Mental Health
5 minutes

What Are OCD Intrusive Thoughts?

Medically Reviewed
Last Medically Reviewed on: July 30, 2023

Key Points

  • OCD intrusive thoughts are repetitive, chronic, and undesirable mind pictures, thoughts, and impulses.
  • In some severe cases, these repetitive behaviors can be disruptive to daily routines and cause serious interference with regular life.
  • Teens suffering from OCD may live a life defined by their obsessions and compulsions. Help is available.

OCD intrusive thoughts are repetitive, chronic, and undesirable mind pictures, thoughts, and impulses that cause one to feel anxious, distressed, and out of control. For teens who suffer from OCD, intrusive thoughts can be frightening and even debilitating.

Unwanted recurring thought patterns like this can lead to a laser-focused obsession and undesirable behaviors. In many cases, engaging in these behaviors is a self-soothing mechanism that temporarily relieves the anxiety they may be feeling.

What Is OCD?

OCD is an acronym for obsessive-compulsive disorder or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. The American Psychiatric Association defines OCD as a disorder defined by a pattern of unwanted ideas, fears, or obsessions that compel the sufferer to engage in compulsive, repetitive behaviors.[1]

In some severe cases, these repetitive behaviors can be disruptive to daily routines and cause serious interference in their social, relational, academic, and professional circles. In today’s social settings, OCD is given an almost comedic caricature of these behaviors, and many mislabel mild fixation or peculiar habits as OCD.

Mental health field studies report that between 1% and 3% of children and teens display early-onset OCD and that Approximately 20% of all OCD sufferers in the US present symptoms as young as 10 years old or even earlier.[2]

However, an official OCD diagnosis requires that these compelling thoughts and behaviors are time-consuming, significantly distressing, and a chronic impairment to daily routines.[3]

Intrusive Thoughts And Compulsions Defined

While it’s natural for everyone to experience some level of unwanted thoughts and sensations, OCD sufferers experience this phenomenon on an acute, relentless level. These obsessions will look different for each individual. However, there are several common ways that OCD intrusive thoughts present themselves, both in the mind and as the resulting compulsive behaviors[4]:

  • Fear of germs or being somehow contaminated
  • Fear of absent mindedness and forgetting things
  • Fearing a lack of control
  • Unexplained aggression
  • Undesirable sexual thoughts
  • Undesirable thoughts regarding harm
  • Skewed religious thoughts
  • Extreme desire for order and symmetry
  • Excessive handwashing
  • Constant cleaning habits
  • Rearranging items by a particular order
  • Repeatedly checking the same things over and over
  • Compulsively touching or counting things

What The OCD Lifestyle Looks Like For A Teen

Teens suffering from OCD may live a life defined by their obsessions and compulsions. In extreme cases, they may not leave home or may find routine activities to be too much for them.

Engaging in their compulsive behaviors may take up much of their time each day. They may not be able to consistently attend classes or work due to the nature of their disorder.

Some teens may not see their compulsions as problematic or may appear to have them under control on the outside. Unfortunately, this may mean that they’re suffering from anxiety and distress internally as they suppress their fears and obsessions.

As a friend or family member to a teen with OCD, it’s important to reassure them that you are a safe space to share their concerns and ensure that they get the professional help they need.

OCD Management Tips

There are a number of practical strategies that you or your team can implement at home or on the go to attempt to alleviate symptoms of OCD.

Implement Relaxation Techniques

Each individual will find different activities relaxing. however, there are a number of universally relaxing behaviors that can help ground your teen in the moment when faced with intrusive thoughts and obsessions.

  • Progressively relax every muscle from head to toe
  • Practice deep breathing exercises
  • Sit in a comfortable position in a quiet space with no distractions
  • Begin to meditate or increase mindfulness of what’s actually happening

Start Journaling

Have your teen carry a journal with them wherever they go or use an app on their phone to jot down exactly how they’re feeling and what’s going on inside. This is a simple way to identify and process internal thoughts and obsessions.

Practice Regular Self-Care

It’s important to take care of your body as well as your mind, especially when suffering from OCD. Ensure that you get enough sleep each night, eat a healthy balanced diet, and engage in regular physical activity or other simple relaxation techniques like a bubble bath or aromatherapy.

Join A Support Group

An OCD support group can be An invaluable resource during treatment and recovery. being surrounded by those who find themselves in similar life circumstances can help you or your teens see their own experiences from a new perspective and work through their own battles while supporting their peers.

Go To Therapy

Seeking professional help is one of the most effective ways to understand and address obsessive-compulsive personality disorders. no matter what compulsions and obsessions present each day, a licensed professional therapist or clinician can provide practical guidance and effective treatment.

How Is OCD Treated?

There are a number of effective treatments for OCD that range from therapeutic interventions to medication management. all of which can help alleviate the symptoms in help your team learn practical coping skills to better navigate daily routines and improve their quality of life.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

The foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy is to identify harmful thoughts and the behavior patterns they lead to. CBT also has several subsets, including dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP).

ERP is a particularly effective treatment for OCD where patients are able to safely confront their fears and obsessions. This provides a channel for them to recognize intrusive thoughts as immaterial thoughts and safely process them without relying on compulsive behaviors.

Medication Management

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may also prove an effective OCD treatment. while more commonly prescribed to treat depression, how they work can also alleviate the symptoms of OCD.

SSRIs prevent the brain from reabsorbing serotonin that has been released. This extends the positive effects of serotonin, which can reduce the severity of OCD intrusive thoughts.

SSRIs may not be a good fit for OCD sufferer but is beneficial for more severe cases. When prescribed, it can take up to several weeks before consistent relief is experienced.

OCD Treatment Programs

When treating teen OCD it’s important to pursue a comprehensive and holistic approach. participating in a partial hospitalization program can offer dedicated daily support along with academic counseling as you address and overcome symptoms of OCD.

At BasePoint Academy, our partial hospitalization program operates five days a week for several hours a day, providing individual, group, and family therapy interventions to build a foundation for long-term recovery. this level of care is equal to an inpatient program without requiring your teen to sleep at the facility.

After a PHP program is complete, the next level of care is an IOP program that provides a less structured but still comprehensive approach to individualized care. Each of our programs is customized to meet the needs of each teen we support, from first evaluation to long-term relapse prevention.

Offering teen-specific treatment ensures that our young people receive care that matches who they are and where they’re at in life. They are current experience is online than any previous generation to date.

With non-stop information available at their fingertips and online social expectations in addition to in-person expectations, they’re already processing more than their fair share of anxiety. We’re here to help make it easier and healthier.

Get Your Teen The Help They Need to Heal & Thrive

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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding intrusive thoughts and OCD in teens.

OCD intrusive thoughts are often fear-based or obsessive thought patterns that cause distress and compel them to engage in repetitive or compulsive behaviors. This could include aggressive thoughts, sexual thoughts or images, or unrealized fears. Some fears may include:

  • Germs
  • Absentmindedness
  • Lack of control
  • Experiencing harm
  • Disorderlienss

OCD is caused by one’s genetic makeup, physical biology, and brain chemistry, or it can also be a learned behavior. The symptoms of OCD could be triggered by chronic stress, anxiety, or experiencing a traumatic event.

As mentioned above, the symptoms must be time-consuming and cause some level of impairment in order to officially be diagnosed as OCD. When you or your teen is unable to maintain daily routines and obligations due to managing the symptoms of intrusive thoughts, it’s time to seek professional assistance in diagnosing and treating what may be OCD.


It is possible for teens and OCD sufferers to retrain their brains and their bodies. As they develop practical coping skills, they will reduce feelings of distress and anxiety and improve their quality of life. However, it’s important to recognize that OCD can be a biological or genetic disorder that may never fully be cured but is very treatable.

Get Your Teen The Help They Need to Heal & Thrive

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[1] (n.d.). What is obsessive-compulsive disorder? Retrieved from on April 5, 2023

[2]Walitza, S., Melfsen, S., Jans, T., Zellmann, H., Wewetzer, C., & Warnke, A. (2011, March). U.S. National Library of Medicine. Deutsches Arzteblatt international. Obsessive-compulsive disorder in children and adolescents. Retrieved from on April 5, 2023

[3] (n.d.). What is obsessive-compulsive disorder? Retrieved from on  April 5, 2023

[4]U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Obsessive-compulsive disorder: When unwanted thoughts or repetitive behaviors take over. Retrieved from on April 19, 2023