Intrusive Thoughts and OCD

mental health

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) involves thoughts and behaviors that cause anxiety and can disrupt a person’s life. During OCD Awareness Week, it’s important to learn as much as possible about intrusive thoughts and OCD, particularly about recognizing and managing symptoms appropriately.

OCD Awareness Week

The week of October 10-16 has been designated as OCD Awareness Week. Established in 2009, the week has been set aside as a time to reduce the stigma around mental health conditions such as OCD, by sharing knowledge about OCD symptoms and treatment options. Awareness and education make a huge difference for those with OCD as well as for their family and friends. The focus of OCD Awareness Week is to highlight the importance of an individual’s ability to live a value-driven life with OCD and to works toward educating everyone about what it is like to live with the disorder.

Anxiety Disorder

OCD is an anxiety disorder, as described by the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). A person suffering from the disorder will usually perform certain behaviors to try to get relief from their intrusive thoughts. The individual typically experiences anxiety as a result of these thoughts and as they attempt to make them go away. Usually, though, their compulsive behaviors provide only temporary relief and that can cause more anxiety.

OCD affects about 1.2% of adults in the US each year. Obsessions experienced by an individual with OCD are intrusive thoughts, unwanted and the source of their distress and anxiety. Compulsions are those behaviors they feel they must act on to try to ease that anxiety and distress. They may also try to suppress their thoughts or avoid situations that can tend to trigger them.

People with OCD can recognize that they are not being rational with their obsessions and compulsions, but they still have a strong need to follow through on them. In fact, they may spend several hours a day focused on their intrusive thoughts. Compulsions can be related to the thoughts, but sometimes there is no logical connection to the obsession. Compulsions can include behaviors such as constant checking of door locks, cleaning or washing hands, and arranging items in a logical or symmetrical manner.

Intrusive Thoughts and OCD

While each person’s symptoms are different, common obsessions can include:

  • Strong need to reorder things until they feel “just right”
  • Constant worry about catching a deadly disease and/or contaminating others with germs
  • Concerns about unintentionally causing injury (e.g., accidentally hitting a pedestrian while driving)
  • Intense fear that something horrible will happen to a loved one
  • Disturbing imagery that might include sexual assault or inappropriate sexual acts
  • Fears about contamination with environmental toxins such as lead or radioactivity
  • Fear of harming inanimate objects
  • Fears of forgetting or losing something
  • Profound worry about doing something extremely embarrassing (e.g., screaming out something inappropriate at a funeral)
  • Aggressive or disturbing ideas (e.g., thoughts of harming or killing someone else)

Attempting to suppress these thoughts can create even more anxiety in the individual. People with OCD may also turn to drugs or alcohol to try to manage their symptoms, which can lead to addiction. Treatment for the mental health disorder and the substance use disorder is then necessary to address both conditions.

OCD and the Brain

Researchers have found many factors that can contribute to the development of OCD. Genetics is one factor. If a person has a close relative with OCD, there is an increased chance of developing the condition.

Biological factors also play a role. Brain imaging studies have revealed that individuals with OCD often have differences in the areas of the brain that underlie the ability to control behavior and emotional responses, the frontal cortex and subcortical structures. Obsessive thoughts as well compulsive behavior, along with the associated anxiety and fear, may be rooted in several brain areas, brain networks, and biological processes.

Mental Health and Addiction Treatment at HVRC

Understanding and recognizing the signs of OCD can mean the difference in your mental and physical health. If the mental health disorder has led to a substance use disorder, it is especially important to get the right treatment for both issues. The professional team at Hemet Valley Recovery Center focuses on your needs as you face unique psychological, medical, and social challenges in your life.

Please contact HVRC for help beginning a journey of recovery. We invite you to take the first step toward healing with our dedicated team of professionals.