Medication and Treatment of OCD

27 June, 2020
Antidepressants are the most common option chosen by health professionals to treat obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). In any case, you should use them alongside cognitive behavioral therapy.

OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is a common and treatable medical condition. Nowadays there’s a series of medications, especially antidepressants, that are effective for general treatment of this mental disorder. If you don’t treat it correctly, OCD can cause distress and complicate your daily activities.

There’s no reason to be ashamed about seeking the appropriate treatment for this disorder. It’s a disease just like any other, like Parkinson’s or diabetes. Therefore, it’s important to do your research about this condition, so you can better understand it and leave your preconceived ideas behind.

There have been many studies whose results show that the therapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy, along with medication, is an effective treatment for OCD. So, throughout this article, we’ll look at different medications you can use to treat OCD, as well as what the therapy involves.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

The first choice of treatment for any kind of OCD is cognitive-behavioral therapy. In fact, this type of therapy has been recommended by large institutes, like the National Institute of Mental Health and the Harvard School of Medicine.

One type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that specialists often use is exposure with response prevention. This method involves gradual exposure to feared objects or obsessions, like dirt, and tries to teach the patient healthy ways to face the anxiety this can generate.

Exposure with response prevention requires effort and practice, but achieves effective results and improves your quality of life, once you learn to control your obsessions and compulsions. You can do this type of therapy both in individual sessions, or in family or group sessions.

Woman seeing therapist for OCD.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to have good results for treating OCD.

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What medication is used to treat OCD?

Antidepressants are the most common treatment option among health professionals. Specifically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications can reduce your level of suffering and help you with your therapy.

Antidepressants should be prescribed by a psychiatrist, and are usually used temporarily, until you’re able to manage the disorder with the therapy we mentioned. However, each patient responds differently to medication and therapy.

Some people see good results with their first medication option, but others need to try different drugs to reduce their symptoms. Thus, sometimes doctors combine reuptake inhibitors with other medicines to try to get better results. The medications used for the treatment of OCD are:

  • Clomipramine – for people 10 and up
  • Fluoxetine – for patients over 7 years old
  • Fluvoxamine – for people over 8 years old
  • Paroxetine – this is used only for adults
  • Sertralinefor adults and children 6 and up

It’s worth noting that when you use this type of antidepressant they start to take effect 10 weeks after you started taking them. Therefore, sometimes it’s hard to tell if they’re working or not. However, the doctor should always be the one to make the decisions.

A lot of pills.
Antidepressants are the most common option to treat OCD.

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Combined treatment for OCD

Even though we have several medications that we can use for OCD, studies have consistently suggested that the relapse rates are lower with cognitive behavioral therapy than with medication. You shouldn’t take this as a generalization, since each person is different. However, it’s an interesting fact to help you tackle this problem.

The most effective way to reduce your symptoms is to combine therapy and medication. In fact, experts say that pharmaceutical treatment should be a complement to cognitive behavioral therapy. Additionally, you should only use medication when prescribed by a health professional.

  • Sanz Vellosillo, P., & Fernández-Cuevas Vicario, A. (2015). Trastorno obsesivo compulsivo. Medicine (Spain). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.med.2015.07.010
  • Kodysz, S., & Esquirol, E. D. (2006). Trastorno Obsesivo-Compulsivo (T.O.C.). Breve Revisión Bibliográfica. Hojas Clinicas de Salud Mental.
  • Vallejo Pareja, M. A. (2001). Tratamientos psicológicos eficaces para el trastorno obsesivo compulsivo. Psicothema.
  • García, Nathaly Berrío, and Daniel Luciano Restrepo. “Instrumentos de evaluación del trastorno obsesivo compulsivo: revisión.” Poiésis 1.32 (2017): 101-115.