What is obsessive compulsive disorder and how is it treated?
We’ve all sat in our car on the way to work wondering if we turned the coffee pot or the iron off. We’re sure we did and we can almost recall actually walking up to the appliance and clicking it off. Yet, panic sets in and you question yourself whether that was perhaps yesterday’s memory? Some of us may even get to the end of our block, turn right around, rush inside the house and check just to make sure. These types of worries and self-doubts are a normal human emotion that most people experience on a day-to-day basis. Now, imagine this same scenario with a different character. This person leaves the house, walks to his car and walks back into the house to check the coffee pot. Doesn’t sound much different, right? What if he walked back into the house 150 times over the course of an hour to check on the coffee pot? Chances are, this character is suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
OCD is an anxiety disorder suffered by 1 in 50 people in the United States. In a nutshell, a person suffering from OCD has irrational obsessions or fears. Instead of ignoring these urges, however, that person feels a compulsion to act upon relieving that fear or obsession. Some very common notions obsessed over by sufferers of OCD involve the fear of hurting others, the fear of hurting oneself, the need to do things perfectly or the anxiety of getting sick or contaminated. A famous example of a person suffering from OCD is Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie “As Good As It Gets.” In the movie, Nicholson had a medicine cabinet full of unused soap bars and would use a new bar each time he washed his hands obsessively. He would have to lock and unlock the door three times each time he walked into his apartment. He also would not walk on the sidewalk for fear of walking on cracks. Having irrational fears or worries is normal. What separates a normal person from a person with OCD, however, is that compulsion to continually and obsessively act on those fears so that it interrupts your life and ultimately begins to control it.
For years, OCD has been overlooked by doctors as well as the sufferers themselves. Many who suffer from this disorder feel that they can control their obsessions and that their compulsive behavior is just a sign of weakness in their character. This is absolutely not true. Studies have revealed that OCD is, in fact, a treatable disorder that could stem from a person’s genetic makeup or a chemical imbalance.
There are two major ways to treat OCD. One source of treatment is through medication. Some medications used to treat OCD include, but are not limited to, Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac and Anafranil. The medications often take several weeks to take effect and each brand of medication often carries side effects that must be discussed with your doctor or pharmacist. OCD can also be treated with behavioral therapy. This treatment involves gently prodding patients to face their anxieties or fears. For instance, somebody who refuses to walk on cracks in a sidewalk may be asked to walk along a path containing many unavoidable cracks. Although this therapy will initially make the patient even more anxiety-ridden by having them stifle their compulsions, over time, symptoms of OCD may begin to dissipate.
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