The Three Common Medications for OCD: Effects and Side Effects

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Why Take Medication for OCD?

Why would someone take medication for OCD? After all, if you’ve been diagnosed with OCD, you may be considering therapy instead. In fact, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people with OCD control the symptoms of the disorder. According to some studies, CBT may even work better than most OCD medications. So when should you consider taking medication for your OCD?

The answer is twofold. Although CBT does work for many people with OCD, some people do not find their symptoms alleviated by therapy. In addition, some people with OCD need medication in order to even start therapy. CBT can produce high levels of anxiety at the beginning, and people with OCD tend to have anxiety issues to start with. Sometimes taking OCD medications can lower the anxiety levels enough for the person to be able to handle CBT sessions most effectively.


SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are the most common medication used to treat OCD. This medication works on the premise that people with OCD have lower levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps bring messages from the brain to the rest of the body. After the serotonin brings the messages to the proper place, the body reabsorbs it. SSRIs stop this reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin, which means that there is more serotonin available for the brain to use.

SSRIs can begin to take effect as little as 1 to 3 weeks after starting them. In some people, however, they can take up to 12 weeks to become effective. If your SSRI has had little or no effect on your OCD symptoms after 12 weeks, your doctor will probably switch you to a different SSRI or try a different medication for OCD altogether.

Tricyclic Antidepressants

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), especially clomipramine, are often the second type of the medications for OCD that doctors try. There are more risks and side effects of these medications, however, so your doctor may try several SSRIs before resorting to TCAs. For example, people younger then 25 may experience increased depression while on clomipramine. Other side effects, such as panic attacks, insomnia, impulsiveness, and aggressive thoughts, have also been attributed to TCAs.


The last set of medications for OCD are antipsychotics, although these are usually used alongside SSRIs to augment their effects. Especially for those with OCD who also have tics, augmentation with antipsychotics can help make SSRIs more effective. Atypical antipsychotics often include fewer side effects than typical antipsychotics, and there is some evidence that they can augment the performance of SSRIs as well.

As with any medications, all medications for OCD should be discussed with your doctor before any treatment decisions.


This post is part of the series: Facts and Information About OCD

This series includes several articles about OCD, including famous people who had it, and various signs that can help you tell if someone has it.

  1. Understanding OCD: A Comprehensive Definition of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  2. Types of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Characteristics
  3. What are the Best Medications for OCD?
  4. The Link Between Human Genetics and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  5. David Beckham and Donald Trump: Meet the Famous People with OCD