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OCD in Teens: What is it?

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Written by Kriti Dugar

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) refers to a pattern of unwanted and intrusive thoughts, emotions, or fears. This may lead to feelings of distress and repetitive behaviors aimed at dealing with negative emotions. Obsessions refer to unwanted thoughts, while repetitive behaviors are known as compulsions.

If you are a parent and are worried that your child may be dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder, then know that you are not alone. You can connect with mental health professionals at Cadabam's Hospitals. Our helpline number 9741476476 is available to you 24x7 for the treatment options around you.

What is OCD in Teens?

Adolescence can be a challenging phase in one’s life. Hence, most teenagers develop their quirks and idiosyncrasies to navigate the turbulence. However, for a small fraction of teenagers, these quirks and unusual behaviors are indicators of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  

The unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors may be impactful and obstructive. The child may have trouble leaving the house to go to school, play sports, or participate actively in their daily routine.

Understanding Obsessions and Compulsions: Symptoms of Teen OCD

Obsessions are fears that teenagers can not stop thinking about. Often teenagers dealing with OCD know very well that their obsessions are not realistic nor normal. However, despite their best efforts, they cannot stop thinking about them.

Common obsessions in teens include :

  • Excessive worry after breaking a rule. 
  • Disturbing aggressive or sexual thoughts
  • Fear of illness/ harm and even death for themselves or their loved ones.
  • Preoccupation with order and placement of everyday household items. 
  • Constant awareness of bodily sensations like blinking, breathing, etc.

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To be diagnosed with OCD, a teenager must have both obsessions and compulsions.

Compulsions are behaviors that are typically repetitive and rigid. They often take the form of rituals and are designed to counteract stress or prevent fearful outcomes. 

Teens with OCD perform these behaviors repeatedly in a particular order that provides them with a source of power. They believe that by performing these actions, they will be able to prevent a negative outcome or overcome anxiety.  

Common compulsions include :

  • To clean things multiple times in a certain way. 
  • To write, erase and rewrite or re-read things continuously. 
  • Chewing each bite the same number of times
  • Counting all items and objects to specific lucky numbers to avoid unlucky numbers
  • Fear of touching doorknobs, using public toilets, or shaking hands 
  • Following a specific bedtime routine. 

It’s important to note that compulsions often arise because of adaptive behaviors. For example, children need to double-check their homework to make sure it is done correctly. Still, suppose they end up checking their homework a dozen times to the detriment of other activities. In that case, this starts to have a clinically adverse impact on their lives and the lives of family members. 

How is OCD Diagnosed in a Teen?

The diagnosis of a mental health disorder can only be made by a licensed mental health practitioner through a mental health evaluation of the person. Professionals also use multiple OCD tests for teenagers to diagnose the disorder.

To be diagnosed with OCD, the teenager must have obsessions and compulsions that are continuous, severe, and disrupt daily life. For example - checking the doors or washing hands may take up more than an hour each day affecting other activities. 

Causes of OCD in Teens:

The research on the causes behind mental health disorders is still not conclusive. There is no single cause behind OCD, however, there are a few reasons that could result in the development of this disorder.  

Differences in the Brain : 

Through neuroimaging technologies, researchers have demonstrated that some regions of the brain function differently in teenagers dealing with OCD compared to others. 

Communication errors among different brain parts, including the anterior cingulate cortex and orbitofrontal cortex or even the striatum, and the thalamus could result in OCD. Abnormalities in chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and possibly others may also result in the disorder.

Genetic History :

Research on OCD suggests that it may be associated with an uncommon mutation of the human serotonin transporter gene (hSERT). There is a chance that OCD may be genetically transferable since about 25% of people dealing with OCD have a relative with the same disorder. 

In addition, twin studies have indicated that if one twin has OCD, the other is more likely to have OCD when the twins are identical rather than fraternal. Overall, studies of twins with OCD estimate that genetics contributes approximately 45-65% of the risk for developing the disorder. The genetics of OCD is an area of active research, and new developments appear frequently.

Psychological Factors :

Several other factors may result in OCD. This includes behavioral, cognitive, and environmental factors.  

Sometimes, compulsions are learned responses to prevent anxiety or discomfort associated with obsessions or urges. For example - if an individual experiences an intrusive obsession regarding germs, he/she may engage in handwashing to reduce the stress triggered by the obsession. Since this ritual temporarily reduces anxiety, the individual will more frequently engage in handwashing. As a result, compulsive behavior not only persists but becomes excessive.

According to cognitive researchers, individuals with OCD have faulty or dysfunctional beliefs. Misinterpretation of intrusive thoughts could then lead to obsessions and compulsions. People with OCD, misinterpret obsessive thoughts as important, personally significant, or those that could lead to catastrophic consequences. Since the obsessions are so distressing, the individual engages in compulsive behavior to try to resist or neutralize them.


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Treatment for OCD

There is no treatment or cure for OCD. However, please do not despair. There is still hope to manage this condition effectively. Treatment for OCD can lead to significant improvements in the quality of life and hence needs to be approached comprehensively. When all facets of OCD are addressed appropriately, children have the best chance of making a meaningful recovery. 

So, how to help a teenager with OCD?

Therapeutic interventions : 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on the concept that one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are interconnected. CBT aims to help one deal with overwhelming thoughts or emotions by breaking them down into smaller parts. 

An important subpart of CBT is exposure and response prevention; the professionals will put the children in a simulation that is designed to create anxiety or set off compulsions. This teen obsessive compulsive disorder therapy aims to gradually expose children to a feared object or obsession, Eventually this teen ocd help them overcome it.

For example, a child who has obsessive thoughts about germs might be exposed to dirt. Then, with the guidance of a mental health professional, the child learns to resist the urge to complete compulsive rituals like washing hands or using sanitizers. This type of teen therapy for ocd may take time, though it has vastly improved the quality of life in children with OCD.

Relaxation methods 

The major focus on OCD is the obsessive thoughts and behaviors which could lead to stress and anxiety. To counteract the pressure, one may indulge in activities that result in de-stressing and relaxation. This includes meditation, yoga, massage, or indulging in hobbies like painting, playing a sport or instrument, etc. 

Support from loved ones 

For the best treating ocd in teens, parents should be involved. Parents may need to learn the best ways of reassurance to help with a mental health disorder.

Children inherently trust their parents and hence may find it easier to believe them than a mental health professional. They become active participants during therapeutic interventions offering unconditional love and support to their teenagers. 


While the primary treatment for OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy, severe cases may be treated with a combination of CBT and medication. Kindly consult a child psychiatrist for further details on the right medication or its necessity in the treatment plan. 

Conclusion :

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health disorder and it can be especially challenging for a parent to watch their teenager dealing with it. But please know that there is still hope. This mental health disorder can be managed with the proper treatment and support. You are not alone!

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