Biological Therapies (Drugs) For Treating OCD

March 5, 2021 - Paper 1 Introductory Topics in Psychology | Psychopathology

AO1, Description:


Biological Therapies (drugs) for Treating OCD

1, Anti-depressants (e.g., SSRI’s such as Prozac)


What they are used for: Anti- depressants are most commonly used to treat depression however; they are also a main treatment of OCD.

How they work: Anti-depressants work by raising levels of Serotonin in the brain (as low levels of Serotonin have been linked with an increased likelihood of OCD). In “normal” brains, Serotonin is constantly being released from the nerve endings, stimulating the adjacent neurons. However, sometimes the mechanism fails and the Serotonin is reabsorbed into the nerve ending before it can stimulate the neighbouring neuron. Prozac works by reducing the rate of re-absorption meaning that Serotonin levels don’t drop and the patient’s mood can remain constant (they are less likely to suffer from obsessive thoughts and compulsions). Prozac is usually taken over the course of weeks, months or even years and as well as being successful in treating obsessive compulsive disorder.

2, Anti-anxiety drugs (e.g., Benzodiazepines)


What they are used for: Often also referred to as minor tranquillisers, Benzodiazepines (BZs) include Librium, Valium and Diazepam. These anti-anxiety drugs are used to treat a range of anxiety disorders however they are also a key methods used to treat the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

How they work:

  • GABA is a neurotransmitter that is the body’s natural form of anxiety relief and has a general ‘quietening’ effect on many of the neurons in the brain. Sufferers of OCD often experience lots of anxiety due to their obsessions and compulsions.
  • When GABA locks into these receptor sites in the brain it opens a channel that increases the flow of chloride ions into the neuron. Chloride ions make it harder for the neuron to be stimulated by other neurotransmitters, thus slowing down activity and making a person feel more relaxed (has a calming effect).
  • BZ’s work by enhancing the activity of GABA which reduces levels of Serotonin to reduce anxiety, (persistent and inappropriate or forbidden ideas create excessively high levels of anxiety in people who have OCD so anti-anxieties aim to reduce this tension and nervousness.
  • They are sedatives and they act to decrease heart and respiration rate and therefore reduce feelings of anxiety.

Evaluation, AO3 of Biological Treatments (drugs) of OCD:



(1) POINT: There is considerable evidence to show that drug treatments of OCD are effective. EVIDENCE: For example, Soomro et al (2008) reviewed 17 studies of the use of SSRIs with OCD patients and found them to be more effective than placebos in reducing the symptoms of OCD up to three months after receiving treatment. EVALUATION: A strength of this research is the fact that it was scientific and involved the objective measurement of the effectiveness of SSRIs on a number of patients over a period of time. This is positive because the research is valid and shows that SSRIs are an effective way of managing OCD in the short-term.


(1) POINT: Drugs used to treat OCD can have negative and potentially harmful side effects. EVIDENCE: For example, the side effects of anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac include nausea, insomnia, sexual dysfunction and suicidal morbidity, the side effects of anti-anxieties include dependency and over-dose can lead to death. EVALUATION: This is a weakness because drug therapies could replace a mental illness such as OCD with other issues for an individual to cope with and so the safety of these drugs should be questioned and patients made fully aware of the potential side effects.

(2) POINT: Biological therapies such as the drugs used to treat OCD often just treat the symptoms and do not cure the mental illness.EXAMPLE: For example, they stop people feeling anxious which often prevents them from carrying out their obsessions and compulsions for example, a person stops worrying about what will happen if don’t flick the light switch on and off 10 times. EVALUATION: This is a weakness because it means that the drugs are not removing the root cause of the OCD but rather masking the symptoms. If an individual stops taking the drugs their OCD and symptoms will return.

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