Signs & Symptoms of OCD in Adolescents

Understanding OCD

Learn about OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurring and persistent obsessions and compulsions. An individual with obsessive-compulsive disorder might have thoughts fueled by anxiety, which can quickly become frequent or obsessive. In order to alleviate their obsessive thoughts, the individual might practice compulsions, or behaviors and rituals, in the hope that those thoughts will go away and that their anxiety will decrease. Unfortunately, the practice of compulsions typically doesn’t rid the individual of their obsessive thoughts, but it can fuel the individual’s obsessions and cause further anxiety.

Adolescents with OCD usually have a preoccupation with rules, order, organization, tidiness, and perfectionism to a degree that it interferes with their schoolwork, home life, and extracurricular activities. The thoughts of someone with OCD are often exceptionally intrusive and are unwanted and not pleasurable or beneficial. These thoughts can be violent, graphic, or religious, and often feel uncontrollable. Compulsions associated with OCD might include repeating words, washing their hands, or praying. Obsessions and compulsions are characteristically time-consuming, lasting from an hour to several hours per day. Because of its time-consuming nature, OCD can impact homework, affect friendships, and threaten a person’s overall happiness.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of OCD

The signs and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder vary according to the individual. For example, some people with OCD might have persistent thoughts about bodily cleanliness, while others might continually think about checking the locks on the doors. The symptoms of OCD are vast and can range from the devotedly religious to the graphically sexual in nature.

The signs and symptoms of OCD can be notably broken up into two camps: obsessions and compulsions. It is imperative that you don’t just pay attention to the behavioral compulsions of the disorder, but also the internal obsessions, which are the recurring and persistent thoughts associated with OCD. For example, people often think their loved one “has OCD” because they like to keep a clean house, but what’s more notable is how much the loved one thinks about keeping a clean house. The obsessions are what drive OCD, not necessarily the compulsions. So in identifying compulsion symptoms, be sure to pay attention to the internal world of your loved one’s obsessions.

Obsessions:

  • An unhealthy fixation on religious piety or purity
  • An unnatural need for a sterile, clean, and germ-free environment
  • Persistent thoughts about harming themselves or someone else
  • Need for symmetry and order in their personal space, room, or home
  • Fear of forgetting to complete certain household tasks, such as whether they locked the door, if they accidentally left the stove on, or if they turned out the lights
  • The need to understand something “fully” (something that they just read or heard)
  • Preoccupation with their physical appearance
  • Intense worry about their weight

Compulsions:

  • Frequent repentance or asking their higher power to forgive their sins
  • Washing their hands or showering numerous times a day, even when their body is already clean
  • Continually reciting prayers, spells, or ritualistic phrases
  • Obsessively rearranging furniture or other objects in their home to achieve symmetry
  • Constantly going back to check something, counting numbers or groups of numbers, or tapping inanimate objects to make sure they stay in place
  • Re-reading what they just read or asking someone to repeat something over and over again
  • Constantly looking in the mirror, grooming themselves, or fixing/fidgeting with clothes
  • Obsessively going to the gym to achieve the “ideal body”

Effects

Effects of OCD

Short-term effects: OCD can be a vicious cycle of unwanted, obsessive thoughts and corresponding compulsions. Those who live with obsessive-compulsive disorder can experience a wide variety of short-term effects if their disorder is not treated. Please note that “short-term” does not necessarily mean that these effects will quickly go away, nor does it mean that these effects are of minor importance. Rather, short-term effects are often the beginning signs that treatment is immediately necessary. The following are some of the short-term effects of untreated obsessive-compulsive disorder: 

  • Procrastination for fear of further compulsions 
  • Losing track of time because of compulsions  
  • Inability to get anything done at school, work, or home because they’re obsessed with getting something “perfect” or “just right” 
  • Persistent low self-esteem 
  • Strained relationships with partners, family members, friends, and/or coworkers 
  • Decline in happiness and sense of wholeness or wellbeing  
  • Drug and/or alcohol experimentation 
  • Thoughts of self-harm 
  • Suicidal thoughts  

Any adolescent who experiences any of the above short-term effects of obsessive-compulsive disorder should seek immediate professional treatment.  

Long-term effects:If further left untreated, adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder may experience more long-term, or chronic, effects. The following long-term effects can vary depending upon the severity of an adolescent or teen’s obsessive-compulsive disorder: 

  • Academic failure 
  • Job loss 
  • Loss of friendships or romantic relationships  
  • Perpetual isolation 
  • Chronic feelings of anxiety and distress 
  • Addiction 
  • Self-harm 
  • Suicidal behaviors 

Any adolescent who experiences any of the above long-term effects of OCD should seek immediate professional treatment. Seeking treatment for OCD can dramatically decrease its short- and long-term effects and can help reduce your adolescent’s mental exhaustion and emotional suffering 

Co-Occurring Disorders

OCD and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder to develop a co-occurring disorder, or another mental health disorder experienced at the same time. For example, someone with OCD might be at a greater risk for developing an eating disorder because they are often preoccupied with achieving the “perfect” body, and what might be simple healthy habits like going to the gym can develop into obsessions. Or, because OCD is so mentally and emotionally taxing, someone with this disorder may also experience depression. Do not be alarmed if your adolescent lives with a co-occurring disorder; use it to alert yourself to the need for your adolescent or teen to get treatment as soon as possible. Some common co-occurring disorders of OCD include:

  • Body dysmorphic disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance use disorders (addiction)
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Schizophrenia

OCD is a mental disorder that can tax the individual physically, mentally, and emotionally. The thoughts associated with OCD can feel haunting, and the compulsions can feel uncontrollable. For someone with OCD, treatment may seem hopeless because the disorder can feel all-encompassing, affecting every area of life. But at Southstone Behavioral Health in South Boston, Virginia, hope and healing are possible. Southstone Behavioral Health is an inpatient treatment facility that treats adolescents ages 11-17 who have been struggling with OCD. At Southstone Behavioral Health, adolescents receive top-of-the-line treatment and the necessary tools to cope with their obsessive thoughts and control their compulsive behaviors.