Signs, Symptoms, and Effects of Teen OCD

Understanding OCD

Learn More About OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a type of mental health disorder with two general types of symptoms:

  • Obsessions – Recurrent, persistent, and intrusive unwanted thoughts, urges, and/or images
  • Compulsions – Mental acts and/or physical behaviors that a person feels forced to perform according to a rigid set of rules or circumstances

People who develop OCD may experience obsessions only, compulsions only, or a combination of both obsessions and compulsions.

It is not uncommon for OCD symptoms to first become evident during adolescence. Some teens who struggle with OCD may engage in what appear to be bizarre, meaningless activities such as repetitively washing hands, checking and re-checking that a door is locked, or repeating certain numbers or words over and over again. Other teens with OCD may experience overwhelming fears related to contamination, potentially disruptive behaviors, worrisome sexual thoughts, failure to properly understand information, and other apprehensions.

These thoughts and behaviors can have a disruptive and distressing impact on a teenager’s life. He or she may feel as though he or she is trapped by mental images and physical urges are impossible to control. Compounding the distress of OCD is the fact that many teens who struggle with symptomatic obsessions or compulsions may avoid certain people or situations, attempt to numb themselves with alcohol or other drugs, or engage in other maladaptive behaviors in an attempt to find even temporary respite from their emotional turmoil

With effective comprehensive professional care, adolescents and teenagers who have struggled with OCD may experience relief from their symptoms or may learn to manage those symptoms in a manner that will allow them to regain a sense of control over their lives and empower them to pursue healthier, more productive, and more satisfying futures.


Statistics of OCD

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), about 0.5 percent of children, adolescents, and teenagers will experience symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The Anxiety and Depression Association of American (ADAA) puts the prevalence of OCD at about 1 percent of the population, or about 2.2 million Americans. The ADAA also notes that about 25 percent of people who develop OCD begin to exhibit symptoms by the time they are 14 years old.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for OCD

The likelihood that an adolescent or teenager will develop obsessive-compulsive disorder may be influenced by a variety of genetic and environmental factors, including but not limited to the following:

Genetic: Researchers have established a strong genetic component to one’s risk of developing OCD. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), children and siblings of individuals who have OCD have twice the risk of also developing OCD than do members of the general population. When a person develops OCD during childhood, the likelihood that his or her siblings and/or future children will also develop the disorder increases by a magnitude of 10.

Environmental: Experiencing significant stress or trauma during childhood, particularly when that trauma involves physical and/or sexual abuse, can significantly increase a young person’s risk for developing OCD. Researchers have also found evidence that exposure to certain infectious agents and the development of a resultant post-infection autoimmune syndrome may increase a person’s risk for OCD.

Risk Factors:

  • Childhood trauma
  • Family history of OCD and/or other mental health disorders
  • Gender (males are more likely to experience earlier onset of OCD symptoms as well as certain obsessions, while females are at increased risk for certain compulsive behaviors)
  • Behavioral inhibition
  • Negative emotionality

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Teen OCD

As noted earlier on this page, individuals who have OCD may experience obsessions, compulsions, or both. Depending upon the nature of their disorder, teens who develop OCD may exhibit the following signs and symptoms:

Teens whose OCD is characterized by obsessions may struggle with persistent thoughts and urges, and certain resultant behaviors, such as the following:

  • Overwhelming desire for order and symmetry, and intense stress when things are out of order or otherwise not properly arranged
  • Fear of germs or other types of contamination
  • Worries that one has failed to lock a door, turned off a stove, or otherwise performed a fundamental household safety task
  • Intrusive images of harming oneself or another person
  • Distress related to unpleasant or inappropriate sexual thoughts
  • Fear that one will inadvertently blurt out an obscenity or otherwise embarrass oneself and/or upset another person
  • Fear of having inappropriate sexual thoughts


Teens whose OCD involves the presence of compulsions may engage in a variety of distressing behaviors, including but not limited to the following:

  • Constant washing and re-washing of hands
  • Excessive showering
  • Refusing to shake hands, avoiding doctors or hospitals, or other avoidant behaviors related to fears of contamination
  • Being incapable of leaving a room or a house without repetitively checking and re-checking that one has locked a door, turned off lights, unplugged an appliance, or performed another basic household safety task
  • Repetitively counting or reciting certain words or phrases over and over again
  • Frequent or near-continuous cleaning of one’s room, home, workplace, or other environment


Effects of Teen OCD

A teen who struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder but who does not get proper treatment for his or her OCD may experience a wide range of distressing and detrimental outcomes, including but not limited to the following:

  • Substandard performance in school and at work
  • Academic failure and job loss
  • Strained or ruined relationships with family members and friends
  • Health consequences due to obsession-related behaviors and fears of doctors and/or hospitals
  • Developmental setbacks
  • Substance abuse
  • Inability to achieve and maintain financial independence
  • Lack of personal autonomy
  • Onset or worsening of mental health disorders
  • Pervasive sense of hopelessness, helplessness, and/or despair
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders & the Complexity of OCD

Teens who have OCD may also have an elevated likelihood of experiencing one or more of the following mental health disorders:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Body dysmorphic disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Tic disorder
  • Eating disorders
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