OCD Causes & Effects

The signs, symptoms, and effects of OCD can look different for each person impacted. Learning about obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the first steps toward healing.

Understanding OCD

Learn about obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD, is a mental health disorder that can significantly hinder a person’s functioning in several ways. Obsession-driven behavioral compulsions define this disorder, and those who suffer from it frequently engage in repetitive and seemingly meaningless acts as a way to alleviate the distress they are experiencing. Examples of such acts can include frequent hand-washing in order to diminish a fear of contamination or constantly checking to see if one’s doors are locked in order to prevent an intruder from entering one’s home. In many cases, the fear and worry experienced by those who suffer from OCD can be without merit, meaning that there has never been an instance of those fears or worries coming to fruition. Yet despite the lack of actual danger, there individuals spend a great deal of time engaging in compulsive behaviors because of the intrusive nature of the obsessions they are experiencing.

Children, adolescents, and adults can all grapple with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Furthermore, some individuals with this disorder may have some insight into their obsessions and compulsions, while others believe whole-heartedly that if they do not act on their obsessions, something dreadful can or will happen to them or a loved one. Fortunately, OCD is a very treatable condition that responds to interventions positively. In seeking treatment, an individual who is burdened by obsessions and compulsions can find the relief they desire in order to live a happy, healthy, well-functioning life.


OCD statistics

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder affects more females than males. However, during childhood, it is estimated that more males suffer from OCD at higher rates than female children. Additionally, the prevalence rate of this mental disorder is believed to be nearly 2 percent of the total population in the United States; a percentage that includes children, adolescents, and adults alike.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for OCD

There are many contributing causes and risk factors that can lead to the onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms. The following explanations for why and how a person can come to suffer from this disorder are among the most supported by researchers and mental health professionals:

Genetic: A substantial amount of research has proved that there is a genetic link to the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Those who have a first-degree relative who has struggled with OCD are at an increased risk for experiencing symptoms synonymous with this mental disorder.

Environmental: The environment and certain environmental influences are known to contribute to the onset of OCD symptoms. For example, those who have endured sexual or physical abuse or those who have been exposed to certain diseases are more likely to suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder than individuals who have not has such experiences.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of OCD, obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, or other mental disorders
  • Personal history of trauma
  • Personal history of other mental disorders
  • Being female
  • Having a negative temperament during childhood

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of OCD

Depending on the severity of symptoms present, the signs of OCD can be vast and vary from one person to the next. Those grappling with this condition suffer from intrusive obsessions and overwhelming compulsions, which impair a person’s functioning and can manifest in the following ways:

Symptoms of obsessions: Ongoing and unwanted thoughts, urges, or images that can involve the following themes, which are often driven by some degree of fear or worry:

  • Contamination
  • Symmetry
  • Horrific incident(s)
  • Harm, either to oneself or another person  
  • Religious practices
  • Distasteful ideas

Symptoms of compulsions: Motivated by a desire to alleviate the anxious feelings associated with obsessions, the following are behaviors enacted by those suffering from OCD:

  • Frequent hand-washing or cleaning
  • Attempts to keep items in order
  • Repetitive behaviors, such as checking things more than once
  • Counting behaviors
  • Avoidance of certain places or types of situations
  • Repeating words quietly to oneself


Effects of OCD

Failing to seek treatment for OCD can result in a number of detrimental effects that can be far-reaching across several areas of a person’s life. For example, those with untreated symptoms of this condition have an increased risk for suicide if the obsessions and compulsions that are cornerstone to this condition remain present in an individual’s. In addition to a higher rate of suicidality, the following effects have the potential to occur if treatment is not sought:

  • Declined academic and/or occupational functioning, which could lead to academic failure and/or loss of employment
  • Discord within relationships or demise of meaningful relationships
  • Poor quality of life
  • Development of health problems as a result of avoiding medical care due to fears of contamination
  • Social isolation
  • Worsening of OCD symptoms
  • Onset of additional mental health concerns

Co-Occurring Disorders

OCD and co-occurring disorders

It is very common for those who suffer from OCD to also struggle with the symptoms of other mental disorders. Below are examples of such disorders, which could also require treatment in the event someone seeks care to treat the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder:

  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobia
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
  • Tic disorder
  • Tourette’s disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Body dysmorphic disorder
  • Trichotillomania
  • Excoriation disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa

I now am on the road to recovery because of the process groups and my personal therapist at Southcoast. Thank you for helping me get my life together. I am forever grateful!

– Anonymous Client
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