Antidepressants Addiction: Side Effects, Detox, Withdrawal, and Treatment
Antidepressants are medications that help relieve symptoms of depression and other disorders, such as anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and seasonal affective disorder, among others.1
Although antidepressants were first developed in the 1950s, their use has greatly increased in recent years. They are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs in America. According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey:
- Nearly 13 percent of people over the age of 12 took antidepressants in the past month from 2011 to 2014.
- Twice as many females used antidepressants as males.
- One-fourth of people who took antidepressants monthly had done so for at least a decade.
- From the fifteen years between 1999 and 2014, antidepressant use in America increased by nearly 65 percent.2
Antidepressants work by correcting chemical imbalances in the brain to improve mood and influence behavior. Although these drugs cannot cure disorders like depression or social anxiety, they can reduce the negative symptoms of these issues and help individuals feel better and live more functional lives.
Antidepressants are not considered to be addictive because users don’t experience a euphoric high, have cravings, or demonstrate prolonged addictive behaviors when they abuse them. However, antidepressants do cause tolerance and withdrawal symptoms and people can become psychologically addicted to taking them.
Although antidepressants do not produce a high, some people may still try to abuse certain ones like Wellbutrin because they do not have access to their drug of choice. This still doesn’t cause addiction, although it may produce a placebo effect.
A person may also take larger doses of an antidepressant drug if he or she feels like it isn’t working fast enough or he or she may take it with alcohol to amplify its effects. Taking large doses of antidepressants can be very dangerous, may cause seizures, physical dependence, and can also result in an overdose.
There are certain slang terms or street names that may be used to reference antidepressants. People may use these terms to disguise their language and prevent others from knowing what they’re talking about. Street names change constantly, but the following are some of the current slang terms and street names for antidepressants:
- Bottled Smiles
- Happy Pill
- Miracle Drug
- Wonder Drug
There are five main types of antidepressants.3 They include:
- Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) – These drugs prevent the reabsorption of serotonin and noradrenaline so that more is available and active in the brain. SNRIs are commonly used to treat generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and nerve pain associated with fibromyalgia.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – SSRIs work by preventing the reabsorption of serotonin so that more is available and active in the brain. These drugs are said to cause fewer side effects than other types of antidepressants. In addition to treating depression, they may be used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, eating disorders, premature ejaculations, or stroke recovery.
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) – TCAs work by blocking the absorption of serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine. In addition to treating depression, doctors may also use TCAs to treat chronic pain.
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) – MAOIs prevent the action of an enzyme called monoamine oxidase to make more neurotransmitters available for mood regulation. They are not used as frequently as other types of antidepressants because they can trigger increases in blood pressure. In addition to treating depression, MAOIs can be used to treat agoraphobia, social phobia, bulimia, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and bipolar depression.
- Noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NASSAs) – These drugs work by blocking receptors called alpha-2 receptors to enhance the action of noradrenaline and serotonin in the brain. In addition to treating depression, NASSAs can also be used to treat anxiety disorders and some personality disorders.
Some common examples of antidepressants include:
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Trazodone (Oleptro and Desyrel)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
- Wellbutrin (Bupropion)
Most antidepressants will be gone from your body in four to five days although some antidepressant drugs like Prozac can take a month or more to completely leave your body.4
The amount of time a drug takes to be eliminated from your body will also depend on the dosage you were taking, its metabolism, and other personal factors like your tolerance, any medical conditions you have, and the type of antidepressant you were taking.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, here’s how long the following antidepressants take to be 99 percent out of your body.5
- Paroxetine (Paxil) – 4.4 days
- Sertraline (Zoloft) – 5.4 days
- Escitalopram (Lexapro) – 6.1 days
- Citalopram (Celexa) – 7.3 days
- Fluoxetine (Prozac) – 25 days
- Venlafaxine (Effexor) – 1 day
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta) – 2.5 days
- Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq) – 2.5 days
- Bupropion (Wellbutrin) – 4.4 days
The side effects of antidepressant abuse can vary depending on the type of antidepressant being misused, but here are some of the possible side effects:
- Sore throat
- Blurry vision
- Sexual dysfunction/reduced sex drive
- Weight gain
- Lack of emotion6
High doses of antidepressants also increase the risk of suicide in teens and young adults ages 18 to 25.
The risk of overdose also greatly increases with antidepressant abuse. You are much more likely to overdose on antidepressant drugs if you take large doses of them or use them with alcohol or other drugs.
Signs of an antidepressant overdose can range from mild to severe and may include:
- Dilated pupils
- Dry mouth
- Blurry vision
- High blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Serotonin syndrome
- Abnormally fast heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Cardiac arrest
- Respiratory depression
If you believe that you or a loved one is experiencing an overdose caused by antidepressants, you should call 911 immediately.
Unlike with addictive drugs, withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants aren’t caused by addiction, rather, they are the consequences of the chemical balance in the brain being altered when you stop taking them. Not all people will experience antidepressant withdrawal symptoms, but many do.
If you have used antidepressants for months or years, it may be difficult to stop due to uncomfortable antidepressant withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Mood swings
- Dizziness and balance problems
- Electric shock sensations
- Flu-like symptoms
- Loss of coordination
- Muscle spasms
- Trouble sleeping
If you are trying to stop using antidepressants, quitting cold turkey is never recommended and this method can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. The safest and easiest way to quit antidepressants is to gradually taper your use with the help of a doctor or a medical detox program.
The duration of antidepressant withdrawal will vary from person to person. For some, withdrawal symptoms will go away within a matter of days but others may experience withdrawal symptoms for months. Additionally, some people may have very mild symptoms and others may have severe ones.9
It is often very difficult to determine how long antidepressant withdrawal lasts because the withdrawal effects can overlap with symptoms of depression and anxiety, making it nearly impossible to distinguish between the two.
If someone is psychologically addicted to antidepressants, he or she may do some or all of the following things:
- Continue abusing antidepressants despite the risks
- Express a desire to stop using antidepressants but be unable to
- Withdraw from friends and family members
- Mix other drugs or alcohol with antidepressants
- Take larger or more frequent doses of antidepressants
- Steal antidepressants from loved ones, clinics, or pharmacies
Although antidepressants don’t cause physical addiction, it can still seem impossible to break your physical dependence and psychological addiction. If you’re addicted to your antidepressants, you should know that you’re not alone. Many people struggle with the same issue and have successfully overcome it.
Medical detox is a great way to start a new life of sobriety. During detox, you’ll receive medical and clinical care to reduce the symptoms of withdrawal and address any returning symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Clinical care and monitoring can also help you prepare for entry into an inpatient or outpatient treatment program that will further address the contributing causes of your addictive behaviors. Your treatment team can also help you learn how to cope with symptoms of depression and anxiety by exploring healthy alternatives to antidepressants.
When you’re ready to get sober, a comprehensive addiction treatment plan that incorporates medical detox, drug rehab, and aftercare can help you attain a life of sobriety. Call (512) 605-2955 to speak with a representative at Nova Recovery Center about your treatment options.
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