Ashwagandha’s Promise for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

Ashwagandha, an ancient ayurvedic herb, shows promise as an adjunct treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder and alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This guide explores the emerging science on ashwagandha’s anti-anxiety effects, its mechanisms of action, optimal dosing strategies, and its potential to complement standard pharmacological therapies.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic psychiatric condition characterized by patients experiencing intrusive thoughts and imagery, which they perceive as undesirable, compulsive, and irrational [1,2,3]. The severity of cognitive disturbances can vary, but for individuals with severe OCD, it significantly hinders their daily lives and impairs psychosocial functioning [1,2,3]. While genetic and psychological factors contribute to OCD’s development, the role of structural and functional abnormalities within the central nervous system is equally significant [2, 3]. Dysregulation of the serotonergic system is believed to be associated with OCD [4].

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) encompasses the symptoms that arise when heavy drinkers abruptly stop or substantially reduce their alcohol consumption. AWS presents a range of physical and emotional manifestations, spanning from mild anxiety and fatigue to severe hallucinations and seizures. In extreme cases, AWS can even be life-threatening. Signs and symptoms of AWS typically emerge within 6 hours to a few days after the last drink, including tremors, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, headache, increased heart rate, sweating, irritability, confusion, insomnia, nightmares, and high blood pressure [4].

Over the course of 2 to 3 days, these symptoms may worsen, with milder manifestations persisting for weeks in some individuals. The impact can be more noticeable upon awakening with reduced alcohol levels in the bloodstream. Delirium tremens (DT), the most severe form of withdrawal syndrome, presents with signs such as extreme confusion, agitation, fever, seizures, tactile hallucinations, auditory hallucinations, visual hallucinations, excessive sweating, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and rapid respirators.

The Emerging Evidence Supporting Ashwagandha for OCD and Alcohol Withdrawal

  • In the treatment of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder, ashwagandha root extract may serve as a beneficial addition to SSRIs, enhancing the effectiveness of standard therapies [4].
  • Ashwagandha, a medicinal herb, has been found to boost brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is crucially linked to OCD, as low levels of BDNF are associated with the disorder [5].
  • A study involving 30 patients administered one capsule of ashwagandha extract and lactose to the treatment group, while the placebo group received lactose alone. Remarkably, the treatment group exhibited a reduction in comorbid anxiety disorders [6].
  • Multiple studies, including recent review studies, have affirmed the effectiveness of ashwagandha in managing obsessive-compulsive disorder, further solidifying its potential as a therapeutic option [7].
  • In a small-scale study, participants were given either 250 mg/day or 600 mg/day of ashwagandha or a placebo for 8 weeks. The ashwagandha groups experienced significant improvements in sleep quality, reduced stress levels, and a decrease in cortisol levels, offering promising results [8].
  • Mice exhibiting behavioral symptoms akin to those observed in OCD were administered methanolic and aqueous extracts of Ashwagandha. Notably, both extracts significantly ameliorated behavioral deficits without affecting motor activity, paralleling the effects of standard treatments such as fluoxetine, ritanserin, and para-chlorophenylalanine [9].
  • Ashwagandha also shows potential benefits in managing alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). Rat studies demonstrate that oral administration of Ashwagandha alleviates withdrawal anxiety stemming from chronic alcohol consumption, indicating a protective effect against ethanol-withdrawal reactions [10].
  • Additionally, ashwagandha has been found to effectively control behavioral changes, anxiety, and seizures associated with alcohol withdrawal symptoms in rats, while concurrently improving locomotor activity [11].

These remarkable discoveries shed light on the immense potential of Ashwagandha as a complementary treatment for OCD and a supportive ally in easing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Nevertheless, to fully comprehend the underlying mechanisms and unlock its true efficacy, further research is imperative. Determining the optimal dosage and treatment protocols for utilizing Ashwagandha effectively remains an essential pursuit on the path to enhanced well-being.

Unraveling Ashwagandha’s Mechanisms of Action

Ashwagandha appears to impact the brain and body through numerous complex pathways to alleviate OCD and AWS symptoms. Here are some of the key mechanisms believed to be involved:

  • Modulates GABA activity – Ashwagandha contains compounds like withanolides that may act as GABAA receptor agonists. By enhancing GABA signaling, ashwagandha likely induces calming, anxiolytic effects to reduce OCD anxiety or alcohol withdrawal irritability.
  • Anti-stress adaptogenic effects – Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen with anti-stress, cortisol-lowering properties. Adaptogens modulate the HPA axis and stress response network, promoting resilience against psychological stressors. This mechanism may benefit OCD and AWS.
  • Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity – Ashwagandha demonstrates potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities. This may protect neurons, improve cerebral blood flow, and mitigate excitotoxicity linked to OCD and AWS.
  • Neuroregenerative potential – Components like withanamides in ashwagandha exhibit neurotrophic and neuroprotective qualities. They may promote neurogenesis and synaptogenesis which are disrupted in OCD and by alcohol dependence.
  • Neurotransmitter modulation – Ashwagandha may help restore balance between key neurotransmitters like GABA, glutamate, dopamine, and serotonin that become dysregulated in OCD and AWS.
  • Epigenetic effects – Ashwagandha may influence gene expression via epigenetic mechanisms associated with stress, neuroplasticity, and neurotransmission in ways that benefit OCD and AWS pathophysiology.

While more research is still needed to confirm these mechanisms in humans, examining ashwagandha through a neurobiological lens provides clues to how it might aid in managing OCD, alcohol withdrawal, and related psychiatric conditions.

Ashwagandha’s Therapeutic Potential: A Review of the Research

ConditionKey Findings from Research
OCDDecreased anxiety and comorbid disorders in OCD patients (RCT, n=60) [16]
Improved compulsions and obsessions in mouse models [17]
Increased BDNF levels which are linked to OCD treatment [18]
Reduced anxiety, improved cognition, RCT, n=60 [22]
Corrected behavior deficits in mouse model [23]
Alcohol Withdrawal SyndromeAlleviated withdrawal anxiety in alcohol dependent rats [19]
Controlled seizures, anxiety and locomotion changes in rat models [20]
Decreased ethanol seeking behaviors in rodents [21]
Prevented elevation in corticosterone levels in RAT model [24]
Attenuated withdrawal-induced anxiety in Mouse model [25]
Decreased convulsions, relaxed muscle rigidity in Animal studies [26]

Side effects of FDA prescribed medications for OCD and AWS

The treatment of OCD encompasses a range of approaches, including pharmacotherapy, specialized psychotherapy, anatomically targeted treatments, or their combination. However, even with optimal treatment, many patients continue to grapple with significant symptoms. Achieving remission in cases of moderate or severe OCD is rare, often necessitating long-term management. This underscores the pressing need for the development of novel, more potent treatment interventions [12].

Generic Name


Side Effects

Clomipramine OCD Dry mouth, constipation, weight gain, sedation, hypotension, seizures. 
Fluvoxamine Drowsiness, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, constipation, indigestion, sweating, weight loss, nervousness, sexual problems
Fluoxetine Trouble in sleeping, feeling more tired than usual, dry mouth, weakness, nausea, loss of appetite.
Sertraline Nausea, diarrhea, headache, feeling nervous, fatigue, dry mouth, sweating, insomnia, restlessness, increased risk of bleeding.
Paroxetine Nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, weakness, dry mouth, sweating, blurred vision, yawning. 
Citalopram Nausea, vomiting, increased dreaming and decreased sleep. Diminished sexual desire, orgasmic dysfunction.
Escitalopram Nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, headache, constipation, drowsiness, dry mouth, increased sweating, restlessness, insomnia.
Venlafaxine Nausea, vomiting, sleepiness.

The goals of treating Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS) revolve around managing its signs and symptoms, preventing the progression to serious medical complications, and facilitating long-term recovery [13]. While patients with mild symptoms may require supportive care alone, those with moderate-to-severe symptoms often benefit from pharmacologic intervention [14].

Generic Name Symptoms Side Effects
Chlordiazepoxide AWS Sedation, fatigue, ataxia, respiratory depression, retrograde amnesia, dependence, abuse.

By exploring innovative treatment avenues and ensuring a comprehensive approach, we aim to revolutionize the landscape of OCD management and AWS care, paving the way for enhanced well-being and lasting recovery.

Efficacy of ashwagandha in treatment of OCD and AWS

Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, presents a wealth of nutritional supplements that offer support for a range of neurological mechanisms, including the regulation of brain chemistry. In numerous instances, these supplements can serve as a viable alternative to prescription drugs. What’s more, they have demonstrated a lower incidence of side effects and interactions compared to pharmaceutical medications [15].

The findings of these studies are summarized below for easy understanding.

Index Findings
Resistance to stress Significantly improves
Neurotropic factor of the brain Significantly stimulates
Anxiety and/or stress Significantly reduces
Voluntary control and motivation Significantly improves
Flow of neuronal communication Significantly improves
Connection between parts of the brain Significantly restores
Neural networks Significantly repaired

These findings underscore the potential benefits of using ashwagandha in alleviating various aspects of Huntington’s disease. However, it is important to note that further research is still needed to better comprehend the underlying mechanisms and determine the optimal dosage and treatment regimen. Individuals considering ashwagandha or any other treatment for Huntington’s disease should consult healthcare professionals for personalized guidance and comprehensive management of the condition.

Finding the Optimal Ashwagandha Dose and Delivery

When using ashwagandha to manage conditions like OCD or alcohol withdrawal, identifying the ideal dosage and formulation is key to maximizing benefits. Here’s what the research indicates so far:

For OCD, studies demonstrating efficacy have used ashwagandha root extract doses ranging from 250mg to 600mg daily, delivered in capsule form. The optimal duration is approximately 8-12 weeks. Standardized extracts containing higher concentrations of withanolides (5% or more) may provide enhanced effects.

Managing acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms may require higher ashwagandha doses in the range of 1000-1500mg daily to calm anxiety and prevent seizure activity based on preclinical evidence. Powdered root or leaf preparations are commonly used.

The best delivery method can depend on the individual. Ashwagandha capsules, powders, tinctures, teas and oils are all options. Capsules ensure consistent dosing but powders offer flexibility for incorporating into foods or drinks. Ashwagandha has low bioavailability so taking it with fatty meals may increase absorption.

It’s recommended to start with lower doses like 250mg twice daily and gradually increase based on tolerability and therapeutic response. As a natural aid, ashwagandha is generally safe but high doses may cause gastrointestinal upset. Like any supplement, working with an integrative medicine practitioner to find your optimal ashwagandha regimen is advised.


  1. How much ashwagandha should I take for OCD?
    For OCD, studies showing benefit use doses between 250-600mg of ashwagandha root extract daily for 8-12 weeks. Start low and increase slowly.
  2. Is ashwagandha safe to use with antidepressants for OCD?
    Ashwagandha appears safe to complement SSRIs but can increase sedation. Discuss with your doctor before using with medications as interactions are unknown.
  3. Can ashwagandha reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms?
    Some promising animal research suggests ashwagandha may help control anxiety, insomnia, and seizures during alcohol withdrawal. More human data is still needed.
  4. What are the side effects of taking ashwagandha?
    When used short-term, ashwagandha is generally well-tolerated. Possible side effects include nausea, diarrhea, and drowsiness, especially at high doses.
  5. Is ashwagandha proven to be effective for OCD and alcohol withdrawal?
    While early research is encouraging, large-scale human trials are still needed to firmly establish ashwagandha’s efficacy as a complementary treatment for OCD and AWS.
  6. What is the best ashwagandha supplement to take?
    Look for standardized root extract capsules with a high concentration (5% or more) of withanolides. Organic, high-quality extracts from reputable brands may provide better results.
  7. How long does it take for ashwagandha to work for OCD/AWS?
    It may take 4-6 weeks to experience the full effects for OCD. For alcohol withdrawal, relief from anxiety and insomnia may occur more rapidly within 1-2 weeks.
  8. Can I take ashwagandha long-term?
    Long-term safety beyond 12 weeks is unknown. Cycling on and off ashwagandha with periodic breaks is recommended by some practitioners.
  9. Does ashwagandha interact with any medicines?
    Ashwagandha may increase sedation with anti-anxiety meds, sleep aids, or sedatives. It may also slightly lower blood pressure. Check with your doctor.
  10. I’m pregnant. Can I take ashwagandha for my OCD?
    No, ashwagandha is not recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding due to lack of safety data. Consult your obstetrician first.


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