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What Causes OCD?

Complex mental health illnesses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, are often attributed to chemical imbalances in the brain. In reality though, the situation is often much more complex than just simply an imbalance. While no one knows the exact answer to the question “what is OCD caused by?”, there are specific factors that appear to be present within diagnosed individuals. 

What Is OCD?

OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by unreasonable fears, thoughts, and obsessions that subsequently lead to compulsive behaviors. It is important to keep in mind that OCD symptoms can vary by individual. Common symptoms of OCD include repetitive behaviors such as constant hand sanitizing, cleaning, or checking on certain things. Individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder are not simply just neat freaks, the compulsive behavior affects their daily life and can be completely debilitating. Their behavioral patterns are done in a ritualistic fashion. If the patterns are interrupted or cannot be done, then the suffering individual will experience extreme distress and anxiety.

In order to be clinically diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder an individual must present obsessions and/or compulsions that are consuming more than one hour per day, cause significant distress, and impair daily living. OCD currently affects about 2-3% of United States citizens. It is more commonly diagnosed in women and normally begins in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. 

What Causes OCD?

As previously stated, mental health professionals are still researching the question, “what causes OCD”, and do not currently have a complete answer. There are specific risk factors that appear to be present in a majority of cases including brain abnormalities, chemical changes, genetics, and environment. 

Chemical Imbalance Factors Associated With OCD

Individuals with OCD often have certain chemical imbalances present in the brain. Changes in the neurochemicals serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate are normally present in OCD cases. Due to these chemical imbalances, a specific class of antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs are normally prescribed in order to improve symptoms. 

Research in both animals and humans indicated that changes in these various neurochemicals are likely partially responsible for obsessive compulsive disorder symptoms. Unfortunately it is unknown if the chemical changes are the root cause of OCD, or if they are a resulting symptom of OCD. 

More recent studies suggest that OCD also involves changes in the physical structure of the brain as well. Neuroimaging has shown that specific areas of the brain function differently in individuals diagnosed with OCD, than in those without OCD. Neurochemicals and physical brain structure are both important pieces in understanding what is OCD caused by, but they are not the whole picture. 

Genetic and Environmental Factors Associated With OCD

One of the biggest risk factors for developing obsessive-compulsive disorder is genetics. If someone in an individual’s family has OCD, then it is much more likely that they could develop the illness as well at some point in their life. If the family member is close and their symptoms developed at an early age, then the risk is significantly higher. 

Environmental factors are also influential on the development of OCD. If someone has a strong biological predisposition to OCD and is experiencing stressful environmental factors, then they are much more likely to develop the disorder. On the other side, if the individual does not experience trauma or chronic stressful environments, then they may never suffer from OCD despite being genetically inclined to it.

Behavioral Factors Associated With OCD

Behavior also plays a large role in the development of obsessive compulsive disorder, especially when an individual is experiencing stress. When someone is living with chronic stress the brain can begin to make associations between specific objects or situations with fear. This leads individuals to begin either avoiding the objects/situations that instill fear or they begin creating ritualistic behaviors to lessen the anxiety and fear surrounding the objects/situations. 

For example an individual may have no issue with physical contact with others, but  under stress they may begin to associate physical contact with becoming sick. They would then either avoid all physical contact or excessively sanitize following any sort of physical contact that they have with another person. The behavioral patterns of the individual become habits, which then reinforces the fear of getting sick through physical contact in the brain. The more the fear is reinforced, the more the individual’s compulsions escalate and daily living can become increasingly more difficult to function in.

OCD Treatment In Tennessee

Here at Arbor Wellness we have spent a lot of time researching and analyzing the question, “what is OCD caused by?” We believe it is extremely important to understand the core underlying factors that have led to each individual’s diagnosis before proceeding forward with a treatment plan.

Obsessive compulsive disorder does not present itself in the same way for everyone, which is why we believe in offering a variety of therapeutic services in order to create a personalized treatment strategy. We believe in combining our medication management, holistic therapy, and behavioral therapy programs into an individual’s treatment program in order to not only treat the symptoms of OCD, but also the underlying cause of the illness. We want to see each of our patients develop healthy coping skills, break free from the chains of their diagnosis, and live happy, productive, and fulfilling lives. If you or someone you love is suffering from OCD, reach out to Arbor Wellness’ admissions team today to get the professional help you need.

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