- Educate Yourself
- Mental Health Conditions: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- What causes OCD?
What causes OCD?
A large body of scientific evidence suggests that OCD results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. For years, mental health professionals incorrectly assumed OCD resulted from bad parenting or personality defects. This theory has been disproven over the last 20 years. OCD symptoms are not relieved by psychoanalysis or other forms of "talk therapy," but there is evidence that behavior therapy can be effective, alone or in combination with medication. People with OCD can often say "why" they have obsessive thoughts or why they behave compulsively. But the thoughts and the behavior continue.
People whose brains are injured sometimes develop OCD, which suggests it is a physical condition. If a placebo is given to people who are depressed or who experience panic attacks, 40 percent will say they feel better. If a placebo is given to people who experience obsessive-compulsive disorder, only about two percent say they feel better. This also suggests a physical condition.
Clinical researchers have implicated certain brain regions in OCD. They have discovered a strong link between OCD and a brain chemical called serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps nerve cells communicate.
Scientists have also observed that people with OCD have increased metabolism in the basal ganglia and the frontal lobes of the brain. This, scientists believe, causes repetitive movements, rigid thinking and lack of spontaneity. Successful treatment with medication or behavior therapy produces a decrease in the over-activity of this brain circuitry. People with OCD often have high levels of the hormone vasopressin.
In layperson's terms, something in the brain is stuck, like a broken record. Judith Rapoport, M.D., describes it in her book, The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing, as "grooming behaviors gone wild."