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Compulsive Behaviors – OCD

Restoring a Healthy Sense of Self

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors that you feel compelled to perform. People with OCD feel the need to check things repeatedly or to repeat certain thoughts, actions or rituals over and over. When these feelings or behaviors get out of control, they can keep a person from working or from carrying out normal responsibilities at home. People with OCD may avoid situations that trigger their obsessions, or they may use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to calm themselves.

Obsessions tend to cause anxiety and irrational behavior. Some examples of obsession include:

  • fear of contamination
  • constant or frequent doubt
  • fear of accidentally harming self or others
  • disturbing fantasies

In some cases, obsessions can lead to compulsive behavior — repetitive thoughts or actions which temporarily decrease the anxiety caused by these disturbing obsessions. Examples of compulsive behavior include:

  • ritualized or excessive cleaning
  • hoarding
  • excessive checking for mistakes or due to safety concerns
  • the feeling that items or activities absolutely must be done in specific way or order
  • an uncontrolled need for reassurance

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are at the highest risk for developing OCD, which is estimated to affect more than 2 million American adults. However, OCD can begin in childhood and continue into adulthood, and it can be accompanied by depression, eating disorders or other anxiety disorders.

What causes compulsive behavior?

Compulsive behavior may sometimes have a genetic component, but it’s not clear why some people experience it while others don’t. Researchers are looking for connections between compulsive behavior, stress and environmental factors.

How is compulsive behavior treated?

OCD is generally treated with psychotherapy, medication or both. Many people with OCD respond best to behavioral therapy and exposure-based psychotherapy, in which clients face situations that cause fear or anxiety and over time can become less sensitive to them. Others respond well to medication. Westport Family Counseling can work with you and with your other healthcare providers to determine the best treatment for you.

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