Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Teens

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental health disorder that is characterized by unreasonable and distressing thoughts and fears (known as obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviors (known as compulsions).  Some people with OCD suffer from only obsessions or only compulsions, while others suffer from both.

Most teens who suffer from OCD are aware that their obsessions are unreasonable.  They do their best to manage these thoughts but ultimately the teen suffers from a great deal of pain and anxiety. Without proper treatment OCD can persist for years.  Compulsions are engaged in in a futile effort to relieve anxiety and emotional distress.

Signs and Symptoms of OCD

Signs and symptoms of OCD are divided into two categories: Obsessions and Compulsions. Symptoms often begin gradually and get worse when the individual is stressed or unhappy.  Obsessions and compulsions can become so severe that they are completely disabling. If your child is struggling with any or all of these distressing symptoms, it is time to get help.

Obsessions – Obsessions are thoughts that persist despite the sufferer’s best efforts to ignore them.  They are often very distressing, such as preoccupation with the thought that a family member will die or a fear that something bad will happen if certain behaviors are not carried out.  People who suffer from such obsessions are often aware that their fears are unrealistic but are unable to free themselves from these intrusive and repetitive thoughts. Examples of obsessive symptoms include:

  • Fear of dirt or contamination.
  • Intrusive thoughts about horrific harm coming to yourself or others
  • Unwanted thoughts such as homicidal, violent or sexual thoughts.
  • Doubting whether you have locked the door or turned off the stove.
  • Avoidance of situations that trigger obsessions such as touching door knobs.

Compulsions – Compulsions are performed in an effort to mitigate distressing fears that something bad will happen if they are ignored.  Common compulsions include skin picking, counting specific things or doing repetitive actions such as washing the hands, clearing the throat or organizing items in particular ways.  Most people who suffer with compulsions are aware of the fact that their thoughts and behavior are not normal but nonetheless they feel compelled to engage in these behaviors in order to stave of feelings of panic and dread. Examples of compulsive symptoms include:

  • Constant washing or cleaning
  • Obsessive counting
  • Checking and rechecking the same things over and over
  • Following an impossibly strict routine
  • Preoccupation or obsession with orderliness
  • Constant counting in particular ways or patterns
  • Silently repeating a prayer, word or phrase

Effects of Untreated OCD

Untreated obsessions and compulsions can severely interfere with the adolescent’s ability to concentrate and thus causes them problems in all areas of their lives including school home and social life.  Adolescents with OCD are often unable to enjoy even their favorite activities due to the constant stress of the obsessions and compulsions associated with their disorder.

Adolescents with OCD often suffer from low self esteem, social isolation, physical and emotional exhaustion and poor academic performance.

Co-Occurring Conditions

Teens who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder often have additional problems that may or may not be related to their OCD.  Some common problems that occur alongside OCD are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Poor academic performance
  • Skin problems related to frequent hand washing or skin picking

Treatment for OCD

Psychotherapy – Talk therapy is the best available treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  In particular Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been proven to be very effective in treating obsessions and compulsions related to OCD.  CBT is a type of talk therapy that helps teens identify the thoughts and patterns that are causing them distress.  They learn to effectively challenge those thoughts and ultimately change them or eliminate them completely. CBT will also help the adolescent slowly expose themselves to feared objects and help them to learn healthy ways to cope with the accompanying anxiety.

Medication – There are also several medications that are known to help control the obsessions and compulsions associated with OCD.  The most commonly prescribed medications for OCD are antidepressants. These include:

  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Flovoxamine (Luvox CR)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)