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Anxiety Disorders

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is categorized as an anxiety disorder commonly associated with intrusive thoughts that cause the sufferer fear. These thoughts typically cause the sufferer to engage in repetitive behavior, compulsions, and to satisfy obsessions in day-to-day life. Although the term in common use often denotes a collection of peculiar personality traits, OCD is sufficient in standing alone as a genuine disorder caused by multiple psychological and biological factors.


OCD is often expressed as complex illogical behavior that disrupts simply daily tasks and routines. This behavior derives from worries or doubts, or from disturbing sexual or religious thoughts. Common signs are recurring obsessions that cannot be suppressed despite the sufferer’s attempts to ignore them. Although worries, fears, superstitions, and routines are facts of life for average human beings, it is when these tribulations begin to dominate a person’s life that indicates OCD might be present. Obsessions comprise a form of intrusive thoughts that can be as vague as feeling as if life cannot proceed if there is imbalance, to an irrational perceived threat that someone or something is out to harm the sufferer or people they care about. This behavior reinforces itself and remains cyclical in the sense that it provides relief. Obsessions can also take the form of irrational fears related to contamination and germs. OCD often surfaces as compulsive rituals that derive from attempts to quell troubling or agitated thoughts. These compulsions can include but are not limited to routines pertaining to counting, performing repetitive actions such as hand washing or repeatedly checking locks. Sufferers find temporary relief in these behaviors from the troubled thoughts from which the behavior originated.


OCD is believed to have a neurological and genetic root influenced by personal circumstances. Personal circumstance relates to the psychological basis behind the disorder, a notion supported by evolutionary psychology theorists. For some scholars, moderate versions of compulsive behavior may pose advantages to an organism’s survival i.e. the checking of hygiene, the security of one’s home, and the environment for enemies. From a biological standpoint, the neurotransmitter serotonin plays a role in the development of OCD which is related to the chemical’s function as a molecule that regulates anxiety. It is thought that the serotonin receptors of OCD sufferers are malfunctioning or not being stimulated enough. Medical researchers have also posited that OCD might be caused by a genetic mutation found in a gene governing the transportation of serotonin. Mutation supports the hypothesis that there is a heritable component to the onset of OCD and generalized anxiety disorders across the board. Strikingly, OCD can develop at any age but rarely develops after the age of forty. Typically the disorder begins in early childhood or late adolescence.


Although people with OCD can often acknowledge that their behavior is irrational, they are none the less compelled to behave as such, and are held at the mercy of the disorder. In this sense they do not have control over their troubling thoughts, and must seek avenues for treatment to manage a decent standard of life.

Like many disorders both mental and physical, people can avoid the suffering that comes with their disorder with an early diagnosis and the right treatment. Although OCD is reputed to be underdiagnosed in the medical community, the protocol for a diagnosis is standardized and often leads to effective treatment. Typically treatments include one or a combination of the following: behavioral therapy, medication, and psychosurgery. Behavioral therapy utilizes a technique named coined exposure and response prevention that gradually conditions a sufferer to tolerate the anxiety without needing to perform a ritual or express the anxiety in a compulsive way. In the scientific community, exposure and response prevention is the most effective treatment, and has a solid base of evidence supporting this claim. However, recently it has been agreed that a combination of medication and behavioral therapy has no bearing on the clinical effectiveness of behavioral therapy alone. Medicational treatments of OCD focus on serotonin re-uptake, utilizing a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s). For sufferers feeling that one or a combination of the latter provide no relief, psychosurgery is a last resort. Psychosurgery cannot be carried out unless less risky treatments have already been attempted.


Although psychological intervention and the various treatments lead to a significant reduction in the symptoms of OCD, the symptoms often persist following treatment. Life with OCD is not symptom free, yet the drastic affects can be alleviated with the right diagnosis and proper treatment avenues.


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