Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that causes unwanted worries, nervous thoughts, fears, and rituals that seem like they can’t be controlled. While worries and fears are a part of our everyday lives, for people with OCD these worries cause anguish and distress on a regular basis.
People not suffering from OCD often say they can relate to the symptoms when they do things like check if the coffee maker or oven is off several times before leaving for work. What makes individuals with OCD different, is that these types of actions consume at least an hour of their day, everyday, and hinder their lives. They are obsessed with fears that the brain just cannot seem to get over, such as germs, and fears of harming others, or of being harmed themselves.
A person may often times realize that these fears are irrational, but still can’t let them go. They keep going back to these thoughts. Some individuals and children may not realize that the fears are irrational, which is called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with poor insight. A person will try to suppress these fears and impulses with other thoughts or, as an attempt to make their fears disappear, carry out compulsions. These compulsions are carried out again and again. The compulsions are acted out to give some sort of reprieve from the fears; not for fun or pleasure.
For example, a person obsessed with germs or disease may compulsively wash his or her hands until they are actually reddened or irritated. If theses acts are not performed, their anxiety will continue to grow. They may repeatedly check things such as making sure their door is locked before leaving. They may also avoid situations where their obsession is unavoidable, and in some situations drug or alcohol abuse is a problem. They may also be obsessed with symmetry, counting or touching objects, excessive religious thoughts that are troubling, and performing sexual acts that they consider disgusting.
Obsessive compulsive disorder affects about 3.3 million adults in the United States. Men and women are affected equally, and often times the first symptoms appear in childhood or adolescence. There is also indication to suggest that it may tend to run in families. Symptoms may not always be present and can even come and go. Over time these symptoms can improve or become worse. Other disorders may also be present with obsessive compulsive disorder. These may include other anxiety disorders, eating disorders, or depression. The symptoms of OCD can become so severe that they prevent an individual from having a job or relationship. However, treatment is available and many people with OCD show improvement with techniques like Cognitive Behavior Therapy.