Obsessive Compulsive Behavior in Adults: An Insight

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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Symptoms

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, is classified as an anxiety disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, OCD affects around 2.2 million American adults. Although both children and adults can suffer from OCD, the symptoms are usually very different for adults. Adults with OCD suffer from obsessive, upsetting thoughts and compulsive, ritualized behaviors such as compulsive hand-washing or hoarding, which is the excessive accumulation of possessions. If you’ve seen the movie, “As Good As It Gets,” you’re already familiar with obsessive-compulsive behavior in adults. In the movie, Jack Nicholson’s character displays some of the most classic obsessive-compulsive behaviors, including compulsive hand-washing and checking.

Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior in Adults

Obsessive hand-washing is not the only form of obsessive-compulsive behavior in adults, although it may be the one that you’re most familiar with. OCD behaviors include any form of undesirable, uncontrollable and ritualized behaviors. This may include the need to avoid stepping on cracks in a sidewalk at all costs, obsessively checking to see if your door is locked when you leave the house, repeating certain words to yourself without any apparent reason other than to ease your anxiety, obsessively praying or using other types of religious rituals, obsessively washing or cleaning your house even when it’s not dirty or hoarding - another common form of OCD behavior.

Most Common OCD Behaviors in Adults

While there are many types of OCD behaviors, some of the most common obsessive compulsive behaviors in adults are hoarding, checking and obsessive hand-washing.

Hand-washing behavior is triggered by an intense fear of germs and contamination. People who exhibit compulsive hand-washing behaviors don’t just wash their hands a few times a day - they may actually spend a good portion of their day scrubbing and washing their hands in an attempt to get rid of imagined or perceived germs and disease.

Checking is another common OCD behavior in adults, which can result in the loss of tremendous amounts of time. People who exhibit checking behaviors may spend hours simply checking to make sure that the stove is turned off, even if they’ve previously just checked it. Another example of checking behavior is obsessively checking to make sure the front door is locked when leaving the house. This happens even when the person remembers locking the door a minute previously.

Hoarding is another common OCD behavior that also results in chaos and extreme disorganization, usually in the home. Hoarding involves accumulating things that don’t have any real value, such as old newspapers, weekly circulars, used food storage containers and so forth. The hoarders feels completely unable to part with these items, and the idea of having to throw any of them away gives the person a feeling of dread and intense, uncontrollable anxiety.


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), American Psychiatric Association, 2000

Help Guide: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Symptoms, Behavior and Treatment

National Institute of Mental Health: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder