Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Awareness Campaign

What is OCD?

Briefly put, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a time consuming disorder (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996). The person with the disorder may realize the absurdity and irrationality behind their actions, but cannot stop (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996). Word for word, OCD breaks down into this:


  • Obsessions → reoccurring and intrusive thoughts, feelings, sensations, or ideas
  • Compulsions → repeated thoughts or behaviors to make obsessions disappear
  • Disorder → pattern of symptoms that interferes with multiple aspects of one's life

How Common is OCD?

Before 1980, OCD was unresponsive to treatment and thought of as uncommon (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996). However, after 1980, OCD became responsive to treatment and fairly common (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996). About 1 out of 40 people had OCD at some point in their life (Duckworth & Freedman, 2012).


Anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, social standings, gender, location, and age can have OCD (Duckworth & Freedman, 2012). According to "Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD," most people are diagnosed with OCD before they are 19 years old. OCD is more noticeable in childhood and worsens as one ages, especially if they do not seek help (Duckworth & Freedman).

What causes OCD?

OCD is a heavily biological disorder. If you, your parent, or your sibling have OCD, there is a 25% chance someone else in your immediate family has it, too (Duckworth & Freedman, 2012). In addition to OCD being inherited, a lack of the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep can cause the disorder (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996).


The obsession piece of OCD is a result of conditioning. A neutral stimulus is combined with a fear, which then results in anxiety (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996). Then, compulsions are meant to decrease the anxiety (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996). However, the relief that compulsions are supposed to prove, do not last. Instead, the obsessive thoughts come back more powerful and, despite the original job of the compulsions, they manage to increase anxiety (Robinson, Smith, & Segal, 2014).


Thanks to advanced technology today, PET scans have identified the frontal lobe, basal ganglia, and cingulum in the brain as having high activity that contributes to having OCD (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996). Also, an absence of the neurotransmitter serotonin can lead to OCD (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996).

What are the symptoms?

Some specific types of OCD have symptoms of nail biting or hair pulling, as in trichotillomania (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996). However, some the general symptoms of OCD could break down into three major types of obsessions:

  • Obsession of contamination could mean constantly washing and cleaning yourself and, if extremely severe, not leaving your home (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996).
  • Obsession of doubt could mean making multiple trips through the house to check that doors are locked and appliances are off (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996).
  • Obsession of precision could mean needing symmetry and perfecting things in a slow fashion to acquire the desired neatness (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996).

What treatments are available?

There is no need to conceal the fact that someone has OCD. Instead, get help. One treatment used often is cognitive behavioral therapy in which the therapist shares different ways of thinking, reacting, and behaving in certain situations (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, n.d.). Another treatment is operant behavior therapy where rewards and punishments are given for certain actions.


Some medical professionals may prescribe different medications to help. One standard drug is clomipramine, which increases serotonin. Also, there are numerous drugs that fall under the title of serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI (Kaplan & Sadock, 1996). For example, these are SSRIs:


  • Fluoxetine
  • Sertraline
  • Paroxetine
  • Fluvoxamine

You are not alone

Approximately 2% of the world's population have OCD (Duckworth & Freedman, 2012). According to "Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD," in the United States alone, there are about 2.2 million Americans with OCD, ranging in severity. You may not know someone personally with OCD, but you may know some of these famous celebrities.

What is new pertaining to OCD?

In the DSM-5, some changes were made to OCD. For instance, it is no longer classified as an anxiety disorder, but instead in its own category: the obsessive-compulsive and related disorders section (Highlights of changes from DSM-IV-TR to DSM-5, n.d.). Also, there is a distinction between good or fair insight, poor insight, and absent insight/delusional (Highlights of changes from DSM-IV-TR to DSM-5, n.d.). This acknowledges how aware people with OCD are about having the disorder. Additionally, hoarding is now seen as an actions sometimes associated with OCD, but is not a subtype of OCD (Highlights of changes from DSM-IV-TR to DSM-5, n.d.).
International OCD Foundation

Phone: (617) 973 5801; Email: info@iocdf.org; Address: 18 Tremont Street, Suite 903, Boston, MA