Medications Used to Treat OCD

You will probably recognize many of these SSRI drug names as those of popular antidepressants. They include:

  • Prozac (generically called fluoxetine)

  • Luvox (fluvoxamine)

  • Paxil (paroxetine)

  • Zoloft (sertraline)

  • Lexapro (escitalopram)

  • Celexa (citalopram)

  • Cymbalta (duloxetine)

Other medications that are neither quite SSRIs nor tricyclic antidepressants include Effexor (generically, venlafaxine) and Remeron (mirtazapine). Effexor and Remeron are known as SNRIs, or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors; this means they act on both of these neurotransmitters.


Effexor recently has been cited as potentially associated with greater-than-average risk of overdose (possibly fatal), particularly when used in combination with alcohol or other drugs. However, it is believed to present a lower risk than that seen with tricyclic antidepressants.

There are other medications as well. In some cases, your doctor may want to try a combination of two (or, rarely, more). However, make sure she knows what other medications, even over-the-counter ones, you may also be taking, as some drug interactions can be dangerous.

One newer medication that has shown promise in working against anxiety is BuSpar (buspirone). This can be used in concert with other medications to treat OCD.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

A third class of medications called monoamine oxidase inhibitors or MAOIs is used occasionally when other treatments have failed. These drugs have been around much longer than the others mentioned but are much less commonly used now. They carry the risk of more serious side effects, cannot be combined with many other medications, and come with dietary restrictions as well, so they are rarely used for treating OCD.

When Do They Take Effect?


Certain medications, such as Cymbalta, can present a greater-than-average risk for liver problems to patients who already have liver disease or use alcohol regularly, so discuss your general health and lifestyle with your provider. (You can find out whether you have liver problems by taking a blood test for liver function. You may also be advised to have regular monitoring for this, depending on your individual circumstances.)

Unfortunately, the full benefits you receive from your medication will not likely “kick in” for a few weeks (perhaps as many as six to 12). However, if you are going to experience side effects, you will probably feel those right away.

Of course, you should discuss any side effects with your doctor so you can decide whether to stick with the prescribed medication or try something else. You might be advised that the side effects may well diminish over time, and if they are tolerable in the short term, this could prove an acceptable course of action. On the other hand, if you experience unpleasant side effects, such as vomiting, you ought to talk with your doctor right away.

Always make sure you know how to “go off” your medicine should you wish to do so. Many prescriptions require the user to taper off gradually to avoid serious problems, so don't just stop taking a medication without consulting your doctor.

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