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Is OCD Genetic?

You may have said it or heard others say, “I’m so OCD.” But do you know what you’re saying? For some, those words carry more weight than you can think. It’s one thing to be neat and need your life to be in order, but it’s another for it to be an obsession. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be severe enough that some individuals believe if they don’t complete their ritual, bad things will occur. The messy truth about obsessive-compulsive disorder revealed by author Ethan Smith takes a look into the severity of the ailment

“I barely made it through my twenties. In my early thirties, I hit rock bottom. I was bedridden in my parent’s guest bedroom, paralyzed by OCD.” Ethan’s accounting of OCD paints a picture of someone who is diagnosed. His story goes onto mention his stint in three separate psychiatric hospitals, intensive outpatient therapy, and two months at an OCD institute in his hometown Boston. He ended up kicked out of his treatment and forced to live on the street in the middle of a frigid winter. 

OCD is not what we see on TV. Most people won’t wash their hands, organize, or clean. Most people won’t be afraid of germs, but many fear they will lose control of their lives. OCD preys on your unique fears that do not exist in reality. For some, it may be germs, but for others, it can be taboo topics, such as self-harm. While the fears many seem irrational and easy to brush aside for some, it can be debilitating for others.

Many of us may wonder where OCD comes from – is it genetic? Is it learned? It is a challenging question that has been studied for the past 100 years. There is good evidence of a genetic contribution to the disorder, but studies have also shown environmental risk factors are likely to be involved. There is an intricate pattern of inheritance, and molecular studies have found several relevant genes. Even with 100 years of research, much more is needed to establish a definitive cause of the condition.

What Is OCD?

The Mayo Clinic describes obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as a pattern of unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). For some, the condition may be debilitating. As we touched on with Ethan’s story above, it took rock bottom for him to reclaim his life. For some, however, it can be a losing battle.

Those with the disorder may attempt to ignore the obsessions, but it will gradually increase your anxiety and distress. Eventually, you will feel driven to perform compulsive acts to try and ease the stress. Despite your best effort to get rid of or ignore these intrusive thoughts or urges, they will keep coming back. It will lead to more ritualistic behavior, which is known as the vicious cycle of OCD.

Symptoms of OCD

OCD typically includes both compulsions and obsessions. It’s likely that you may only have obsessive symptoms or only compulsive symptoms. You may not be aware that your obsessions or compulsions are excessive and unreasonable, but they can take up a great deal of your life and interfere with your daily routine. 

OCD obsessions are persistent or repeated unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that cause distress or anxiety. Those struggling may try to ignore these thoughts by performing compulsive behavior or rituals. Some people believe that by not fulfilling these desires, they will experience adverse outcomes. Unfortunately, the obsessions will slowly take over your life. 

The most common symptoms include:

  • Unwanted thoughts, which include aggression, sexual, or religious subjects
  • Images of hurting yourself or others that make you uncomfortable
  • Fear of being contaminated if you touch an object or contaminating someone else
  • Doubting that you’ve locked the door
  • Severe stress when objects aren’t orderly or facing a certain way
  • Distressing sexual images that repeat in your mind

Is OCD Genetic?

OCD has been proven genetic, but what has not been proven clear is which genes are affected. OCD is thought to be caused by a combination of different genes. In these cases, you may be more vulnerable to a given disease depending on various versions of genetics you inherit from your parents. While we have found the missing link, your environment may play a more significant role in the illness than we once thought. 

Someone that is genetically vulnerable to lung cancer, for example, may only develop the disease if they smoke cigarettes or are exposed to pollution. The same can be said for OCD – there is an argument about nature versus nurture, and experts indicate that our genes “load the gun,” while it is our environment that pulls the trigger.

If the OCD runs in your family, it may be in your best interest to speak with a professional to determine what can be done. OCD is a complex condition that can be debilitating, and your best defense is to educate yourself and figure out options to combat the disorder.

Sources

Kelly, O. (2019, July 30). Why Genes Are Only a Piece of the OCD Puzzle. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/ocd-and-genetics-2510481

Anxiety Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). (2016, September 17). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354432

Nestadt, G., Grados, M., & Samuels, J. F. (2010, March). Genetics of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2824902/

NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/October-2019/The-Messy-Truth-About-Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorde

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