“OCD” is becoming part of American slang for describing “odd” behavior. Don’t be confused by incorrect use of the terms “obsessive” and “compulsive” in everyday dialogue.

As education and public awareness about OCD have grown, so has the use of the term “OCD” as a description of some kinds of behaviors that are not OCD.

When people use the terms “obsessed,” “obsessive” and “compulsive” incorrectly, it leads to misunderstanding about OCD.  You may have even heard someone say, “That person (or child) must have OCD” when describing someone who is preoccupied with orderliness, has a strong interest in a subject or frequently performs the same activity (e.g., dusts and vacuums every day). 

Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) - Easily Confused with OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder is sometimes mistaken for OCD.  While the names are confusingly similar, the disorders are quite different.  OCPD is a personality disorder, whereas OCD is not.

OCPD, which involves a preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism and control in virtually every part of an individual’s life, is usually identified in early adulthood.  People with OCPD may spend an extraordinary amount of time cleaning their homes because they want them to be immaculate.  They may keep their closets extremely orderly and aligned and may become annoyed if their orderliness is disturbed.  Rather than being anxious about this, however, they see their behavior and thoughts as being OK.

Others may find OCPD behavior “odd” or extremely frustrating.  In fact, OCPD may interfere with a person's social relationships.  But it’s not OCD.  Individuals with OCPD like the world the way they shape it.  People with OCD, however, don’t like what’s happening to them and are overwhelmed by the thoughts and fears that intrude into their minds.  They want the obsessive thoughts, doubts, and urges that cause them to perform rituals to stop, but they don’t know how to silence “the monster” in their heads.

Other Non-OCD Behaviors

OCD does not include having a desire to collect items or being drawn to a particular area of interest such as stamps, coins, antiques, books by a favorite author or even science fiction fantasy or cartoon memorabilia.  Collectors find pleasure in the hunt for items they’re interested in, and they enjoy talking about their collections or showing them to others. 

Similarly, sports enthusiasts may talk about their favorite sport or recite a litany of sports statistics.  Normal, age-appropriate interests in a subject do not indicate the presence of OCD.

In older children, teens and adults, OCD is not characterized by fans who are reportedly “obsessed” with celebrities, including TV or movie stars, popular singers or professional sports team members.

Children or teens who have a “crush” on another person (especially a celebrity) do not have the crush because of OCD – even if they seem to be “obsessed” with wanting to read every magazine article about their “idol,” collecting fan memorabilia, participating in Twitter and online blogs, and wanting to buy every CD, MP3, DVD or video download of their favorite personality. 

It’s important to understand that popular magazines sometimes lead to misconceptions about OCD.  Criminal and violent behavior may be labeled "obsessive" and/or "compulsive."  Articles presenting information on stalkers may refer to these individuals as "obsessed."  Such portrayals can lead to inaccurate and sometimes disturbing descriptions of what people with OCD are like. 

In addition, OCD is not characterized by compulsive lying, shopping, gambling or other behaviors that reflect difficulties with impulse control.  People with these problems may suffer from treatable mental illnesses, but they do not have OCD.

Finally, it’s important to distinguish OCD from the unusual patterns of interest exhibited by people with autism spectrum disorder, who have an all-encompassing preoccupation with a narrow, restricted interest that is either abnormal in intensity or focus.

What are OCD symptoms?

What causes OCD?

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