The topic of medication for obsessive-compulsive disorder is discussed a lot in articles and blogs and it always seems to incite lively conversation. There is talk of the stigma surrounding medication. Some patients admit to feeling weak, or like a failure, for needing meds, even though intellectually they know it’s no different from taking medication for any other illness.
Others are adamant about never taking anything because it’s just “not for them,” while some are completely fine with taking meds. There are those who say meds have wreaked havoc on their lives, while others swear that medication literally saved their lives. Doctors themselves confirm that the use of psychotropic medication involves a lot of “trial and error.” No two people will react exactly the same.
Everyone’s story is different, of course, and I think that’s what makes the issue of medication for OCD so complicated. There’s no set protocol. What helps one person might have no benefit to someone else. What works for someone now might not work for him or her in six months or a year. Then again, it’s possible one particular medication could be helpful to some people with OCD for their entire lives.
For me, the question that often seems so hard to answer is “How do you really know if your meds are helping you?” I’ve often written about how poorly my son Dan was doing when he was taking various medications to combat his OCD. At the time I thought, “If he’s this bad off with the meds, I hate to think what he’d be like without them.” Turns out the meds were a huge part of the problem, and once off them, he improved by leaps and bounds.
Of course, this is just his story. Others have stories of great improvement with meds. Still others have stories that are not so cut and dried, so obvious. If someone has been on a medication for a year and is feeling “okay,” we don’t know if they would feel better, or worse, without it. Unless we’re able to clone ourselves and conduct a well-controlled experiment where the only variable is the medication, there is no way of really knowing how a drug is affecting you.
Because of this ambiguity, I think it is important for all of us to share our stories, both of success and failure, in regard to using medication for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Sharing can help raise awareness of side effects, drug interactions, and withdrawal symptoms. It can also bring attention to the possible benefits of certain drugs, as well as inform us of new medications to treat OCD, such as antibiotics, which are on the horizon. In recent years, there has been an increase in the prescribing of atypical antipsychotics for those with OCD, and many people, including me, have shared stories of how these drugs harmed them or their loved ones.
While having a trusted doctor is essential, I believe it is also of the utmost important that we advocate for ourselves and learn everything we can, good and bad, about the medications we are currently taking or considering taking. Thanks to the Internet, we have access to a lot of quality information about drugs (just make sure to visit reputable sites) and we can be well-informed consumers. Deciding whether to take medication should involve a detailed discussion with your health-care provider, so that all possible benefits and risks are taken into account. And if the decision is made to take medication, the person with OCD should expect to be monitored closely by his or her health care provider. All concerns should be taken seriously and promptly addressed.
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