The idea of a neurological chemical imbalance being a cause of OCD came from research that showed that certain medications have an effect on OCD. Therefore, it stands to reason that the medications brought the chemicals in the person’s brain back into a balance.
There are some problems with this reasoning, however. First, this assumes that people are born with a perfect balance of chemicals in their brain. The changes that children undergo through their first years of life are monumental. As they grow and interact with their environment, huge changes occur in the form and function of their brain, even at the neurotransmitter level (neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers in the brain that are supposedly in or out of balance).
Neurotransmitters are the brain’s means of communication because the neurons (brain cells) in your brain are not actually connected to each other. Instead, there is a small space between them, in order to communicate, they send messages back and forth using neurotransmitters. Therefore, if chemical balance is the goal, we should be medicating all newborns to prevent such dramatic changes in brain functioning and chemistry. However, if we were to do this, then we would not develop appropriately, drugging all our newborns is obviously not a viable option.
An obvious solution to this is waiting until the brain is fully formed before trying to establish a balance. However, there is a problem with this as well. A neurological chemical balance is unique to each person, even though all of our brains have a similar physical and chemical makeup, they function a bit differently based on who we are as individuals. So there is no balance to be had that will work for everyone.
Medications for OCD affect the transmission of the neurotransmitters, increasing them or decreasing them to bring about “optimal” levels. However, people do not often stay at one dose of medicine for their whole lives. Changes occur, depending on events in a person’s life. Or some people successfully go off of medications for years, but then have a relapse. This would mean that medications brought them into balance and that balance was maintained for years without medications but was then lost, and medications had to be reintroduced to return the balance.
Jon Abromowitz put it best in his book Understanding and Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (2006) with this example: “When I take aspirin, my headache goes away. Thus, the reason I get headaches is because my aspirin level is too low.” No one would believe that they have a low aspirin level and that they need to bring that level back into balance.
In a similar vein, there are many ways that neurotransmitters work and are involved in the development and maintenance of OCD. To suggest that we are somehow out of balance, though, does not appear to be a worthwhile or meaningful explanation.