Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW
Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD is a common mental health condition or disorder. In the United States, obsessive-compulsive disorder impacts about one out of every 40 adults and one out of every 100 children. Many people wonder, what makes someone more susceptible to developing a mental health condition like obsessive-compulsive disorder? Is OCD hereditary? In this article, we will go over risk factors for OCD, including genetics, and how to get support and treatment for the disorder.
Is OCD A Genetic Disorder?
There are a number of known risk factors for OCD. One of those risk factors is family history. However, some people have obsessive-compulsive disorder without any family members who have a diagnosis. Some people have a family member with the obsessive-compulsive disorder but don't diagnose OCD or meet the criteria themselves.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder has no known definite cause. The short answer is that there's a genetic component to an obsessive-compulsive disorder that is well-researched, but it's not the only risk factor for developing OCD that there is. Other risk factors include life circumstances, brain structure, environmental factors, and personal history of another mental health condition.
So, is OCD inherited? Family history may be a factor for some, but it isn't the only potential risk factor. If you're the only one in your family with obsessive-compulsive disorder, it's not your fault, and you're not the odd one out; mental health conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, can impact anyone. The good news is that, while there's no known cure, it is a treatable condition.
Who Gets OCD?
Here are some statistics on obsessive-compulsive disorder and who is impacted by the condition.
- According to research, although men and women are diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder pretty equally, men typically have an earlier onset age. Even so, statistics from 2017 suggests that women have a higher past-year prevalence of the disorder.
- According to various family studies, people with first-degree relatives who have the obsessive-compulsive disorder are more likely to develop the obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- There are a number of comorbid conditions that someone with an obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD is more likely to have. These include but aren't limited to anxiety disorders and depression.
Are You Born With OCD?
The average age of onset for obsessive-compulsive disorder is 19 years old. However, there are two different age groups in which it is frequently first recognized. Those age groups are between the ages of 8 and 12 years old and one late teen or young adult. Many people who are diagnosed with OCD show symptoms early on. According to the AADA, one-third of adults affected by obsessive-compulsive disorder began showing symptoms during their childhood.
Common obsessions seen in those with the obsessive-compulsive disorder include contamination, a need for order and symmetry, responsibility, guilt, or fear regarding harm, taboo thoughts, and relationships (for example, obsessing over questions like "am I in the right relationship?" or "is my partner right for me?").
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Subtypes
Here are some common subtypes or manifestations of obsessive-compulsive disorder:
- Contamination OCD
- Symmetry OCD with ordering compulsions
- Harm OCD with checking compulsions
- Relationship OCD
- Religious OCD
- Sexuality OCD
- Purely obsessive OCD ("Pure O")
If you research obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may notice that it's listed in the most recent version of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM) under a category called "obsessive-compulsive and related disorders." Some disorders are related to an obsessive-compulsive disorder that isn't an obsessive-compulsive disorder. These disorders include body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and disorders characterized by body-focused repetitive behaviors such as hair pulling.
Do You Have OCD?
If you know that obsessions, compulsions, and intrusive thoughts are taking over your life and notice that you experience a high number of symptoms affiliated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, there's a likelihood that you may have OCD. The only way to get a diagnosis for obsessive-compulsive disorder is to see a medical or mental health professional who can diagnose mental health conditions, such as a psychiatrist. For many, the first step to receiving a diagnosis is visiting their general doctor (or any primary care physician that you can get an appointment with) to explain your symptoms and get a referral.
Using an online screening tool like the Mind Diagnostics obsessive-compulsive disorder test can help you understand your symptoms. Still, they cannot tell you if you have an obsessive-compulsive disorder for sure. Identifying symptoms in yourself is important because, often, this insight leads people to get the support they need from a medical or mental health professional. Taking your first step to getting an evaluation or assessment doesn't have to be expensive or lengthy. Community resources are often available for low-income individuals, and again, the first step for many is to make a simple doctor's appointment.
If you're a college student, you might be able to contact someone on campus at your university's health center for guidance and support. Some colleges have counselors on-site, where others don't, so this option will vary depending on where you go to school. If you're searching for community resources and can't find any, calling 211 is an option for those in the United States.
Treatment For Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Again, the good news about the obsessive-compulsive disorder is that it is treatable. Therapies such as a subtype of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) called exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy are popular treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder. For all information regarding specific treatments and therapies, please consult a medical or mental health professional.
To find a therapist or counselor in your area, there are a number of routes you can go. Here are some options for seeking care for obsessive-compulsive disorder:
- Set up an appointment with your general doctor and ask for a referral to a therapist or counselor or how to go about finding one.
- Contact your insurance company and ask who they cover near you.
- Use an online counselor and therapist directory or utilize the provider search tool on the Mind Diagnostics website's upper right-hand corner.
- Search the web for "obsessive-compulsive disorder therapists near me" or "obsessive-compulsive disorder specialists near me" using your search engine of choice.
- Use the resource locator tool on the IOCDF website.
These are not your only options. If you're low-income or don't have insurance, you may be able to get support through educational institutions, religious institutions, or community centers. Many providers offer sliding scale rates. Online therapy is another option that doesn't require insurance. Websites such as BetterHelp have plans that total to a cost per month that's significantly lower than traditional in-person therapy, often without insurance. In addition to seeing a counselor or therapist, some people with the obsessive-compulsive disorder benefit from seeing a psychiatrist.
Finding Community With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Living with a mental health condition such as obsessive-compulsive disorder can feel lonely, but you are not alone if you have the disorder. Again, it impacts one out of every 40 adults. Here are some ways to find the community if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD:
Online Forums: there are a number of popular online support groups for those living with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some popular forums for obsessive-compulsive disorder include the obsessive-compulsive disorder forum on mentalhealthforum.net, the healthunlocked.com forum from the International OCD Foundation, and the OCD forum psychforums.com. Online forums are typically free to use. All of the OCD forums listed here are free to sign up for and use.
Support Groups: You can find support groups that meet online or find support groups that meet in your local area. To find support groups that meet near you, search the web for "obsessive-compulsive disorder support groups near me, or "OCD support groups near me." The International OCD Foundation has a page that can help you find support groups that meet online, via phone, or in person. Support groups aren't the same as group therapy as they are not always run by a mental health professional, but they can give you a life-changing sense of community and understanding. Often, support groups are free, like mental health forums.
If you're interested in learning more about obsessive-compulsive disorder, the International OCD Foundation has a number of resources that you may find beneficial. The website has a list of books about an obsessive-compulsive disorder that can help those with OCD, those learning about OCD, or mental health professionals who work with mental health conditions like OCD. There are posts on the International OCD Foundation website about OCD written by professionals, and there are other resources such as a page of apps that can help with OCD management on the website. The IOCDF was founded by people who live with OCD, and it's an excellent resource for anyone impacted by the condition.