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Differences Between Generalized Anxiety Disorder & Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Similarities & Differences between GAD & OCD


Updated May 21, 2014

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Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are both classified as anxiety disorders in DSM-IV. Essentially, this means that they are related on a large level despite significant difference. The following will explain these differences, ideally helping people gain a more complete understanding of both.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The key features of GAD are a persistent worry about a variety of events and activities and presence of other symptoms such as muscle tension and sleep difficulties. For a complete breakdown of symptoms and characteristics of GAD, click here.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The hallmark of OCD is the presence of specific obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are thoughts or impulses that range beyond everyday worries and problems, are difficult to control, and create distress. A compulsion is a repetitive behavior or thought process that a person is compelled to engage in because of an obsession, and are designed to relieve stress caused by the obsessions. Common compulsions include hand washing, counting, and doublechecking, which are performed at levels that interfere with the person’s everyday life.

Key Similarities and Differences

The similarities between the disorders are that both produce significant experience of anxiety and both involve persistent worries. The key differences are in thought process and behaviors. Although people with GAD have some recurrent worries, the range of worrying is broad and not confined to one area, whereas people with OCD often worry and obsess about one or a handful of specific things. Furthermore, people with GAD do not exhibit the ritualistic compulsions as a way to cope with worrying as people with OCD do.


American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Ed., Text Revision). Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.

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