OCD can be the result of multiple factors, such as genetics, differences in brain connectivity, childhood trauma, stress and even inflammation.

A person living with obsessive compulsive-disorder (OCD) will experience obsessions, which are repeated anxiety-provoking thoughts, and/or compulsions (behaviors a person engages in to cope with the obsessions). Research has shown a strong relationship between OCD and genetics. That OCD is, in fact, genetic.

Heredity & OCD

The answer to the question, “Is OCD hereditary?” lies within molecular genetics research. A review of the studies in this area shows that there are numerous genes that work together to increase the risk of developing OCD. Specifically, genes associated with the brain chemical serotonin are linked to OCD. From this research, it is reasonable to conclude that genetics do contribute to the development of the disorder.

Biological Causes of OCD

Similar to the genetic contributions to OCD, there are biological factors that can increase OCD risk, which are seen mainly in brain scanning studies. One recent study found that there were excessive connections between certain regions of the brain in people with OCD, meaning that there is extraneous communication occurring between these areas in those with the disorder.

More specifically, an area of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex shows excessive connections with areas called the thalamus, caudate and frontal gyrus. Differences in brain structure and functioning are thought to be biological causes of OCD.

Environmental & Other Causes of OCD

While genes and biology can contribute to OCD risk, they are not the only factors that explain the development of this disorder, as there can be environmental causes. Trauma is one such environmental cause, and one new study found that a history of trauma increases the risk that a person will demonstrate obsessive-compulsive symptoms, especially among females. Assaultive trauma, such as being a victim of sexual abuse, has stronger linkages to OCD.

Additional research shows that stress and parenting practices are linked to OCD. Specifically, one study found that children of punitive parents were more likely to display symptoms of OCD. In addition, the study found that after controlling for outside factors, stress was most strongly linked to OCD. Stressful life events seem to be among the environmental causes of OCD.

Ongoing Research

The existing research shows that both environmental and genetic factors influence the development of OCD, and emerging research suggests that other factors, including inflammation, may be related to the development of this mental health condition.

New research on OCD will continue to explore this and other causes of OCD to determine the best course of treatment. There is significant evidence that genes can contribute strongly to OCD, but additional risk factors are also linked to its development, so it is important to understand all of them.

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Editor – Rob Alston
Rob Alston has traveled around Australia, Japan, Europe, and America as a writer and editor for industries including personal wellness and recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

National Institute of Mental Health. “Obsessive-compulsive disorder.” October 2019. Accessed October 7, 2019.

Taylor, S. “Molecular genetics of obsessive–compul[…]ociation studies.”  Molecular Psychiatry, June 5, 2012. Accessed October 7, 2019.

Apergis-Schoute, Annemieke; et al. “Hyperconnectivity of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in obsessive-compulsive disorder.” Brain and Neuroscience Advances, November 30, 2018. Accessed October 7, 2019.

Barzilay, Ran; et al. “Association between early-life trauma[…] community youth.” Depression & Anxiety, May 8, 2019. Accessed October 7, 2019.

Krebs, G.C.; et al. “Are punitive parenting and stressful life events environmental risk factors for obsessive-compulsive symptoms in youth? A longitudinal twin study.”  European Psychiatry, February 2019. Accessed October 7, 2019.

Gerentes, Mona. “Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Auto[…]euroinflammation.” Current Psychiatry Reports, August 2019. Accessed October 7, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.