What is OCD?
OCD, short for obsessive-compulsive disorder, is an anxiety disorder that features unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors that you feel compelled to perform. Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors become so intense that they interfere with daily life.
Although it’s impossible to tell exactly how many people with OCD are also dealing with a substance use disorder (SUD). However, studies have found that people with OCD have a higher rate than the general population, at around 30%. And alcohol is the most commonly abused substance.
It is normal, on occasion, to go back and make sure you turned off the stove, or to worry that you might have been exposed to germs, or even have a violent, unpleasant thought now and then. But if you have OCD, your brain gets stuck on a particular thought or urge, like a needle getting stuck on an old record.
You may check the stove 23 times to make sure it’s really off because you’re terrified of burning down your house. Or you might have to wash your hands constantly until they’re scrubbed raw because you’re afraid of germs. There is no feeling of pleasure from performing these actions repetitively, but they might give some temporary relief from the anxiety caused by the obsessive thoughts.
Obsessions and Compulsions
Common obsessive thoughts are involuntary thoughts, images, or impulses that happen over and over in your mind. You don’t try to have these thoughts, but you can’t stop them. Unfortunately, these obsessive thoughts are typically unsettling and distracting.
- Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt or contaminating others.
- Fear of losing control and hurting yourself or others.
- Invasive sexually explicit of violent thoughts and images.
- Excessive attention to religious or moral ideas.
- Fear of losing or not having what you need.
- Order and symmetry—the idea that everything must line up “perfectly.”
- Superstitions and excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky.
Compulsions are behaviors or rituals that you are driven to act on again and again. These are usually performed in an effort to make the obsessions go away. Someone who is afraid of germs or contamination might develop extensive cleaning rituals. Sadly, the relief never lasts, and the obsessive thoughts tend to come back even stronger. Then the compulsive rituals and behaviors wind up causing anxiety in themselves because they become more time-consuming and urgent. Thus is the vicious cycle of OCD.
OCD compulsions include:
- Excessively double-checking things such as locks, appliances, and switches.
- Constantly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re all right.
- Tapping, counting, repeating certain words, or doing other seemingly senseless things to reduce anxiety.
- Spending an exaggerated amount of time washing or cleaning.
- Arranging or putting things in order.
- Excessive praying or taking part in rituals triggered by religious fear.
- Gathering “junk” like old newspapers or empty food containers.