What Causes OCD?
Current scientific thinking holds that OCD results from a confluence of factors—a biological predisposition, environmental factors including experiences and attitudes acquired in childhood, and faulty thought patterns.
The fact that many OCD patients respond to SSRI antidepressants suggests the involvement of dysfunction in the serotonin neurotransmitter system. Ongoing research suggests there may be a defect in other chemical messenger systems in the brain.
OCD may coexist with depression, eating disorders, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and it may be related to disorders such as Tourette’s syndrome, and hypochondria, though the nature of the overlap is the subject of scientific debate.
How to Treat Obsessions and Compulsions
Either psychotherapy or medication, or both, may be prescribed for OCD, and patients may respond better to one form of treatment than to the other.
Studies conducted by the NIMH, however, show that combination drug-psychotherapy is best for young people. The drugs given are typically one of the so-called SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. The SSRIs fluoxetine (Prozac), fluvoxamine (Luvox), and paroxetine (Paxil) have been specifically approved for the treatment of OCD. These drugs have been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of obsessions and compulsions in more than half of patients, although discontinuation of drugs often leads to relapse.
Behavioral therapy for OCD tends to produce long-lasting effects. Psychotherapy generally focuses on two aspects of the disorder: unraveling the irrational thoughts involved in the condition and gradually exposing sufferers to the feared object or idea until they are desensitized to it and can tolerate anxiety without engaging in compulsive rituals.
Is OCD on the Rise?
Rates of OCD have not gone up, but public interest in the disease (and its various forms) has. Hoarders and those compelled to engage in rituals to ward off disturbing thoughts have lately appeared as characters on the big and small screens. A slew of real-life sufferers of OCD have written memoirs and sought help in the public eye. There is also evidence that subclinical obsessiveness about cleaning and germs could be on the rise.
About a third of adults with OCD developed the disorder as children. The repeated rituals those with OCD engage in, such as constant handwashing or hair-pulling, are meant to allay anxiety, but the relief does not last for long. As with many other mental health conditions in children, the best and most durable treatment so far has proven to be Psychotherapy. Other new treatments are looking hopeful for future treatment of this disorder.