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.
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
PubMed: Antidepressant Withdrawal Reactions
Photo credit: Jackal1