling is key to the patient’s success (IOCDF).
OCD can be difficult to separate from other disorders, and is often misdiagnosed due to “overlapping symptoms” (IOCDF). Some examples of similar disorders are:
- Hoarding disorder (involving compulsive collecting)
- Body dysmorphic disorder (repetitive body checking)
- Body focused repetitive behaviors such as trichotillomania and excoriation (hair-pulling, skin-picking)
- PANDAS/PANS (pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections)
- Tourette syndrome or tics
- Impulse control disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Psychotic disorders or schizophrenia
People with these disorders do not generally respond to typical OCD treatments.
Social misinterpretations of OCD
Fatima Tipu of The Atlantic noted that:
“misuse of the term ‘OCD’ has become popular, leading to misunderstandings revolving around the disorder itself”.
Tipu listed examples of media misuse of the term in such socially-frequented locations as Buzzfeed and social media outlets. Although sufferers of OCD understand the different, the effect of this misusage causes something Yulia Chentsova-Dutton calls a “cultural script” which associated the term with positive ideas, and ultimately results in encouraging or overlooking the actual symptoms of the disease (as cited in Tipu).
Chentsova-Dutton is a cultural psychologist and professor at Georgetown University. Tipu found that 51 percent of OCD cases are severe, so this disorder is nothing to joke about; these cultural misinterpretations of OCD do not help the actual sufferers of the disorder, and may in fact be harmful to their recovery or ability to downgrade and normalize the intense anxiety associated with it.
Although there is not a cure for OCD, and its exact origins are not specifically known by science or medicine at this time, there is help for those who suffer from compulsions, obsessions, and severe or intense anxiety created by unwanted thoughts and inaccurate beliefs. The first step toward feeling better is to seek out the help of a therapist through a medical clinic, mental health facility, or with the help of family members or friends. OCD anxiety and activities can be reduced through different types of therapy, medication, or other means.
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“What is OCD?” International OCD Foundation, 2015. Web. 19 August 2015.
“Obsession” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, n.d. Web. 19 August 2015.
“Compulsion.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, n.d. Web. 19 August 2015.
“Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)”. Mayo Clinic, 2015. Web. 19 August 2015.
“Obsessive-compulsive disorder.” Medical News Today, 2 August 2015. Web. 19 August 2015.
Semple, Shirley J., Strathdee, Steffanie A., Zians, J., McQuaid, John, Patterson, Thomas L. “Correlates of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in a Sample of HIV-Positive, Methamphetamine-using Men who have Sex with Men.” AIDS and Behavior 15.6 (201), 1153-1160. Web.
Tipu, Fatima. “OCD is not a Quirk.” The Atlantic, 22 February 2015. Web. 19 August 2015.