OCD Causes & Effects

When a person struggles with intrusive thoughts and overwhelming compulsions to adhere to rituals or behaviors as a means of reducing anxiety or avoiding harm, he or she is most likely suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD. Symptoms of this mental health condition are unwanted by sufferers and can cause a great deal of impairment in daily functioning. The obsessions involved in this disorder can be all-consuming and ruminate in a person’s mind until compulsions are given in to in an attempt to reduce the overpowering anxious feelings that can preclude an individual from completing even the most basic of tasks. Additionally, the compulsive side of OCD can cause a person to engage in cyclical behavior patterns that do not make sense to anyone else aside from the individual battling the disorder.

There are a number of individuals who suffer from OCD who simultaneously battle symptoms of eating disorders as well. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the rates of OCD are elevated in people who are suffering from eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. The compounded issue of these two conditions occurring together can cause individuals to experience a number of devastating effects. Fortunately, effective OCD treatment is available that can alleviate the distressing symptoms and help individuals overcome their disordered eating patterns, ultimately restoring them to a healthy way of functioning. With appropriate care, sufferers of these conditions can learn how to break dysfunctional thought patterns, resist compulsions, and manage feelings of anxiety. In doing so, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder and co-occurring eating disorders can regain control over their lives.

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Statistics

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, a mental illness that is believed to affect men and women at equal rates, is estimated to present in 1% of people in the United States. Researchers have found that a quarter of those who meet diagnostic criteria for OCD experience symptoms by the age of 14, though the average age of onset is 19.

Causes and Risk Factors for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The causes and risk factors for obsessive-compulsive disorder are believed to be rooted in a person’s genetics. Additionally, experts believe that certain environmental factors can influence the onset of symptoms of OCD as well. Consider the following explanations:

Genetic: Similar to other mental health conditions, OCD is believed to run in families. Especially for individuals with at least one biological parent who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, there is an increased risk for that person to develop OCD symptoms as well. Additionally, if a person has a family history of anxiety disorders, the risk for OCD is also elevated. Because of these findings, it has been concluded that obsessive-compulsive disorder possesses genetic origins.

Environmental: Experts in the field of mental health believe that environments that trigger anxious feelings can lead to the development of OCD. Examples of such environments are ones that include abuse, neglect, violence, and exposure to trauma. Lastly, it has been concluded by developmental specialists that OCD symptoms can manifest if a child is raised by caregivers who are uninvolved or absent during his or her formative years.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of obsessive-compulsive disorder or other mental health conditions
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Being the victim of crime, abuse, or neglect
  • Exposure to chronic stress or trauma
  • Experiencing abrupt life changes
  • Having a poor support system
  • Experiencing the unexpected loss of a loved one
  • Partaking in unhealthy relationships
  • Having caregivers that were not involved during childhood

Signs and Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

A unique feature of OCD is the presence of two distinct types of symptoms that can manifest. Individuals with this condition experience both obsessions and compulsions, with some experiencing more obsessions than compulsions, and vice versa. The presence of the following signs and symptoms infer that an individual is suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder:

Obsessive symptoms: Intrusive, and often unwanted, obsessive symptoms have the potential to dictate how a person lives his or her life. Obsessive symptoms can involve:

  • Irrational, excessive, and specific worries about the symmetry, order, and/or arrangement of objects
  • Intense fears pertaining to dirt, germs, and/or the risk of contamination
  • Overwhelming feelings of responsibility for others
  • Impulsions to be aggressive, though these impulsions are more ideas than actions
  • Disturbing thoughts that are graphic in nature

Compulsive symptoms: The compulsive symptoms of OCD involve behaviors that are often ritualistic. These can include:

  • Excessive cleaning
  • Repeatedly washing one’s hands or bathing
  • Hoarding
  • Ritualized eating habits
  • Frequently checking to make sure something has been done or remains in a state that eases perceived anxiety, even though anxious feelings remain
  • Repetitious speech
  • Spending a great deal of time rearranging items
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD can cause a great deal of disruption in a person’s life. When treatment is not received, symptoms of this disorder are also likely to worsen. For this reason, it is imperative that individuals who are suffering from OCD seek treatment so as to avoid adverse effects that could otherwise occur. The following negative effects are examples of what can happen if a person does not seek appropriate care to treat the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder:

  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Decline in academic or occupational functioning
  • Academic failure
  • Inability to maintain employment
  • Development of another mental health condition
  • Development of a substance abuse problem
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Attempts at suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Obsessive-compulsive disorder often occurs alongside other mental health conditions. As was previously mentioned, individuals who suffer from eating disorders, such as bulimia or anorexia, have a higher chance of suffering from co-occurring obsessive-compulsive disorder. In addition to eating disorders, other mental health conditions that have been cited as occurring alongside OCD include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance use disorders
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