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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Rituals are part of our everyday lives. Typical behaviors such as getting dressed in the morning, cleaning house and checking the oven to ensure it is off are, for some people, the mind’s way of blocking out upsetting thoughts.  They may wash their hands repeatedly to rid them of invisible contaminants or continuously check their wallet for fear that a twenty-dollar bill may have slipped away unnoticed. These repetitive acts go beyond healthy routines and can often interfere with work, friends, and family life.

Thought to be an anxiety disorder that causes ordinary worries and doubts to amplify, about 2.2 million adults are affected by an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Men and women are diagnosed equally, with about one-third reporting symptoms as early as childhood. Individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder may or may not realize that their ritualistic behavior is senseless, but they are powerless to stop it. Some individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder are preoccupied with life order, while others may have a difficult time throwing away things and may result to hoarding. While some people refer to themselves as “pack rats” and keep a lot of possessions in an attic, garage, or spare bedroom, hoarders often have so many objects in their homes that they must walk on them or over them to go from one room to another. The clutter eventually takes over their lives. OCD is often associated with motor tics or twitches, ADHD, eating disorders, or bipolar disorder; if left untreated, it can become emotionally debilitating.

Individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder often use drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms, making it important to seek help from a trained professional who can accurately diagnose the problems and prescribe the right course of treatment.

Below is a list of some of the common symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder:

Obsessions

An obsession is a recurrent impulse, thought, or image that the individual cannot seem to escape. Even though the individual may view these thoughts as senseless, they tend to interfere most when he is trying to focus on something else.

Here are a few of the obsessions and symptoms that someone with OCD may focus on:

  • Preoccupation with dirt and germs
  • Images of hurting his/her child
  • Excessive focus on religion
  • Obsession with order
  • Sexually explicit thoughts
  • Fear of losing things
  • The impulse to shout obscenities
  • Compulsive hair pulling
  • Making mistakes
  • Fear of touching objects that have been touched
  • Anxiety over hurting oneself or others
  • Dermatitis due to hand washing
  • Excessive focus on morality
  • Obsession with superstitions
  • Intrusive violent thoughts or images
  • Fear for safety
  • Skin lesions (due to picking)
  • Fear of “unlucky” numbers
  • Fear of doing something bad

Compulsions

A compulsion is a repetitive thought or action used to relieve anxiety, such as someone being preoccupied with a fear of contamination may wash his hands repeatedly to relieve those feelings. However, the compulsive acts usually offer only temporary relief from the obsession.

Here are a few of the compulsions and symptoms that someone with OCD may focus on:

  • Ritualistic counting
  • Hoarding possessions
  • Obsessive “checking
  • Repetitive motions or activities
  • Repeatedly checking the stove
  • Obsessive cleaning
  • Placing items “in order”
  • Need for constant reassurance
  • Washing skin until it becomes raw
  • Counting in patterns

(Because these symptoms in and of themselves do not always indicate the presence of other personality disorders, please contact your physician or mental health treatment provider in order to obtain an accurate diagnosis.)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be managed successfully but must be individualized according to the causes and symptoms. Most cases of OCD are treated with a combination of the following treatments:

  • Behavioral Therapy to change unproductive behaviors and learn appropriate coping skills
  • Exposure and Relapse Prevention or ERP is a specific set of skills to expose the individual to his or her fears and resist the compulsions. By going through a hierarchy of increasingly difficult tasks these techniques gradually decrease anxiety to the point of extinguishing the link between obsessions and compulsions.
  • Medications can include selective serotonin uptake blockers (SSRI’s) like Prozac, Zoloft, Anafranil, Paxil, Luvox and others that correct serotonin circuits in the brain.

 If you suspect that you or a loved one may have an obsessive-compulsive disorder, please contact a licensed mental health provider for diagnosis and treatment.