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Can you get addicted to antidepressants?

No. Antidepressant medications are not considered to be addictive or habit-forming by most medical authorities. Mainly because experts agree that you cannot induce euphoria or get high on Prozac, get high on trazodone, Wellbutrin, or other well known antidepressants.

However, antidepressants are often prescribed for long-term periods. And there is a risk of side effects, including physical dependency, when taking any antidepressant medication. In fact, doctors usually recommend a gradual reduction in dosage rather than abruptly stopping the medication, because of the risk of withdrawal symptoms.

  • Are you worried about stopping your antidepressant medication?
  • Are you experiencing withdrawal symptoms?
  • Just how common are antidepressant side effects?

We explore all these questions and more here. Your questions, comments and feedback are welcomed at the end of this article.

Types of antidepressants and use

Most modern antidepressants belong to a family of medications called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). Some examples are Prozac (fluoxetine), Celexa (citalopram), and Paxil (paroxetine). Other types of antidepressants are Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs), Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs).

  • MAOIs – Monoamine oxidase inhibitors
  • SSRIs – Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • SNRIs – Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
  • TCAs – Tricyclic antidepressants

Antidepressants are usually prescribed to help with the symptoms of depression. But they can also be prescribed to help patients suffering from other mood disorders, such as anxiety, because they offer a better long-term solution than some of the highly addictive anti-anxiety medications on the market. Can you get high on Wellbutrin or other antidepressants?  Probably not.  Instead, antidepressants offer gradual relief for disorders like PSTD, panic disorder,  anxiety disorders and, of course, depression.

Antidepressants and the brain

All antidepressants work by altering brain chemistry. SSRIs work by increasing the production of the chemical serotonin in the brain – helping to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. MAOIs actually work by blocking an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters like serotonin, keeping them active in the brain.

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How do these chemicals help alleviate depression? That’s the interesting part – scientists aren’t completely sure. However, decades of research and testing have demonstrated that these drugs really do help people suffering from depression and that the medications are generally safe, with mild side effects. Research has also shown that antidepressants are not habit-forming and do not cause compulsive drug-seeking behavior, so you can’t get addicted to antidepressants.

Why do antidepressants cause withdrawal symptoms?

Antidepressants are slow-acting drugs. In other words, you need to take them for 3-4 weeks before you can expect symptoms to improve. Antidepressant must also be taken even on days when you experience no depressive symptoms. Additionally, antidepressants are usually prescribed for a period of 6-12 months, sometimes longer. Because these drugs stay in the system for such a long time and directly affect the brain, it can be difficult to adjust to the lack of these chemicals when you stop taking antidepressants. The period during which symptoms occur after you stop taking antidepressants is called “withdrawal”.

Withdrawal occurs when your body adapts to the presence of a drug in your system and that drug is removed. When the drug is no longer available, the central nervous system has to re-adapt to function without the chemical. However, physical dependence differs from psychological dependence, one of the main characteristics of drug addiction. In fact, antidepressant withdrawal is not a symptom of chemical addiction. Antidepressants do not cause strong cravings for the drug, nor do people who stop taking antidepressants experience an inability to control their use of the substance.

Signs of antidepressant withdrawal

The most common side effects of sudden withdrawal from antidepressants are headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Other symptoms may include sleep disturbances and mood swings. Antidepressant withdrawal can also cause gastrointestinal problems. The symptom you really need to watch out for, though, is a relapse of depression or anxiety. Sometimes these symptoms are treated by switching to a low dose of another antidepressant with fewer side effects.

How to avoid antidepressant withdrawal symptoms

If you’re worried about stopping antidepressants, talk to your doctor. A medical professional will be able to set up a tapering schedule with you to help you gradually wean yourself from your antidepressants. Again, there is no chemical addiction or psychological dependence present – it’s just difficult for your body to readjust after having these drugs in your system for such a long time. Usually these symptoms will resolve within a few days, and they are usually not severe.

If you have any additional questions about antidepressants and addiction potential, please leave them here. We will be happy to answer your questions with a personal and prompt response.

 

Reference sources: FDA: Understanding Antidepressant Medications
MedlinePlus: Antidepressants
PubMed: Antidepressant Withdrawal Reactions

Photo credit: Jackal1

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12 Responses to “Can you get addicted to antidepressants?
omi
2:26 am March 23rd, 2012

i have been taking antidepressant from 2 years..i stoped medication due to side effets as i am a student it was affecting my studies and i was facing problem in conentration and physically,i stoped by breaking dose into half nd taking it for a week and again break it half of half and continue till week and i stoped but now i feel like my nerves of brain are streched,its like someone has puton so muh weight on my head and i feel lazy and reserved..

4:24 pm March 23rd, 2012

Hello omi. Thanks for your question. I’d highly suggest that you schedule an appointment with the campus medical center. All detox and withdrawal from prescription medications should be done under medical supervision, and you can get help from your prescribing doctor. You don’t need to get over antidepressant addiction alone!

Gee
3:02 am April 12th, 2012

I recently went off 10 mg daily of Lexapro which I had been on for 4.5 years. I knew I would experience horrible withdrawal from my prior hellish experience of weening myself down from 20 mg daily to 10mg daily. I realize that not everyone experiences the same effects, but I really wish that my dr. warned me of this before I agreed to start this med. I believe every person prescribed one of these meds should be fully warned about the possibility of the withdrawal effects. It is so terrible and life altering. I found a few very good methods for dealing with the effects. For the head and body aches, either Motrin, Iburprofen, Acetaminophen AND Dramamine for the dizziness and nausea, and drink as much water as possible. Take and do this continually until withdrawal subsides. For me it was a good month and a half, and still milder withdrawal after that. If this helps, please pass it on, post it online where appropriate. Hope this helps someone. Best of luck!

3:30 am April 12th, 2012

Thanks for sharing some of your tips for antidepressant withdrawal, Gee. Yes, I totally agree with you. Doctors SHOULD tell patients about the addictive potential of any medication. And the subsequent withdrawal effects. Are they too busy or simply unconcerned?

Scottie
12:45 pm July 28th, 2014

I have been on fluoxetine for a very long time – I am 65 years old. Every time I try to stop, about six weeks to two months later, I experience terrible debilitating depression. Suggestions –

12:08 pm July 29th, 2014

Hello Scottie. I believe this is a question you can ask your GP or pharmacist. Maybe they can help by prescribing something else to deal with the depression. Often, the side-effects that follow cessation of a particular drug, are in fact, the same side-effects and symptoms you are taking the medication for.

Mae
10:55 am March 28th, 2015

I had been taking 300mgs of Wellbutrin HCL XL for approximately 5 months since Oct. 2014. 10 days ago I reduced in half to the HCL XL 150 . For the past 5 days I’ve been feeling like I have the flu, fatigue, bad muscle aches and need more sleep. Can this be from reducing the dose in half? If so, how long after I feel better should I wait before I reduce the dose again to 75mgs a day? Thank you.

11:18 am April 14th, 2015

Hi Mae. It is possible that you are reducing too much of the dose, too quickly. Why don’t you try a more slow and gradual taper? This way you won’t be experiencing such harsh withdrawal symptoms and discomfort. You can visit your doctor or pharmacist to get some general over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies that can help you in the detox and withdrawal process. Good luck!

Paulette
2:11 pm January 6th, 2016

Thank you for your reply. You mentioned slow withdrawal of anti-depressants to avoid unpleasant side effects. This I did very successfully until my last dose of 20mg. I withdrew of 10mg over a period of 6 weeks and was not feeling too good but I persisted and finally withdrew of my last 10mg of clomipramine and then I got bad insomnia, lost of appetite and pain in my muscles. I cried easily and was very irritable. I decided to go back to 10mg and saw my doctor. Unfortunately she does not seem to know much about withdrawal of medication. 10mg was still not enough so now I am taking 20mg and also 2mg diazepam. I am sleeping again. It seems I should now withdraw of the diazepam now but to withdraw completely of diazepam is going to bevery difficult. If you can help me on this I would be so grateful as I have nobody to advise me. Many thanks. Paulette

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
11:59 pm January 6th, 2016

Hi, Paulette. For every change you plan to do, I suggest you consult your doctor. Here’s our data on diazepam: http://prescription-drug.addictionblog.org/tag/valium/ Hope you’ll find useful info!

Paulette
8:00 pm January 7th, 2016

Thank you very much for answering my message about my difficulties withdrawing from anti-depressants. i.e last dose of clomipramine. You suggested that I could take a different anti-depressant to alleviate the symptoms of my withdrawal. Could you advise me about the name of a different anti-depressant which would then be easier to withdraw from. Many thanks for your help. Paulette

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
6:59 pm January 11th, 2016

Hi, Paulette. I suggest you consult your doctor about your concern. After all, s/he knows your medic.al history

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