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Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD is a mental illness that significantly disrupts a person’s daily life. It begins with a series of irrational thoughts that become obsessions. The individual having these thoughts cannot control them and develops ritualistic behaviors (compulsions) in an effort to manage them. The condition impacts about one in every 40 individuals or more than two percent of the general population, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI. In most cases, the symptoms of OCD present during childhood or adolescence and men tend to have a higher incidence of the condition.

What is OCD?

A person with OCD experiences repetitive thoughts that are intrusive, repetitive and unwanted, known as obsessions. Despite this fact, the individual is unable to control or eliminate the thoughts or images, even when it is clear they are untrue or irrational. The thoughts will lead to urges to do certain repetitive actions, such as hand washing, counting or checking on things like the stove or the lock on the door. Known as compulsions, these behaviors may not even be related to the obsessive thoughts. However, the person will continue to perform them in hopes they will reduce the anxiety provoked by the obsessions. The cycle can significantly interfere with daily life and have a very negative effect on an individual’s quality of life.

Risk Factors for OCD

The cause of OCD is not completely understood, but experts believe the following factors could increase your risk of developing this condition:

  • A family history of OCD, particularly among parents and siblings
  • Diagnosis of other mental illnesses, such as generalized anxiety disorder
  • Traumatic experiences in childhood, such as abuse or neglect
  • Stressful life events like a death, divorce or assault

Symptoms of OCD

The symptoms of OCD can be broken down into two categories:

Obsessive Symptoms

The persistent, unwanted thoughts that characterize OCD can often be broken down into themes:

  • Fear of dirt or contamination
  • Intense thoughts about harming oneself or others
  • An irrational need to keep objects symmetrical, orderly or sequential
  • Unwanted, disturbing thoughts involving sex, religion or aggression
  • Persistent thoughts about inappropriate behavior like shouting obscenities

The thoughts typically last at least an hour each day and interfere with a person’s daily routine. Fears over having the thoughts can make the person avoid certain situations or activities that could trigger the obsessive process.

Compulsive Symptoms

To stop the obsessive thought process, individuals may adopt some types of repetitive behaviors that may or may not be directly associated with the thoughts themselves. Behaviors might include:

  • Repetitive hand washing, even when the hands become painfully raw
  • Rechecking to see if the door has been locked or the stove is shut off
  • Counting money over again to ensure the individual knows the correct amount
  • Repetitive actions and rigid daily routines and rituals
  • Arranging objects in a meticulously precise fashion

Although these behaviors might not relieve the obsessive thoughts, a person will continue to feel compelled to perform them in hopes that might change. The person does not get pleasure or satisfaction from the behaviors and may even feel ashamed enough to try to hide them from others.

OCD and Substance Abuse

OCD is classified as a type of anxiety disorder, which has a strong association with substance abuse. In fact, people with any type of anxiety condition, including OCD, are two to three time more likely to have a substance abuse disorder as well, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Whether a person uses drugs or alcohol to mask the symptoms of OCD or finds that substance abuse exacerbates the symptoms of the mental illness, the problems with diagnosis and treatment become more complex when a co-occurring disorder is present.

Treatment Options

Treatment for OCD typically will include a combination of therapies, including medication to reduce the anxious feelings and psychotherapy to pinpoint the underlying issues associated with the mental illness. If substance abuse or addiction is also present, treatment will need to address both conditions to be as effective as possible. Choosing a treatment center experience in managing co-occurring disorders is essential for a healthy recovery process.

The Center for Professional Recovery focuses on treating professionals from a variety of high-profile industries, including doctors, dentists, lawyers, pilots and business executives. Surrounding by your peers with similar struggles, you will work with your team to customize a treatment program that will address your precise needs. We provide the necessary privacy and non-judgmental support to help our clients achieve long-term sobriety and resume their professional path in most cases. To learn more about our programs or get the help you need today, contact the Center for Professional Recovery at 866.298.0056.

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