According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 1% of adults in America have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is estimated that almost 30% of people who have OCD also have a substance use disorder. Unfortunately, many people with mental health disorders look to substances to numb their symptoms. Learning about OCD and how it is expressed can be the first step to better managing its symptoms.
So, what does OCD feel like and how can a person get help for the disorder? Learn more below.
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What Is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by irrational fears and thoughts that lead to compulsions. Fears and thoughts are often referred to as obsessions, while compulsions are compulsive behaviors. OCD looks different in each individual. The OCD experience, or how OCD is expressed, can range greatly from person to person. OCD may center around fear of germs or arranging objects in a specific manner. The mental disorder is not limited to those obsessions and compulsions, though.
What Does OCD Feel Like?
Though OCD can vary, one thing about the disorder is somewhat consistent: Overwhelming thoughts are often at the root of the OCD experience. These thoughts can be so powerful to some that they can convince them otherwise on a subject they were certain about. For example, let’s say you leave the house and lock the door. On your ride to work, you begin having thoughts that you left the door unlocked. These thoughts can become so powerful that you begin to believe that you left the door unlocked.
In this case, someone with OCD may even turn around because the urge to check the door becomes so overwhelming. Someone with severe OCD will experience this type of feeling several times a day, interrupting their daily life.
Intrusive thoughts can be hard to ignore, especially for someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Someone with OCD can lose control of their thoughts entirely. In this case, the mind becomes completely absorbed by obsessions.
What Are 5 Symptoms of OCD?
What does OCD feel like? OCD symptoms can be classified into five themes. These themes do not cover every single obsession. However, most forms of OCD fall within these themes:
- Fear of dirt or contamination
- Difficulty tolerating uncertainty; constant doubting
- Requiring things to be symmetrical or orderly
- Awful thoughts about the loss of control or potentially harming yourself or others
- Unwanted and unreasonable thoughts, including sexual, religious, or aggressive subjects
Potential examples of these obsessions include:
- Not wanting to touch objects other people have touched due to contamination
- Doubts that you turned off the stove, locked the door, or similar scenarios
- Severe stress when particular objects aren’t facing a certain way
- Cognitive images of you driving your car into people
- Urges to act inappropriately in public, thoughts about shouting vulgarities
- Sexual images
- Avoiding situations that may trigger OCD, including shaking hands or touching certain things
What Is the Vicious Cycle of OCD?
The OCD experience involves having thoughts or impulses occur unwillingly. You likely do not want to be having these thoughts or ideas, but you can’t stop them. As mentioned, these thoughts can disrupt daily life and cause issues at home or work.
Naturally, people tend to deal with obsessive thoughts by using compulsions, also known as behaviors or rituals, to make the obsessions go away. The vicious cycle of OCD roots itself deeply since these compulsions can sometimes work temporarily. Therefore, you may find yourself acting out through rituals over and over again. For example, to avoid the fear of contamination, you may construct cleaning rituals that you perform elaborately. Though it may feel like you are acting on your obsession, you ensure that the obsessive thoughts come back even stronger.
This situation can cause someone to be riddled with anxiety. Anxiety plays a large role in OCD and is often the reason OCD can be so disruptive and time-consuming. The vicious cycle of OCD generally works in this order:
- Obsessive thought
- Compulsive behavior
- Temporary relief
What Does OCD Do To A Person?
The OCD experience can manifest itself in many ways. One individual’s OCD experience may differ completely from another’s. Regardless, people with severe OCD deal with obsessions and compulsions that may take up hours of their day. This can be an obvious detriment on family and social relationships, education, and employment.
As obsessions and compulsions become more severe, avoidance also becomes an issue. OCD can make an individual attempt to avoid any scenario that may trigger their OCD. For some, this could result in them staying within the boundaries of their home indefinitely.
Obsessive fears can make it difficult for people with OCD to eat, shop, drink, read, and perform normal daily responsibilities. In many cases, OCD is compounded by symptoms of other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and more.
If someone becomes embarrassed of their symptoms, they may go to great lengths to hide them. Many family members of people suffering from OCD can become distressed and involved in their loved one’s rituals.
Are OCD Thoughts Real?
Intrusive thoughts are a key component of OCD. Just because you are having thoughts does not mean they are real. Intrusive thoughts are not only limited to words that show up in your mind. These thoughts can take the form of sensations, ideas, memories, urges, and images.
Even though some of these thoughts can be “blamed” on OCD, it does not make them less distressing. People with OCD may have a difficult time realizing their thoughts are just thoughts. Uncertainty leads to a strong distress response. Tolerating the distress and when the mind and body go on high alert is difficult. At this point in the OCD cycle, the individual feels the need to act on these thoughts, attempting to make sure the thoughts do not come to fruition. Though the thoughts may not be “real,” it is easy for someone with OCD to get “stuck” by fighting the thoughts and protecting against them.
What Can Trigger OCD?
The cause of OCD is still unknown. Scientists continually investigate the cause of OCD, other than it being passed on genetically. One scientific journal found links between inflammatory biomarkers and OCD. This evidence requires further investigation before it can be solidified. If this were the case, some form of anti-inflammatory medication could treat OCD.
Some theories about the causes of OCD include:
- People experiencing anxiety begin using compulsions as a learned behavior. Once associated with relief from anxiety, the behavior becomes repetitive and looks like an expression of OCD.
- Hereditary and genetic factors pass on OCD.
- People with OCD have functional and structural abnormalities in the brain.
- Symptoms associated with OCD stem from distorted beliefs that are continually reinforced.
OCD likely stems from several factors. Since each person’s OCD experience is different, that theory is more than likely. The underlying expression and functions of OCD may be influenced by personality traits, hormonal changes, and life events.
Treatment For OCD
Another study found that mice with a higher level of Immuno-moodulin (an immune protein) exhibited OCD-like behaviors. During the study, scientists gave the mice an antibody that blocked Immuno-moodulin, and their repetitive behaviors decreased.
Though there is no absolute cure for OCD, many treatments can help manage even the most intense symptoms. Treatments may include individualized therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure and response therapy (ERP). For some, medications like SSRIs (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are an option. The best option is to talk to a mental health professional.
There are even support groups that people with OCD can benefit from. Support groups consist of individuals dealing with similar issues that act as a communication and support system.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT helps by changing the individual’s patterns of behaviors, beliefs, and thinking. Clinical professionals help their clients by promoting control over their symptoms. During therapy sessions, the specialist may even expose their client to situations that trigger their obsessions. While doing so, the therapist will help them develop tools that reduce their avoidance and compulsion behaviors.
The process is often gradual, and it begins with less intensive triggers. Consistent exposure can help prevent compulsions and reduce the anxiety that surrounds the triggers. This process is called exposure and response therapy.
What Happens If OCD Is Left Untreated?
People with mild OCD may find that they can adapt to their condition. The symptoms that they experience may only interfere with their life in inconsiderable ways. However, symptoms of OCD tend to worsen over time if untreated. As people with OCD get older, they may find that they are altering certain aspects of their life to avoid certain triggers.
Compulsions can drive individuals subconsciously. As OCD compulsions worsen, you may find that you:
- Avoid gatherings
- Avoid going outside unnecessarily
- Stop visiting particular friends or family members
- Have difficulty focusing on work because you are consumed by thoughts
- Isolate yourself
- Engage in compulsions that interfere with hobbies and other activities
- Miss school or work due to avoiding triggers
OCD and addiction are common co-occurring disorders that require professional intervention. In severe cases, some people with OCD look to substances to numb their symptoms. Treatment centers like Intrepid Detox Residential offer dual diagnosis programs explicitly designed to deal with OCD and addiction.
Find Help With Intrepid Detox Residential
Here at Intrepid, we strive to offer treatments that target co-occurring disorders. We provide a range of mental health services designed to help our clients develop tools to manage their mental health while recovering from addiction.
If you would like to learn more about what OCD feels like and what we offer at Intrepid Detox Residential, please contact us today.