D-Cycloserine as a Promising Phobia Treatment

Female climber scaling climbing wall
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Originally approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of tuberculosis, D-cycloserine (Seromycin) may be the next line of defense in phobia treatment. The antibiotic has been found to aid in the treatment of a variety of simple phobias, including the fear of spiders (arachnophobia) and a fear of heights (acrophobia). The drug is not helpful as a sole treatment, however, and works as an adjunct to exposure therapy in patients with phobias.

Repeated clinical trials have demonstrated that patients with acrophobia (fear of heights) who receive exposure therapy, and who also took D-cycloserine, learn to override their fears more quickly than those who took a placebo.

Exposure therapy, which is often used in the treatment of anxiety disorders, targets learned behaviors that people engage in (most often the avoidance) in response to situations or thoughts and memories that are viewed as frightening or anxiety-provoking.

How D-Cycloserine Works

D-cycloserine is thought to affect certain receptors, namely NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors, in the amygdala portion of the brain (a part of your brain that is associated with fear). It does not directly treat the phobia. Instead, the drug appears to stimulate the area of the brain that is responsible for unlearning fear responses.

In other words, it works to "speed up" or increase the response to exposure therapy. This, in turn, may minimize the frustration often felt during early treatment and thereby prevent a person from stopping therapy prematurely. Although research is still underway, clinical trials have found few side effects when using D-cycloserine in the treatment of anxiety disorders. D-cycloserine has also been studied for its effectiveness in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, OCD, PTSD, and other anxiety disorders.

If you think D-Cycloserine could work for you, talk to your healthcare provider. Together you can weigh the risks and benefits of using this medication, alongside exposure therapy, in the treatment of your specific phobia.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hofmann SG. D-cycloserine for treating anxiety disorders: making good exposures better and bad exposures worseDepress Anxiety. 2014;31(3):175–177. doi:10.1002/da.22257

  2. Rodrigues H, Figueira I, Lopes A, et al. Does D-cycloserine enhance exposure therapy for anxiety disorders in humans? A meta-analysis. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(7):e93519. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093519

  3. Sheerin CM, Kozak AT, Hale AC, Bcba, Ramesh BK, Spates CR. The effect of D-cycloserine on social anxiety treatment using a behavioral outcome measure and a post-session administration strategyBehav Anal (Wash D C). 2016;16(3):123–134. doi:10.1037/bar0000054

  4. Schade S, Paulus W. D-cycloserine in neuropsychiatric diseases: a systematic reviewInt J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2016;19(4):pyv102. doi:10.1093/ijnp/pyv102

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.