Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

It’s not uncommon for many individuals to place a strong focus on certain things like cleanliness, orderliness, and organization. In many cases, these are considered strong traits for a person to have and can make their lives much easier.

However, another end of the spectrum isn’t as beneficial for individuals who exist there. When individuals become hyper-focused on specific tasks, things, activities, and other elements, the impending result is a decrease in the quality of life, detachment from reality and damage to relationships.

Being overly focused on daily activities may seem positive, but too much of anything is never a good thing. This is especially true if the focus is on unhealthy elements or things that should only happen in moderation, like sex or eating.

Individuals who exhibit signs of this mental profile are diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD. This disorder is quite complex and includes multiple forms and driving factors.

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What Is OCD?

OCD is a fairly common disorder that affects a large percentage of individuals with mental health challenges. It’s defined as a chronic and long-lasting disorder that includes individuals having uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that they feel must be constantly repeated.

Individuals become preoccupied with specific tasks, actions, and thoughts and develop certain feelings towards them. Normally, individuals feel these tasks must be repeated until the end result is perfect. The end result is never achieved in many cases, and life becomes a revolving door of constant toiling.

In other cases, such as sexual compulsions, individuals become obsessed with sexual activity and will engage in unhealthy levels of this activity. Regardless of the area of focus, OCD can dramatically affect an individual’s quality of life.

Because of the complexity of this disorder and the wide range of driving factors, signs and symptoms may range in severity. However, it’s important to understand the baseline symptoms to identify when treatment may be required.

Signs and Symptoms of OCD

Individuals with OCD may exhibit a mixture of obsession and compulsions. Maintaining a normal work, educational, and personal life may be difficult.

Obsessions

Obsessions are defined as repetitive thoughts, urges, or graphic mental images that lead to panic, stress, or anxiety. Some of the most common obsessions include:

  • The extreme fear of germs, garbage, or contamination. Some individuals may become slightly panicked in environments like public restrooms and overuse hand sanitizer. In the most severe cases, individuals may become crippled to the point of being afraid to leave the house for fear of becoming contaminated with bacteria or other elements.
  • Unwanted, graphic thoughts of sex or harm. This may also lead to compulsive and random periods of self-pleasure or other obscene acts.
  • Aggressive thoughts towards others or self. Individuals will speak of or attempt to act on these thoughts in the most severe cases. In these situations, immediate assistance is required to avoid dangerous situations.
  • Placing things in order. Individuals will be obsessed with placing things in a certain order, whether it’s alphabetical, color-coordinated, size, or shape.

On the other hand, there is the compulsory form of the disorder. Compulsions are repeated behaviors that a person with OCD feels they must engage in as a response to their obsessions. It’s important to note that obsessions don’t always lead to compulsions. However, as the severity of the disorder progresses, individuals may have less control over the segue from obsession to compulsion.

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Compulsions

Some of the more compulsive behaviors include:

  • Cleaning/handwashing. Individuals will repeatedly clean themselves or their hands. This is typically in response to the fear of germs or illness.
  • Order/arrangement. Any presence of a group of items will trigger individuals to order or arrange them in a specific, precise way.
  • Individuals will constantly check on things, becoming almost hyper-vigilant. Common examples include repeatedly checking to see if a door is locked, an oven isn’t powered, the lights are off, or a faucet isn’t dripping.
  • Individuals will continuously count everything they see. Whenever there is a presence of multiple items, they will repeatedly count these items over and over.

Rituals or habits can’t always be considered compulsions. Sometimes, people are just vigilant, safe, or orderly. Honestly, we all double-check certain things and check boxes to ensure important tasks are completed. However, individuals with OCD:

  • Can’t control their own thoughts or behaviors, even when they are made aware of the fact that those thoughts or behaviors are excessive or damaging
  • Spend at least one hour per day on these thoughts, behaviors, tasks, or activities
  • Doesn’t experience pleasure when performing specific behaviors or activities. However, they may feel a slight sense of relief from the anxiety that these thoughts trigger.
  • Extreme problems persist in their lives as a result of said activities or behaviors

Another prevalent sign among individuals with mood disorders is the presence of a tic. A tic disorder is defined as short, random movements or twitches.

These may be blinking eyes or other functions, such as facial distortions, jerking the head or shoulders, and bouncing the shoulders.

These are all forms of motor tics. Vocal tics, however, may include constant throat-clearing, snorting, and grunting sounds.

It’s not uncommon for symptoms to start and stop and gradually become worse over time. In certain cases, individuals may attempt to curve their tics and habits by avoiding situations that may manifest their obsessions. Additionally, individuals may turn to alcohol or substance abuse to relieve symptoms.

This makes challenges associated with dual-diagnosis a persistent threat, which further complicates OCD. Understanding the risk factors associated with OCD will help determine additional risks of substance abuse or subsequent mental health disorders.

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Risk Factors for OCD

As stated previously, there isn’t one common cause of OCD. However, certain situations and characteristics may increase someone’s risk of developing this disorder.

Risk factors include:

Genetics

Research has suggested that individuals with immediate relatives (parents, siblings) who have OCD are at higher risk themselves. Additionally, the risk is much greater if the relative develops OCD during their adolescent years.

Elements of the Brain

There have been imaging studies that highlight contrasts in the frontal cortex and subcortical brain structures when OCD is present. It seems as if there’s a connection between OCD symptoms and inconsistencies in certain regions of the brain. However, the connection is not clear, and research is still underway.

Environment

There is a connection between the trauma that takes place in children and OCD symptoms. Again, more research is necessary to solidify these studies.

Because of the complexities and challenges involved with OCD and the triggers associated with this disorder, selecting the proper treatment is vital for long-term recovery. The following section highlights possible treatments and effective courses of action.

OCD Treatments and Therapies

Normally, OCD is treated with a prescription medication regimen and/or psychotherapy. Many individuals respond favorably to talk therapy and cognitive behavior exercises. However, acute symptoms still persist that create significant challenges.

Because of this, many cases require the continued prescription of various medications.

There is a consistent presence of additional mental disorders like depression, panic disorder, and bipolar disorder. Furthermore, substance and alcohol abuse disorders aren’t uncommon, as stated above.

All of these elements must be considered when crafting a unique treatment plan. One important thing to note is that the presence of dual-diagnosis requires specialized treatment in a facility that addresses the presence of both intersecting conditions.

Medication Treatment

Examples of medication that may be effective include:

  • Serotonin inhibitors. These reduce the symptoms involved with OCD.
  • SRIs require much larger doses for treating OCD. Additionally, they make it take over 12 weeks to begin working. However, certain patients may see relief much quicker.

If these types of medications don’t provide improvement, the next step is normally antipsychotic options. This isn’t administered as often because research is lacking regarding the ability of antipsychotics to treat OCD.

Truthfully, medication options simply relieve symptoms associated with any mental health disorder. The true healing treatment is the psychotherapy portion of a treatment regimen. This is the portion that addresses the issues at the heart of a disorder, allowing individuals to work certain challenges out in their minds.

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Psychotherapy Treatment

Adults and children may experience relief from psychotherapy treatment options. Research suggests that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and similar forms of treatment can be more effective overall.

One form of CBT is known as Exposure and Response Prevention (EX/RP). This is similar to exposure therapy used to treat different phobias associated with anxiety disorder. However, the main difference is clients are prevented from engaging in compulsions.

It is widely considered that this form of treatment also produces more favorable results than any medication options, including SRI. The primary recommendation is to construct a personalized treatment plan unique to each individual.

Long-term treatment and extended mental wellness are possible with the right treatment plan led by an effective team

Long-term Relief is Possible from OCD

It may not seem to be one of the more serious mental health disorders, but OCD can be crippling. For many individuals, spotting the light at the end of the tunnel can be difficult, if not impossible.

However, when the right phases of treatment are combined with high levels of willpower, long-term relief and recovery from OCD are highly attainable. The most important thing to remember is to give the proper attention and focus to the most relevant phases of recovery.

  • The identification/diagnosis phase is critical. This is when individuals are officially diagnosed with OCD, and a determination is made regarding any co-occurring disorders. This phase dictates the exact course of treatment, so making an accurate assessment is of utmost importance.
  • The right combination of psychotherapy and/or medication-assisted treatment is also important. As stated earlier, forms of mental-health counseling and various therapies are usually more effective than prescription medication. This is when it becomes important that clients give 100% effort into engaging and being proactive in therapy and education. It’s strongly encouraged that family and loved ones become involved with this treatment portion.
  • Finally, aftercare services and any continued treatment will provide the relief needed to maintain success. Support groups focused on mental health should be a cornerstone of aftercare in combination with a strong support system.

All of these elements combined create a recipe that leads to mental wellness and continued recovery. At Icarus Behavioral Health, we believe in taking a holistic approach in addition to all of these treatment options.

We have an experienced team of dedicated mental health professionals that are passionate about your recovery. If you have any questions regarding our treatment options and how they can help you return to everyday life, don’t hesitate to contact our admissions specialists.

Most insurance providers cover mental health, substance abuse, and dual-diagnosis treatment. Your mental health shouldn’t be put on the back burner; contact us today!