9 Alternatives to Antidepressants

Last Updated on August 11, 2023

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Depression is a common issue that many Americans face. 16.1 million U.S. adults struggle with depression, which is the leading cause of disability worldwide.1 Many people with depression also have co-occurring disorders like substance abuse problems or sleep disorders that can increase the negative symptoms of both and make recovery very difficult.

While only about 40 percent of people who suffer from depression receive treatment for it, many who do receive a prescription for antidepressant drugs.1 One in nine Americans takes an antidepressant, but like any drug, there are some risks involved, including addiction.2

Some people who initially start using antidepressants for the treatment of anxiety disorders may develop an addiction or dependence to the drugs. This can lead to further problems involving substance abuse, worsening depression, financial difficulties, relationship problems, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors, among other negative side effects.

While antidepressants can help many people live better lives and effectively manage symptoms of depression, the misuse of antidepressants or abuse of other drugs and alcohol can contribute to mental health problems make depressive symptoms worse, resulting in a cycle of ongoing worsening drug abuse and depression.

If you are recovering from substance abuse and are looking for alternatives to antidepressants, you’re in luck because there are many! Symptoms of depression can sometimes persist in recovery and while antidepressants may work for some people, there are also several different ways to cope and manage these symptoms without prescription drugs.

What are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are a common type of prescription drugs that are used to treat moderate to severe depression, OCD, and anxiety. They are generally viewed as a safer alternative to benzodiazepines like Valium, Ambien, or Xanax. Antidepressant use has increased in recent years and these drugs are the third leading type of prescription drug used by Americans3

Nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population used an antidepressant in the past month and women are twice as likely as men to take them. People over the age of 60 are also more likely to use antidepressants, with about 19 percent of adults over the age of 60 taking an antidepressant in the past month.4

Antidepressants work differently than addictive drugs like heroin or methamphetamine and they do not produce euphoric effects or cravings. However, they can cause physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms, especially among those who misuse them.

Some antidepressants work by altering the brain’s chemical balance of serotonin, which is a naturally-occurring chemical in the body that contributes to feelings of happiness and well-being. Other antidepressants interact with both serotonin and norepinephrine, which is a stress hormone found in the body that also influences mood.

Examples of Common Antidepressants

Most antidepressants are available in tablet or capsule form and are taken orally. Some examples of common antidepressants include:

Are Antidepressants Addictive?

Antidepressants aren’t typically considered to be addictive in the same ways other substances like alcohol are. This is because people who are physically dependent on them rarely give up personal responsibilities to use them, experience cravings, or experience long-term addictive behaviors like a loss of control using them.

Although antidepressants may not be defined as “addictive”, people can (and do) become physically dependent on them. This can cause physical and psychological problems and people who take large doses of antidepressants are at risk of overdosing. Some people may also abuse antidepressants to try to get high, even though these prescription drugs won’t produce the same euphoric effects as other addictive substances.

Antidepressant Abuse and Dependence

Antidepressants don’t provide immediate relief from symptoms of depression. Instead, they work over time, accumulating in the brain and sometimes taking weeks to relieve symptoms. As a result, many people may believe that they need a larger dose to experience relief. While a small number of people may try to abuse antidepressants to get high, most people who misuse antidepressants are taking larger doses than necessary because they believe they need more of the drug to experience its effects more quickly or more intensely.

Waiting for antidepressants to start working can be difficult, especially if the depression is severe. Some people may also start abusing other substances like alcohol, marijuana, or prescription opioids as a way to cope in the meantime.

Antidepressants may sometimes be prescribed as a short-term solution, but long-term misuse of these drugs can have harmful consequences. Additionally, taking large doses of antidepressants is very dangerous and can cause seizures or overdose.

Once you are physically dependent or psychologically addicted, suddenly stopping your antidepressant use is very likely to cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Antidepressant withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia or vivid dreams
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Flu-like symptoms, including achy muscles and chills
  • Nausea
  • Electric shock sensations
  • Return of depression symptoms6

Even people who aren’t addicted to or dependent on antidepressants are likely to experience these withdrawal symptoms, so quitting without medical assistance can be difficult. Fortunately, your doctor can help you wean yourself off the drugs or, if you have been misusing them regularly, you can complete a medical detox program to reduce the discomfort of antidepressant withdrawal symptoms.

9 Alternatives to Antidepressants

Antidepressant drugs are most often prescribed alongside other treatment methods like cognitive behavioral therapy. This is often the best way to treat and resolve symptoms of depression due to the many different contributing factors that cause it.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression is a treatable disorder and there are several different approaches for treatment, including medication, therapy, and residential treatment, among others.7

If you are in recovery from drug addiction and you are struggling with symptoms of depression, you may choose to avoid antidepressants and the use of other similar prescription drugs. However, this doesn’t mean you have to continue to suffer from the symptoms of depression. There are many different ways to find relief without antidepressants that are scientifically proven to provide relief.8 Here are nine great alternatives to antidepressants.

  1. Exercise – When you’re depressed, it can be difficult to get up and do anything, let alone exercise. However, even just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your mood for a few hours. Studies show continuous, rhythmic exercise like walking, swimming, yoga, or dancing provide the most benefits for depression relief.9
  2. Therapy – Cognitive behavioral therapy (a type of talk therapy) can be very effective for depression and works to help you identify negative thoughts and replace them with positive and realistic ones. Other types of therapy like interpersonal therapy and psychodynamic therapy can also provide many positive benefits to combat depression.10
  3. Practice mindfulness – The act of practicing mindfulness includes identifying your negative thoughts and replacing them with more balanced thoughts. This can help you fight back against a pessimistic frame of mind and negative patterns of thinking that have hijacked your brain and body.
  4. Social support – Meeting with safe, supportive people face-to-face can reduce feelings of isolation, provide a source of encouragement and understanding, and offer additional ways for you to get connected and provide support to others. (Helping others will make you feel great too!)
  5. Pets – Caring for a pet can provide joy and companionship at a time when you need it most. A pet can also make you feel less isolated, force you to get outside of yourself, and provide a sense of being needed, which will all combat depressive symptoms.
  6. Sleep – Most people who suffer from depression also have sleep problems. Whether you sleep too much or too little, prioritizing healthy sleeping habits can help you get a full eight hours of sleep each night and stabilize your mood in the process.
  7. Healthy foods – What you put into your body will directly impact the way you feel. Cutting out sugar, refined carbs, not skipping meals, and making sure you get enough of the right vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids can help stabilize your mood and reduce feelings of irritability and tiredness. Maintaining a healthy diet can also help you recover from the negative physical side effects of substance abuse.
  8. Sunlight – Getting some sun outside can open up opportunities for physical exercise, social activities, and provide physical benefits that will aid in recovery from substance abuse and depression. Sunlight naturally increases serotonin levels in the body, serving as an instant mood-booster. Even if you don’t have time to get outside, simply opening up the windows or peeling back the curtains can increase the natural light in your home or workspace.
  9. Time – Any mental health disorder like depression or addiction will take time to overcome. Understanding that you’ll need time to heal and being patient with yourself and your circumstances will go a long way to help you recover.

Coping with depression without antidepressants isn’t impossible and many holistic methods can provide mood-boosting benefits for a more positive life in recovery. For more tips on living life in recovery, continue browsing the Nova Recovery Center blog or contact us for more information about drug rehab and our continuum of care.


  1. https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2016/080.pdf
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db283.htm
  4. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/11/numbers
  5. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/antidepressant-medication.htm
  6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/antidepressant-withdrawal/FAQ-20058133?p=1
  7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/antidepressant-withdrawal/FAQ-20058133?p=1
  8. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/coping-with-depression.htm
  9. https://www.health.com/depression/these-are-the-best-exercises-for-anxiety-and-depression
  10. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression/Treatment
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