OCD Treatment for Teens: What You Need to Know

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) indicates that obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, affects at least 1.2% of the United States population. If that figure does not sound like much, it refers to at least 2.5 million American adults, and unlike the way that OCD is portrayed in modern media, it is more complex and prevalent.

What’s worse is that the average onset of OCD is around the age of 19, although there are documented cases of it occurring at age 14. This is why there is a great demand for facilities that provide OCD treatment for teens. Luckily, in Houston, Texas, Luna Recovery Services offers various resources to help adolescents and their families.

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

ocd in teensObsessive-compulsive disorder is a form of anxiety disorder that manifests as intrusive thoughts and urges to perform specific routines repeatedly to the point that it appears ritualistic. The unwanted and intrusive thoughts make up the obsession aspect of the condition, while the unwanted repetitive behavior is the compulsion aspect. Many would argue that compulsions such as the need to check and double-check things for safety concerns or “just to be sure” are normal things to do, but in people with OCD, it gets to the point where these compulsions interfere with most other aspects of life.

Most people with OCD, simply cannot go on with their normal lives until they have satisfied what their OCD is compelling them to do. The sheer need to obey the dictates of the compulsions is such that even if it entailed breaking the law or causing distress to others, the person with OCD has no other option but to do it.

What Causes OCD?

To date, there is no known cause for OCD. Medical specialists and mental health experts are looking at various possible connections to genetics, neurological abnormalities, and even the environment, but so far no single conclusive cause or source has been pinpointed. It is believed to start in childhood, although the condition mostly becomes pronounced once the individual begins to hit the teenage years.

In the few instances that the disorder becomes uncharacteristically pronounced during childhood, it is quite easy to mistake it for other conditions that are associated with children exhibiting unorthodox behavior, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or even autism.

Some mental health experts are also looking for a possible connection between OCD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as both conditions have a tendency to be fear-driven. In PTSD, the traumatic event creates deep-seated fear that causes an abnormal reaction in the individual who has it, while in OCD, the aspect of fear is being looked at as the possible driver for the overwhelming urge to follow through with what the obsessions and compulsions are pushing the person to do.

OCD and Adolescence

Since adolescence is a difficult stage of life, it’s not uncommon for teenagers to develop their quirks and idiosyncrasies as they try to navigate the turbulence. Unfortunately, for a small percentage of teenagers, these peculiarities and unusual behaviors are symptoms of a serious mental health problem known as obsessive-compulsive disorder. This psychiatric disorder, also known as OCD for short, can be extremely distressing. OCD can be debilitating in more severe cases of the disorder.

You, like all parents, are faced with the difficult task of determining what is normal and what is not in your teen’s behavior. This brief guide is intended to help you recognize the warning signs and know what steps to take if you suspect your teen is suffering from OCD.

Facts About OCD in Teens

  • OCD usually begins in late adolescence or early adolescence, but it can begin as early as childhood.
  • In approximately 25% of cases, OCD manifests itself by the age of 14.
  • OCD affects an estimated 1% of the population.
  • OCD affects between 1% and 3% of children and adolescents, making it one of the most common psychiatric disorders in that age group.
  • Up to 70% of people who have OCD have one or more other psychiatric disorders.
  • At least four out of every ten people who are diagnosed with OCD develop it into a chronic disorder.
  • An estimated 40% of people who develop OCD as children will recover by adulthood; for the other 60%, however, childhood-onset often means the disorder will be severe and chronic.
  • Individuals with OCD are more likely to commit suicide; this risk is increased if they also have a mood or anxiety disorder.

If left untreated, OCD can manifest into a variety of other health complications. Therefore, it’s highly suggested to receive professional treatment at a rehab facility. Our OCD treatment for teens utilizes evidence-based treatment methods to help adolescents and their families learn to effectively manage and cope with these mental health conditions and any other contributing factors such as substance abuse.

What Triggers OCD in a Teenager?

If family members have a history of mental illness, it’s very common for your teen to have a genetic predisposition for OCD. This disorder can be triggered by a stressful or traumatic event in a child’s life.

A streptococcal infection can occasionally cause a child to develop OCD symptoms. Obsessions and compulsions are common symptoms of OCD in teenagers. Adolescent OCD can appear at any time during childhood, adolescence, or early twenties. OCD treatment for teens can help adolescents manage their symptoms.

ocd and addiction

What are the Common Manifestations of OCD?

Different people could have different quirks to their personalities, and this is a normal thing for people to have. Psychotherapists, however, have observed some peculiarities that stand out as prominent markers of an individual as having the hallmarks of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. These include:

This form of OCD has long been depicted in many stories, movies, and even jokes, although to one who has it, there is nothing humorous or entertaining about it. The fear of being contaminated is so great that many wash their hands repeatedly, and some people even discard the soap that was already used because it has also become “contaminated”. It is not uncommon for people with a great fear of contamination to exhibit dry or irritated skin, as a result of having used antibacterial and antiseptic products much too often.

This fear greatly limits the lives of those who have it, as they will instinctively avoid places they associate with the possibility of contamination, such as clinics, hospitals, commercial centers, and anywhere else they believe they could potentially be exposed to contaminants. This is not an uncommon occurrence of OCD in teens, despite the common belief that most teenagers are not concerned with personal hygiene.

Some therapists theorize that people seemingly developed this form of OCD following a significant disease or injury they went through or witnessed others having. The experience may have become so traumatic that they have an overpowering urge to distance themselves from anything that might be associated with it. Luna Recovery offers cognitive-behavioral therapy to address this issue.

While some might only see it as a game, some children actively avoid cracks or lines on the floor, step only on specific-colored tiles, or only walk on certain lines. The reality of this is that if it were only a game that they were playing, one would see a certain sense of enjoyment or active engagement in the demeanor of the child. For someone with OCD, however, what could be noticed is a sense of fear in their demeanor, as these children could have formed the notion that if they did it wrong, something bad would happen to them.

This behavior has also been seen in adults who are deathly afraid of touching things of a specific color or shape. When asked about it, some would give a very specific and detailed reason for it, while others would simply say that they just don’t want to or are not comfortable with the idea of it. Just like those with a fear of contamination, people who have a fixation on specific shapes or colors become limited in their movements and actions in the presence or absence of the involved obsessions.

A notable trait of people with this particular form of obsession is that they tend to be highly observant of their surroundings, particularly of their living space. They could spot if any of their items had been moved, if any have been misplaced, or if a sequence that only they understand has not been followed. In these instances, they could become highly agitated and will immediately try to return to the pattern that they would want things to be in.

This form of OCD is often associated with autism, as it shares the one-dimensional intense focus displayed by many afflicted with autism. This fixation makes an individual particularly attentive to a certain specificity, to a sequence, or certain numbers. One of the easiest ways to see this is at diners and restaurants where some patrons would insist on a certain server, a specific meal, a very specific number of food items, and so on.

People with this type of fixation have various acceptance levels of the presence or absence of the patterns that they ask for. In the case of restaurants or shops, if they don’t get exactly what they want or order, they would simply leave. There are those, however, who insist that their demands be met and will become increasingly and visibly disturbed until they get what they asked for.

A person with OCD who has this fixation could be differentiated from someone with autism in that they could function quite normally outside of their fixation, while someone with autism might not. Teens with OCD with this kind of fixation are often exploited by their peers in games of chance such as card games, as they are believed to be able to count cards in gambling.

There is an ongoing dispute with mental health experts as to which particular disorder hoarding belongs to. Some would argue that it is a manifestation of anxiety, while others believe it is a trait of people with a history of depression. Many experts prefer to include hoarding as a manifestation of OCD because hoarders are very specific about what they choose to keep, and they would defy basic logic, even to the point when hoarding already becomes life-threatening, just to satisfy their compulsion.

Hoarding is different from collecting as most collectors are often proud of their collection, and would undertake activities that either covertly or overtly display their collection. Hoarders, on the other hand, would do their best to hide what they hoard, mostly out of the fear that someone would take away what they are hoarding. It is not uncommon for hoarders to fill their living spaces with what they are hoarding, with some of it even spilling over onto their backyard.

The problem with hoarding is that the habit could become very hazardous after some time, and it is not uncommon for some hoarders to die in the middle of what they are hoarding, and their death was only known because someone would complain of a foul stench emanating from their house.

ocd treatment for teens

OCD Treatment for Teens

Individual therapy or a combination of therapy and medication may help teens with mild to moderate OCD. Those with more severe OCD, or who are suicidal may require more intensive treatment for a longer period. OCD treatment for teens includes:

Residential or Outpatient Programs: Residential treatment entails your adolescent living in a non-hospital treatment facility that specializes in the treatment of adolescents with OCD and other mental health disorders. Residential treatment can last anywhere from 30 to 180 days, depending on the severity of your teen’s symptoms and how well he or she is progressing in treatment. Outpatient treatment for OCD is for people who may have mild cases and are able to live independently while still receiving the care they need.

Medication: Medication can be useful in the treatment of OCD. When treating OCD, medication is more effective when used in conjunction with therapy than when used alone, according to research. The following are the most commonly prescribed OCD medications:

Clomipramine (Anafranil): This is a tricyclic antidepressant medication SSRI antidepressant (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Celexa, Paxil, or Zoloft.

Medication may also be prescribed to treat depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and other co-occurring disorders.

Individual therapy: Individual psychotherapy can help your teen understand his or her obsessions and compulsions, as well as the underlying issues that drive them.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): One of the most effective types of therapy for OCD is cognitive-behavioral therapy in the form of Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). The prevention of exposure-response involves carefully exposing the individual to the things that make him or her anxious and learning how to cope with the anxiety healthily rather than engaging in a compulsive response.

Family therapy: Since OCD affects everyone in the household, family therapy can be an important part of treatment. It entails teaching parents and other family members how to support your teen without being accommodating or enabling.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment: If your teen has a substance use disorder in addition to PTSD, dual diagnosis treatment is often required. Individual therapy alone will almost always be ineffective due to the substance abuse problem. Enrolling your adolescent in a dual diagnosis program allows both disorders to be treated concurrently.

Your teen’s OCD will almost certainly have an impact on you at times, through no fault of his or her own. You might be frustrated, overwhelmed, helpless, or even depressed. That is why you must look after yourself.

Tips for Loved Ones

Your Child’s Support and Encouragement

Knowing how to encourage and support your teen with OCD is one of the most difficult challenges you may face as a parent. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Identifying a support group for parents of teens with OCD or other mental health issues.
    When you’re exhausted or emotionally distressed, seek assistance from family, friends, and your church.
  • Find stress-reduction methods such as yoga, meditation, or exercise
    Make sure you’re getting enough rest.
  • Finding a support group for parents of teens suffering from OCD or other mental health issues.
  • Make yourself available (and willing) to listen, and let your teen know you care.
    Even if you’re frustrated or scared, try to keep your cool; your teen needs to be able to rely on you for support and guidance.
  • If you’re unsure how to handle a situation, seek advice from your teen’s therapist or another mental health professional who is familiar with OCD.
  • Make sure everyone in the family is involved so that no one is impeding your teen’s recovery. Consider family therapy or ask your teen’s therapist if he or she will meet with the entire family for a few sessions. Family therapy can also assist in addressing the impact of mental illness on the entire family.
  • When you’re exhausted or emotionally distressed, reach out to family, friends, and your church for help.

We Provide OCD Treatment for Teens

The transition between young adulthood and being full-grown is already immensely stressful enough without debilitating hindrances such as symptoms of OCD in teens. While this condition is next to impossible to deal with, we here at Luna Recovery Services in Houston, TX, know that everyone deserves a chance at normal and healthy life devoid of complications.

We do our best to help those who need it, using evidence-based approaches, and the countless people we have helped could attest to that. We could help you too. Talk to us now.