Treatment-resistant OCD: Pharmacotherapies in adults

Compr Psychiatry. 2023 Jan:120:152352. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2022.152352. Epub 2022 Oct 25.


Serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI) medications are well established as first-line pharmacotherapeutic treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). However, despite the excellent safety profile and demonstrated efficacy of these medications, a substantial proportion of individuals with OCD fail to attain sufficient benefit from SRIs. In this narrative review, we discuss clinical features of OCD that have been associated with poorer response to SRIs, and we present pharmacotherapeutic interventions that have been explored as augmenting or alternative treatments for treatment-resistant OCD. We additionally highlight non-SRI interventions for OCD that are currently under investigation. Pharmacotherapeutic interventions were identified via expert consensus. To assess the evidence base for individual pharmacotherapies, targeted searches for relevant English-language publications were performed on standard biomedical research databases, including MEDLINE. Information relevant to ongoing registered clinical trials in OCD was obtained by search of Pharmacotherapies are grouped for review in accordance with the general principles of Neuroscience-based Nomenclature (NbN). Clinical features of OCD that may suggest poorer response to SRI treatment include early age of onset, severity of illness, duration of untreated illness, and the presence of symmetry/ordering or hoarding-related symptoms. Based on evolving pathophysiologic models of OCD, diverse agents engaging serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, glutamate, and anti-inflammatory pathways have been explored as alternative or adjunctive therapies for treatment-resistant OCD and have at least preliminary evidence of efficacy. Medications with dopamine antagonist activity remain the most robustly evidence-based of augmenting interventions, yet dopamine antagonists benefit only a minority of those who try them and carry elevated risks of adverse effects. Interventions targeting glutamatergic and anti-inflammatory pathways are less well evidenced, but may offer more favorable benefit to risk profiles. Ongoing research should explore whether specific interventions may benefit individuals with particular features of treatment-resistant OCD.

Keywords: OCD; Pharmacotherapy; Treatment-resistant.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Humans
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder* / drug therapy


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents