What are the Symptoms of OCD in Teens?

OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a severe and lifetime mental health condition that afflicts about 2.3% of U.S. adults. For most people with the disease, its onset starts in the teenage years.

Adolescence is a time of high stress and pressure. In people with genetic and temperamental vulnerabilities, the stressful teen years can trigger mental health disorders, behavioral disorders, or substance abuse. For parents, it’s critical that they monitor their teen for adverse reactions to stress and upheaval that are common during adolescence.

Although OCD is a serious and disruptive disorder, it is highly treatable. The earlier mental health professionals can intervene, the more successful treatment outcomes will be for teenage patients. This article will explore the symptoms of OCD in teens, and what parents and guardians can do if they suspect their teen is suffering from the disorder.

Teen OCD

What is OCD?

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder. The disorder can be triggered or worsened during times of stress, and it is often a lifelong condition where the sufferer has uncontrollable and recurring thoughts or obsessions that are distressing and disruptive. To quell these thoughts and fears, the person with OCD will create compulsions to alleviate the thoughts and their distress.

These obsessions and compulsions happen over and over until medical intervention happens. OCD can severely limit and impair a person’s daily functioning. Obsessions can be incredibly disturbing and emotionally painful for the sufferer, and they may avoid talking about them for fear of embarrassment or shame and ostracization. Adolescents are at high risk of turning to drugs or alcohol to mask or quieten their obsessions.

Some of the most common obsessions in children and teens with OCD include:

  • Excessive fear of germs or contamination.
  • An intense need for symmetry, order, or precision.
  • Being obsessed with religion and faith symbolism, rituals, or beliefs.
  • Being preoccupied with lucky and unlucky numbers.
  • Obsessing over bodily waste.
  • Experiencing intrusive sexual or aggressive thoughts.
  • Having an intense fear of illness, injury, or harm happening to themselves or their loved ones.
  • Being preoccupied with household items
  • Repeating words or sounds with an inability to control it.

These common compulsions often accompany the above obsessions:

  • Creating intense grooming rituals, such as obsessive showering, handwashing, or teeth brushing.
  • Creating and repeating rituals such as walking a certain way, erasing and rewriting a particular word a set number of times, or entering and exiting doorways a specific way.
  • Checking and rechecking to make sure an appliance is turned off or a door is locked.
  • Having a touching ritual to undo contamination.
  • Creating a ritual to prevent harm or illness.
  • Rearranging and ordering objects in a specific way over and over again.
  • Having a counting or cleaning ritual.
  • Hoarding objects with no value, either monetary or sentimental.

How many teens have OCD in the U.S.?

Approximately half a million children and teens in the U.S. have OCD. OCD in teens and children presents in a similar way to OCD in adults. About a third of adults with OCD developed the disorder as a child or young teen. The biggest issue facing children and teens with OCD is that they often do not understand that what they are feeling is a mental health condition that can be treated with therapy and medication. For instance, children and teens may insist that their family participate in their rituals, and become incredibly distressed if their family does not. Parents who don’t understand how OCD manifests may attribute their child or teen’s symptoms to something else.

Who is most at risk of developing OCD as a teen?

The cause of mental health conditions like OCD is not fully understood, and the onset of the disease is not necessarily attributed to one singular cause. A combination of biology, genetics, and environmental factors can all contribute to the onset of the disorder. However, there are a few known risk factors for OCD.

Having a parent or sibling with the disorder can increase a person’s risk of developing it as well. Trauma and significant stress can also trigger OCD in genetically vulnerable children and teens. It is also believed that children and teens with other mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder are at higher risk of developing OCD than teens who do not have these comorbid conditions.

Lifetime prevalence of OCD is slightly higher in females than males. The past-year prevalence rate for women with OCD is 1.8%, versus 0.5% for men.

Children and teens who are unable to get treatment for their OCD can suffer from numerous issues. An untreated mental health condition can set the tone for the rest of the sufferer’s teen and young adult years. It’s critical that parents realize that obsessions and rituals in children and teens are not phases, but indicative of something more serious. If a young person is exhibiting OCD symptoms, it’s crucial that they are seen by a qualified mental health professional.

Some of the issues that can result from untreated OCD include:

  • Health problems that occur from compulsive rituals, including skin problems from frequent and prolonged hand washing.
  • Problems attending and participating in school, work, or social activities
  • Frequent fights and other issues in their relationships.
  • Becoming socially withdrawn and missing out on crucial relationship-building skills.
  • Risk of trying drugs or alcohol to cope with symptoms.
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Although OCD is a serious disorder, there is a lot of help available for teens. A combination of therapy and medications can alleviate symptoms and prevent OCD from taking over a teen’s life. In most cases, cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective for treating OCD in children and teens. CBT is usually recommended before medications are tried. SSRIs are the most common medication used to treat OCD, but they often only considered if OCD is moderate to severe, and CBT is not doing enough to alleviate symptoms. These medications can take several weeks to take effect, so it’s critical that teens with severe OCD are seen by a doctor quickly.

Are you worried that your teenager is exhibiting signs of OCD? The therapists and mental health care professionals at Mission Harbor can help. Please contact us today to see what we can to do help your teen with OCD.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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