Contamination OCD: What is it & how can you treat it?

Many people think that all symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder have the same presentation. But there are actually subsets of the anxiety disorder. A common type is contamination OCD, which affects about 46% of people diagnosed with OCD.

What is contamination OCD?

Contamination OCD refers to a mental health issue that makes people have a fear of spreading illnesses and being “unclean.” 

This type of OCD can present in several different ways. A person with contamination OCD will worry about spreading nonviral illnesses to those around them. They can also have the fear that certain objects are “unclean” and will spread contamination. People with this type of OCD may even have specific thoughts or words that make them feel “dirty” if they are perceived as bad luck or immoral.

Any form of OCD can affect your day-to-day life in a variety of ways, such as spending too much time washing your hands or turning down social plans out of fear of spreading or contracting a virus.

Symptoms of contamination OCD

As with nearly any form of OCD, people with contamination OCD have compulsions in response to obsessive thoughts that they can’t control. For this subset of the disorder, the compulsions usually stem from feeling “unclean.” There are quite a few compulsions that are symptoms of this disorder.

Some symptoms of contamination OCD include:

  • Excessive hand-washing
  • Avoiding touch from others
  • Frequent clothing changes
  • Throwing things away
  • Consistent sanitizing or sterilizing surfaces or items
  • Avoiding public spaces

This type of OCD can cause a fear of many objects and substances that go beyond germs. People with this type of OCD may be anxious around:

  • Blood
  • Household chemicals
  • Spoiled food
  • Lead
  • Garbage
  • Pets

What causes contamination OCD?

Even though there isn’t an exact cause of contamination OCD, there are a few factors that can lead to a diagnosis of the anxiety disorder. 

Some risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing this type of OCD include:

  • Disgust sensitivity
  • Family history/genetics
  • Childhood stressors or other childhood trauma
  • Brain chemistry

Medication options for contamination OCD

There are a variety of antidepressants that a mental health provider may prescribe if you’re struggling with the symptoms of OCD, such as fluoxetine and paroxetine.

These are both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that work to boost serotonin levels to help regulate your mood, decrease anxiety and increase your concentration. It’s beneficial for OCD because OCD is an anxiety disorder that not only causes negative emotions, but can result in compulsions that distract you from tasks and responsibilities. 

3 types of therapy that can treat contamination OCD

Therapy is essential in your mental health treatment journey. For OCD, proper treatment will help to alleviate some of your compulsions as well as help your relationship with objects and people around you that may be making you feel “unclean.”

We offer four programs at our mental health treatment centers to assist you with your mental health journey while living with any form of OCD: residential treatment, Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP), Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), also called our Day Treatment Program. 

These programs give you a personalized treatment plan, which may include therapy methods like:

  • Exposure and response prevention therapyERP therapy is one of the most common forms of therapy for people diagnosed with any type of OCD. It embodies the philosophy of “facing your fears.” ERP therapy forces you to confront your contamination anxieties by exposing you to them, little by little. The response prevention portion comes from resisting the urge to complete compulsions in each exposure. This helps to slowly reduce anxiety over time by improving your resistance to compulsions.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapyCBT helps you to focus on how actions, thoughts and feelings affect each other. It allows you to recognize how a thought can trigger anxiety that leads to a compulsion. This therapy will help you reduce your symptoms by learning to adjust how your thoughts, emotions and compulsions interact with one another.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapyACT therapy helps you to change your perspective on your mental health disorder by accepting the obstacles that it puts in your way, instead of fighting against them. It revolves around the idea of mindfulness, acceptance and change. It also helps you to see that you don’t have to act upon painful thoughts because they aren’t facts.

Lightfully Behavioral Health can help treat your OCD

OCD of any kind can make it hard for you to explore new places or efficiently handle your daily responsibilities, but it’s important for you to know that change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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