It’s not uncommon to have a specific morning routine or evening ritual—something you do nearly every day. And it’s not abnormal to want to enjoy a tidy home or clean workspace. However, if you feel anxious when something isn’t done just so or if you have to fight irrational or unwanted urges to repeat these tasks, you might find that these are symptoms of OCD. Although OCD was once ranked in the top 10 most disabling illnesses by lost income and decreased quality of life and it affects 1 in 40 adults in the United States, OCD statistics aren’t easy to find and many studies are outdated. We compiled the most recent and useful OCD statistics to illustrate its prevalence in the U.S.
What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic anxiety disorder where a person experiences unreasonable, uncontrollable, or recurring thoughts followed by a behavioral response. Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD feels the urge to do in response to an obsessive thought.
The following are four categories of OCD behaviors (called compulsions) and examples of each, according to Menije Boduryan-Turner, Psy.D., a psychologist based in California:
- Acting compulsive such as checking, handwashing, locking, moving objects, staring, praying, or seeking symmetry.
- Seeking reassurance from loved ones, typing a search in Google, or asking Siri.
- Avoiding triggers such as social interaction, objects, or walking around things.
- Mental compulsions such as repeating words, counting, mental checking, rumination, visualization, thought suppression, neutralizing (replacing an unpleasant thought with a pleasant one), and mental reviewing (reviewing past actions).
The cycle of OCD persists through operant conditioning, where compulsions are behavioral responses that reduce anxiety. The effectiveness of the compulsion is what negatively reinforces that behavior in response to obsessions, according to Dr. Boduryan-Turner.
She explains that having OCD greatly affects a person’s life due to intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and uncertainty. OCD obsessions are intrusive and can be triggered at any time. Some people with OCD find it difficult to leave the house because ritualistic behavior in public can be embarrassing.
How common is OCD?
- Approximately 2.3% of the population has OCD, which is about 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children in the U.S. (Anxiety and Depression Association of America)
- The prevalence of OCD in a 12-month period is higher in females (1.8%) than males (0.5%). (Harvard, 2007)
- One study in 1992 found that nearly two-thirds of people with OCD had major symptoms before the age of 25. (Stanford Medicine)
- In families with a history of OCD, there’s a 25% chance that another immediate family member will develop symptoms. (American Journal of Medical Genetics, 2005)
OCD statistics by severity:
- Half of adults with OCD (50.6%) had serious impairment as of 2001-2003.
- One-third of adults with OCD (34.8%) had moderate impairment as of 2001-2003.
- Only 15% of adults with OCD had mild impairment as of 2001-2003.
(Harvard Medical School, 2007)
OCD statistics by age:
- The average age of onset of OCD is 19.5 years old. (Molecular Psychiatry, 2008)
- Males make up the majority of very early-onset cases. Almost a quarter of males have onsets before age 10. Most females are diagnosed with OCD during adolescence (after age 10). (Molecular Psychiatry, 2008)
- People with early age of onset have more severe symptoms of OCD and higher rates of ADHD and bipolar disorder. (Psychological Medicine, 2014)
OCD and co-occurring mental health conditions
The majority (90%) of the adults who had OCD at some point in their lives also had at least one other mental disorder. Conditions that are often comorbid with OCD include:
- Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, phobias, and PTSD (75.8%)
- Mood disorders, including major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder (63.3%)
- Impulse-control disorders, including ADHD (55.9%)
- Substance use disorders (38.6%)
(Molecular Psychiatry, 2008)
Causes of OCD
A combination of genetic, environmental, and neurobiological risk factors may cause OCD. Research suggests that OCD symptoms are linked with communication areas among parts of the brain.
“Abnormalities in neurotransmitter systems—chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, glutamate that send messages between brain cells—are also involved in the disorder,” says Dr. Boduryan-Turner. A key characteristic of those with OCD are that they do not have serotonin readily available in parts of the brain for important communications to take place.
Unfortunately, receiving an accurate diagnosis of OCD takes nine years on average. It can take another 17 years to receive sufficient care. Still, with the right treatment, only 10% of people with OCD completely recover. However, 50% experience an improvement in OCD symptoms, according to The Recovery Village.
OCD cannot be cured, but it can managed effectively with medication and psychotherapy. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac and Lexapro are commonly prescribed to patients with OCD. It’s important to take these medications every day as prescribed, as it can take 10 to 12 weeks to notice a change in OCD symptoms. Although it takes a while before SSRIs have a noticeable effect on OCD, the success rate of drug therapy with SSRIs is 40% to 60%. Suddenly discontinuing medication without a gradual taper and without cognitive behavior therapy will likely cause a relapse in OCD, according to The Recovery Village.
Additionally, exposure and responsive therapy and cognitive behavior therapy can help people with OCD manage their anxiety and control their compulsions.
Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is the most effective therapy to treat OCD, according to Dr. Boduryan-Turner. She explains that the idea of ERP is to teach the brain how to respond differently to obsessions by tolerating the anxiety and discomfort that come with them.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness are other effective treatment options for OCD, according to Dr. Boduryan-Turner. Mindfulness teaches you to observe your feelings and thoughts in an objective manner while CBT teaches you to identify, label, and reframe your thoughts.
RELATED: OCD treatment and medications
Obsessive-compulsive disorder research
- Understand the facts of obsessive-compulsive disorder, Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Overview of obsessive-compulsive disorder, National Institute of Mental Health
- National comorbidity study replication (NCS-R), Harvard Medical School
- A family study of obsessive-compulsive disorder with pediatric probands, American Journal of Medical Genetics
- The epidemiology of obsessive-compulsive disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, Molecular Psychiatry
- Age of onset in obsessive-compulsive disorder, Psychological Medicine
- About OCD, Stanford Medicine
- OCD facts, The Recovery Village