You Are Not Alone
Information for Individuals

Medication and OCD

Because Exposure and Response Prevention therapy can be challenging, medication is sometimes prescribed to manage the level of anxiety.

Medication may be recommended in conjunction with Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as a treatment for OCD.  Medication can help an individual manage depression and the anxiety and stress associated with the obsessions, and can help lower the urge to perform the compulsive behavior.  But while many people enjoy some relief from their symptoms while on medication, very few are able to use medication alone to eliminate symptoms entirely.  Medication may be prescribed by a psychiatrist for moderate to severe OCD, often on a temporary basis.  Once the patient is able to better manage the anxiety and stress during CBT, the medication may reduced and, eventually, eliminated.  It should never be discontinued abruptly.

Antidepressants classified as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are known to decrease OCD symptoms in many people.  The type approved for use and the number of these medications that are recommended differs for adults and children.

Because body chemistry can vary greatly among individuals, the medication prescribed and the dosage will vary.  Some people with OCD respond well to the first medication prescribed; others will need to try more than one, under medical supervision, to find the one that is most effective.  Most of these medications do not demonstrate symptom relief immediately.  Some may begin to work within a few weeks, but often it may take 12 weeks or more to notice relief.  Or sometimes an SSRI will be prescribed in combination with another medication to ease symptoms.

It’s important to work with a psychiatrist who is experienced in prescribing and monitoring different medications for OCD and can assess their effectiveness.  Patience and medical guidance are necessary to ensure that no allergy or side effects occur that would interfere with general health or in the patient’s ability to undergo CBT.  CBT sessions may begin at any time after medication is prescribed, depending on the individual’s tolerance level.

Although medication can be helpful in treating OCD, many experts believe that Cognitive Behavior Therapy alone can be effective more quickly in treating OCD symptoms, and has longer-lasting benefits.  Studies have shown that lower relapse rates occur when CBT is discontinued than when medication is stopped.  If medication is prescribed, many experts believe it should be done in conjunction with CBT because the combination is generally more effective than medication alone.

Learn more about medications approved for the treatment of OCD

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