A Medication That Enhances Early OCD Treatment: D-cycloserine


D-cycloserine, also called Seromycin, is being studied as a treatment aid for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

OCD is characterized by unwanted and disturbing thoughts, urges, and images (obsessions) that generate a high level of anxiety. People attempt to alleviate this anxiety by engaging in repetitive mental acts, or behaviors (compulsions).

Research results are mixed, but some recent placebo-controlled studies indicate D-cycloserine is beneficial for OCD when used in combination with ERP, or exposure and response prevention therapy.

ERP and D-cycloserine

ERP gradually desensitizes people to their fears by having them repeatedly face anxiety triggers and then tolerate the ensuing distress without performing compulsive rituals. This process can seem daunting at first, but D-cycloserine enhances people’s initial therapeutic response to ERP, reducing early frustrations that can derail treatment.

As ERP progresses, fears are replaced by a growing sense of self-determination, and confidence in one’s ability to cope. Individuals become better at tolerating doubt and uncertainty. Though people can eventually reach this point without using D-cycloserine, the path to symptom relief may be less bumpy for those using this medication.

Unusual Mental Health Med

Interestingly, D-cycloserine is not an antidepressant, antipsychotic, nor an anti-anxiety medication. It’s actually an antibiotic, originally created to ward off tuberculosis. However, it’s not the antibiotic properties that make it useful for treating OCD, but the way D-cycloserine affects certain learning and memory receptors in our brain’s amygdala. The medication’s action on these receptors seems to boost the fear extinction process of ERP, with minimal or no side effects.

Studies also suggest D-cycloserine may facilitate the treatment of other anxiety disorders, such as panic, and phobias. As with OCD, the overall or longterm symptom relief may be the same whether D-cycloserine is used or not, but patients may be helped by the enhanced early treatment success this medication provides.

Source: Psychology and Behavior
Photo credit: Jon Rawlinson

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