Understanding OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a lifelong disorder, which can cause a person to do things repeatedly. This disorder is identified by two general symptoms: obsessions and compulsions. An obsession can be defined as an unwelcome, distressing thought or mental image. It is a thought that annoys you so much that it causes distress and anxiety. Compulsions are the behaviors that people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) perform in an attempt to get rid of the fears and anxieties caused by their obsessions. The disorder which usually starts in adolescence or early childhood, is more common that asthma or diabetes. It affects one in forty people, or more than five million Americans.

OCD is related to a biochemical imbalance in the brain that can be treated effectively without drugs. My older brother has struggled with it since he was 17. His main obsession was and still is the thought of our mother dying or contracting a disease. This has led to his many compulsions, which includes frequent hand washing, tapping his own head and repeatedly calling our mother (sometimes up to 20 times a day). He is 28 now and lives on his own and has a steady job, but he still struggles with the disorder everyday.

Research has proven that behavioral disorders such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may have genetic roots. For example, people with OCD may notice symptoms of it in family members, although, in the case of my brother, we have no record of it effecting anyone else.And although stress doesn’t cause OCD, a stressful event like the death of a loved one, birth of a child or divorce can trigger the start of the disorder (The death of our family dog could have had a hand in bringing out the ailment). Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is sometimes accompanied by other anxiety disorders as well, such as depression, eating disorders, substance abuse disorder, a personality disorder, attention deficit disorder, etc- but this not always the case.

My brother treats his OCD with Prozac (one of three FDA-approved drugs for treating the disorder, Paxil and Luvox are the others).

He has been on them for several years despite numerous attempts by psychologists and other doctors to wean him off them. Many people, however, can be treated and even cured of the disorder without drugs. My brother’s struggle, by most accounts, is a severe one; one that he deals with daily, every minute of the day. He has come a long way and he still has a long way to go.

Most people trivilize OCD and sometimes it is parodied on TV or in the movies, but it is no laughing matter. It is a serious, debilitating disorder that afflicts more people than anyone realizes. Don’t make light of it; is it a real disease that might someday effect someone that you love. Go to ocfoundation.org for more information, if you are interested.

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