Othello Syndrome manifests itself as an irrational certainty that one's spouse is sleeping around. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere, and usually it's the result of an existing neurological problem. Occasionally, though, it's the result of certain prescribed drugs. Here's how a pill can make you think you're being cheated on.
Patients with Othello Syndrome are fanatically jealous, and obsessed with the idea that their spouse is cheating on them. The jealousy is often kickstarted by something minor. One man was sure his wife was cheating when he found a dusty pair of underwear (that she said she was reusing as a dust rag) in her bag. Another started worrying when a man at work asked him if he ever suspected his wife was cheating. Spouses quickly become obsessed, thinking of nothing else. One suspicious husband would watch the driveway all day, sure a car would pull up at any minute and his wife would get in. Another would walk out of the house and then sneak back in, certain he'd find his wife with her lover. Yet another would get aggressive with men from the neighborhood, accusing each one, publicly, of having an affair with his wife and trying to start a fight.
Things could get bad. Studies of Othello Syndrome during the 1950s generally included reports of men trying to strangle their wives, which is why the case was referred to a psychiatrist. Because nothing could shake the patients from their obsession, denials would only get them more and more angry. Sometimes their spouses, worn down from accusations, would admit to an affair, often spurring spectacular violence.
The Cause of Othello Syndrome
Although the accusations came out of the blue, the syndrome itself did not. One man, who had attempted to strangled his wife to death, was questioned and mentioned having an identical twin who had epilepsy. Further examination of the man found that he had been having undetected seizures for some time. Although Othello Syndrome isn't common in epileptics, epilepsy does seem to be linked with the syndrome. Othello Syndrome also sometimes develops in people who have been schizophrenic for some time, or who have brain tumors, or who drink enough to damage their brains.
The common area seems to be the right frontal lobe of the brain. The right kind of damage, with the right kind of individual, can bring on obsessive jealousy and impulse control problems. Scientists have had reports of cases of morbid jealousy from North American, European, and Australasian scientists, but no one can be absolutely sure whether or not the jealousy is common to all cultures or not. There might be cultures out there in which the same damage to the right frontal lobe causes no trouble, or at least trouble of a different kind.
The Drug That Turns People Into Othello
In the past, the onset age for morbid jealousy was set at 38 years old. The syndrome came on about 10 years after the onset of disorders like schizophrenia or epilepsy. More recent studies put the onset of Othello Syndrome at 68 years old, approximately 10 years after the average onset of Parkinson's disease. A disorder that leads to pronounced shaking and loss of muscular control, Parkinson's disease is often treated with dopamine agonists. The symptoms of Parkinson's are brought on by a loss of dopamine in the nervous system. At first dopamine replacements are prescribed, but after a while they alone aren't enough. Dopamine agonists are a class of drugs that are meant to simulate dopamine, and stimulate the receptors for dopamine in the brain.
Dopamine is responsible for the good feeling we get when we accomplish something or indulge ourselves. Messing with the dopamine receptors can lead to all kinds of odd behaviors, which is why some people suddenly develop shopping addictions, or uncontrollable urges to gamble when they take dopamine agonists. It seems that this lack of impulse control can, in some people, turn into an uncontrollable certainty that one's partner is cheating, and bring on the urge to monitor that partner's behavior. A group of psychiatrists reviewed cases and found that over a hundred different people had suddenly developed Othello Syndrome after taking dopamine agonists. Although it's uncommon, it is a side effect of the drug. It's a interesting, and disturbing, way to look at pharmaceutical control over the human mind. Take a certain pill, and you can be forced to think that your partner is cheating on you.
[Via When A Drug Leads to Suspicions of Infidelity, Aspects of Morbid Jealousy, Othello Syndrome, Clinical and Imaging Features of Othello Syndrome]