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OCD, Medication, and Genetic Testing

Janet Singer's son Dan suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) so severe he could not even eat. What followed was a journey from seven therapists to ...Read More

If you’ve read a good number of my articles over the years, you might remember that my son Dan had some bad experiences with medication used to treat his obsessive-compulsive disorder. He was overmedicated, wrongly medicated, and improperly weaned from various combinations of ten different medications over a fifteen-month period. Not only didn’t medication help him, it hurt him. For my son, the best meds turned out to be no meds at all.

There are, however, many OCD sufferers who do appear to be helped by medication (usually in combination with exposure and response prevention therapy). But even for those who benefit from taking medication it is often a long, frustrating journey (sometimes years) to find the right medication, or combination of medications, that work. We’ve all heard it before: trial and error is the only way to find that often elusive “right combination.”

But is trial and error really the only way?

In the past year I have read about several people’s experiences with genetic testing to evaluate their sensitivities to medication. As I understand it, this look into your DNA is typically covered by insurance when approved by a doctor, and results are usually reported in three categories: Analgesics, Psychotropics (antidepressants, antipsychotics), and ADHD medications. In the accounts that I’ve read, all the participants felt the testing was worthwhile. It helped steer their doctors away from medications that were potentially harmful to them, and toward the right medication, or combination of medications that were a better fit for them.

I want to be clear that I am not endorsing this genetic testing, as I personally have no experience with it. But I love the idea! Instead of being human guinea pigs, OCD sufferers (and those who suffer from other brain disorders) could get their cheeks swabbed, and then be presented with a report detailing what drugs and dosages might be helpful, what drugs might not work, and what drugs should absolutely be avoided. This sure would have saved my son Dan (and us as well) a good deal of suffering. Many OCD sufferers have reported feeling as if they were failures for not being able to tolerate certain medications. Even worse, there are those who say they are chastised by their health care providers for not being able to “stick it out longer” in terms of dealing with side-effects. Neither of these situations is acceptable.

When Dan was going through his various medication trials, I remember thinking that it seemed as if it were such a primitive process. In this day and age, with all the advances in science and medicine, shouldn’t there be a more sophisticated way to determine what medications might or might not work for a particular person?

If you are in the midst of “trial and error” in regards to medication for your obsessive-compulsive disorder, you might want to ask your doctor about genetic testing, and/or learn more about it on your own. And if it is something you decide to pursue, please report back and let us all know how it goes. Fighting OCD can be tough; if there is any way to ease the battle, we want to hear about it!

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