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The Facts About OCD and Teen Mental Health

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The acronym OCD (for obsessive-compulsive disorder) has become a part of everyday speech. People sometimes refer to themselves as OCD when describing a need for things to be a certain way. However, obsessive-compulsive disorder is actually a serious mental health condition with symptoms including obsessive behavior and extreme fears. That’s why it’s so important for parents and teens to understand the facts about OCD.

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder that impacts all areas of a person’s life, including school, work, relationships, and daily functioning. At Newport Academy, we treat teen OCD with tailored treatment plans that include evidence-based clinical therapy, family support, and medication management. We also address common issues that occur alongside OCD, such as generalized anxiety disorder, substance use disorder, and depression.

Key Takeaways

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a serious mental health condition that is typically diagnosed in the teen or young adult years.
  • OCD symptoms include obsessions that create extreme anxiety, and compulsions that are attempts to cope with the obsessive thoughts.
  • Teen OCD is linked to a higher likelihood of anxiety, substance use disorder, and other teen mental health conditions.
  • Treatment options for OCD include therapy, medication or both.

What Is OCD?

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder typically experience unwanted and disturbing thoughts, images, or urges—known as obsessions. These obsessions create extreme anxiety.

In order to relieve the anxiety, a person with OCD engages in repetitive behaviors or thoughts, known as compulsions or OCD rituals. They usually feel the need to engage in these behaviors throughout each day.

Therefore, obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms become time consuming and lead to psychological distress. Even if the person knows that their fears and behaviors are irrational, they are unable to stop themselves.

Without proper treatment, OCD tends to be a progressive disorder. Thus, OCD tendencies should immediately be assessed by an trained mental health professional.

Fact #1: OCD is a type of anxiety disorder.

OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder, and OCD symptoms are often accompanied by generalized anxiety disorder symptoms. People with OCD can experience extreme fears and obsessive anxious thoughts. Additionally, OCD can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Fact #2: Obsessions and compulsions are the primary symptoms of OCD.

A person with OCD becomes fixated on specific fears or aversions that continually plague them. The fears themselves may be understandable, such as getting sick or failing a test. But the level of intensity and the frequency of the obsessive thoughts are much more extreme than normal.


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The compulsions associated with OCD are an irrational reaction to their fears and obsessions. A person with OCD feels that repeating the same behavior or action—such as counting or washing their hands—will keep the feared outcome from occurring.

In general, OCD obsessions and compulsions fall into one of these four types of OCD behaviors:

OCD Symptoms Checklist

Obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable, painful, and frightening for teens with OCD. Furthermore, other people find their behavior confusing and don’t understand why they can’t control their compulsions.

Below are specific examples of OCD rituals and obsessions.

OCD Obsessions

  • Being afraid about safety or getting sick
  • Aversion to germs or dirt
  • Taboo thoughts about sex and violence
  • Aggressive thoughts toward oneself or other people
  • Worrying about your or a loved one’s safety
  • Concern about environmental contaminants, such as asbestos
  • Obsession with household chemicals, such as cleaners and solvents
  • Fear of blurting out obscenities and insults
  • Dread of hurting someone by accident
  • Inability to discard useless or worn-out possessions
  • The need to have objects arranged in a particular way

OCD Compulsions

  • Repeatedly checking that a door is locked or oven is off, for example
  • Checking one’s physical condition or body parts repeatedly
  • Rereading or rewriting
  • Repeating routine activities, such as going in and out of a door
  • Excessive hand washing
  • Arranging and ordering things in a very specific way, such as eating foods in a specific order
  • Repetitive cleaning of things or of oneself
  • Compulsive counting
  • Doing tasks in multiples, such as opening a door or closing a door three times
  • Needing to obey a set of rigid rules

OCD Tics

A tic disorder can also be a symptom of OCD. Specifically, tics are sudden, brief, repetitive movements. These might include the following:

  • Eye blinking and other eye movements
  • Grimacing
  • Shrugging one’s shoulders
  • Jerking the head or shoulders
  • Vocal tics, such as repetitive throat-clearing, sniffing, or grunting sounds

Fact #3: OCD is usually diagnosed in late adolescence.

Individuals are most likely to be diagnosed with OCD during the late teen years. In general, OCD is diagnosed before age 19, and 25 percent of cases are diagnosed by age 14. Once a person reaches young adulthood, the risk of developing OCD decreases.

Moreover, both males and females have an equal risk of developing OCD after they go through puberty. However, males are more likely to develop OCD during childhood.

How Many People Have OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects about 1 in every 50 people in the United States (2.3 percent of the population), according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Newport Academy Mental Health Resources OCD Facts and Statistics Treatment

Fact #4: OCD is not just perfectionism and overthinking.

Many people experience some degree of obsessive thinking, such as double-checking things or needing to have their surroundings set up in a certain way. However, OCD is different than being a perfectionist or wanting to keep your environment neat.

Typically, teens with OCD will experience obsessive thoughts and compulsions for at least an hour each day. In addition, they are unable to control their repetitive behaviors and thoughts, even when they realize that those thoughts and behaviors are excessive. Furthermore, they may feel brief periods of relief after performing rituals, but they receive no pleasure from these compulsive behaviors. Another sign of teen OCD is that the symptoms significantly impact a teenager’s daily life in a negative way.

How Do You Know If It’s OCD?

An OCD screening with a mental health professional is essential in order to identify teen OCD. An OCD assessment includes a psychological evaluation to discuss the extent of the person’s obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. In addition, a mental healthcare provider or doctor will refer to criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). And they should also rule out any physical or medical issues that may be contributing to or causing OCD-like thoughts and behaviors.

Fact #5: OCD tends to run in families.

Although there is no single, clear cause of OCD, researchers have been working to answer the question, “Is OCD genetic?” They have found that people with a parent, sibling, or child who have OCD are at a higher risk for developing it themselves. Furthermore, the risk is higher if the relative developed OCD as a child or teen. Ongoing research on families and twins continues to explore the connection between genetics and OCD.

In addition, differences in brain structure and function may be other risk factors for OCD. Specifically, researchers have found differences in the frontal cortex and subcortical structures of the brain in people with OCD. As a result, they believe there might be a connection between OCD symptoms and abnormalities in certain areas of the brain. Organizations like the International OCD Foundation help support continued research into the causes of OCD.

Fact #6: Childhood trauma can increase the risk of developing OCD.

Research shows that people who have experienced trauma in childhood, specifically emotional neglect or physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, have a higher risk of developing OCD. Furthermore, a 2021 study found that people with OCD who experienced childhood trauma are more likely to have depression as well as more severe OCD symptoms.

Additionally, children who have a streptococcal infection known as Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS) may develop OCD or symptoms following the infection.

Fact #7: OCD goes hand in hand with other mental health conditions.

Teens with OCD symptoms often have other mental health disorders, such as:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Depression; research shows OCD typically leads to depressive symptoms rather than the other way around
  • Substance use disorder
  • Body dysmorphic disorder (believing one is ugly or deformed)
  • Hypochondriasis (preoccupation with physical illness)
  • Trichotillomania (hair pulling)
  • Panic attacks
  • Eating disorders, such as binge eating disorder
  • Skin-picking disorder (excoriation)
  • Neurological disorders, including Tourette’s syndrome

Fact #8: Teens with OCD are more likely to develop a substance use disorder.

Why are teen OCD and substance use disorder linked? Because people with OCD may use drugs or alcohol to try to calm their obsessive thoughts and cope with the anxiety and fear related to the disorder. As a result, OCD and substance abuse are often co-occurring. And research shows this is particularly true in teens and young adults.

According to a study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 27 percent of OCD sufferers also meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. Furthermore, the researchers found that children or teens with symptoms are more likely to develop a drug or alcohol problem.

Another OCD-related disorder is known as an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). About 1 in 100 people in the United States have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with OCPD than women. There is no single, specific cause of OCPD. But experts theorize that causes may include having controlling or unavailable parents; growing up in a rigid, rule-bound culture or religion; and genetic factors.

Furthermore, OCPD has similarities to OCD, but also some important differences. The similarities include fixation on rules, details, and moral or ethical codes, as well as hoarding behaviors. Moreover, OCPD symptoms also include perfectionism that interferes with finishing tasks, extreme frugality, and excessive dedication to work, at the cost of family and social activities.

While people with OCD realize that their thinking and behaviors are irrational, people with OCPD typically do not think that they are acting unreasonably. They believe that their way of acting is “the right way.” In contrast, people with OCD feel intense anxiety and pain due to their obsessions and behaviors.

Fact #10: Effective treatment for teen OCD is available.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder in teens is a long-term affliction that may get worse or slightly better over time. OCD sufferers may try to ease the symptoms themselves by avoiding situations that trigger their obsessive thoughts and behaviors. However, expert anxiety treatment is necessary in order to effect sustainable change.

Additionally, treatment must also address any additional disorders that exist, such as body dysmorphia, substance abuse disorder, or depression. Treatment modalities include both medication and therapy.

OCD Medication

A number of different medications are used to treat OCD. These include:

  • Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Clomipramine (a member of an older class of “tricyclic” antidepressants)
  • Antipsychotic medications

Therapeutic Modalities for OCD

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be helpful in decreasing OCD symptoms.
  • A type of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is effective in reducing compulsive behaviors.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can be used to treat OCD symptoms.
  • In deep brain stimulation (DBS), used mostly to treat ages 18 and up, electrodes are implanted in the brain that release impulses to help regulate brain function.
  • Another approach for improving OCD symptoms is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain.

Teen Mental Health and OCD Treatment at Newport Academy

Newport Academy provides specialized residential treatment programs for teens with OCD and anxiety. An integrated OCD treatment plan for teens at Newport Academy includes medication management as well as a wide range of evidence-based modalities. Each client receives a tailored treatment plan for teen OCD, designed by a team of medical and clinical experts.

Our expert clinicians use therapeutic modalities such as Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to address OCD symptoms and co-occurring issues, including substance abuse and suicidal behavior. In addition, clients participate in somatic (body-based) and experiential therapies. These approaches—including yoga, mindfulness, movement, and creative expression—activate the parasympathetic nervous system to reduce the anxiety and obsessions associated with teen OCD.

Moreover, family therapy is an essential element of our teen treatment, including OCD treatment. Family therapy helps repair ruptures in the family unit, so parents can better understand their teens, and teens can turn to their parents for support when they are struggling with OCD symptoms.

To find out more facts about OCD and learn more about our teen OCD treatment, contact us today. We provide teen mental health assessments at no charge, either in person or virtually. Here’s where to get started on the healing journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are OCD rituals?
  • What are the 4 stages of OCD?
  • Which therapy is best for OCD?
  • What are 3 facts about OCD?
  • What causes OCD to flare up?
  • What do people with OCD think about?


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National Institute of Mental Health