OCD in Families—Is it Nature or Nurture?

Posted by Phil Cardenas on Aug 19, 2013

“OCD runs in my family.” It’s a statement many of us have heard. Recent research suggests it may be true. What remains unclear is whether it’s a result of a genetic predisposition or a learned behavior.

OCD has attracted a lot of research in the past several decades, but its causes remain unclear. As a psychological condition, it’s harder to pin down than, for instance, hair color (genetic) or pneumonia (infectious). Several studies have shown that OCD can cluster in family groups. But why it does is still open to debate. The best answer so far is that it appears to be caused by a combination of both psychological and biological factors.

An article published recently in the medical journal Psychiatry reports on research conducted at King’s College in London. The study was conducted in Sweden between 1969 and 2009 of 25,000 people with diagnosed OCD. First-degree relatives were five times as likely to have OCD as compared to a control group. Second-degree relatives were twice as likely as the controls, and third-degree relatives were almost one-and-a-half times as likely. Thus the researchers concluded that OCD clusters in families primarily for genetic reasons.

But when 16,000 pairs of twins were questioned about various illnesses they had experienced, including OCD, the data showed that 47% of the risk could be attributed to genetics, leaving 53% likely caused by other unshared factors. This suggests that additional research to identify environmental risks for OCD is needed as those causes may be easier to prevent and treat.

A third part of the study looked at the rate of OCD in spouses and partners of OCD sufferers. The results showed that partners and spouses were three times as likely to have OCD as the control group, leading the researchers to believe that non-genetic factors may also be in play.

So do you inherit OCD or do you develop it as a result of other factors? Do you tend to marry persons with similar characteristics as you or do you become more like them the longer you are together? It seems as though the answer may be “yes” to all.

As research into OCD progresses, strategies for prevention and treatment will be better understood and more effective. In the meantime, Beyond OCD wants you to know that whether you suffer from OCD personally or care about someone who does, you are not alone.

One in 40 adults in the US has OCD, as do over a million children. Beyond OCD is dedicated to bringing the latest information about OCD, its causes, treatments, and impact to its sufferers and their loved ones. www.BeyondOCD.org offers many resources, from specific articles about OCD to sources for counseling and treatment. We’re here to help you get the information you need to go beyond OCD.


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