Addiction To Antidepressants
Those abusing Antidepressants do not experience the cravings that other drugs cause, nor do they experience the euphoria, addictive behaviors, or negative consequences frequently seen with many other drugs.
People can still develop a physical dependence on Antidepressants. Individuals with depression are also more likely to abuse other drugs.
Antidepressant dependence can form in people who never needed the drugs in the first place. Some people are incorrectly diagnosed with depression and prescribed Antidepressants. According to one study, doctors misdiagnosed almost two-thirds of patients with depression and prescribed unnecessary Antidepressants.
Antidepressant Addiction Vs. Dependence
Antidepressant dependence is a state of adaptation caused by regularly taking a medication. Someone who is dependent on Antidepressants may experience unpleasant symptoms after abrupt discontinuation or reduction of use.
Antidepressant addiction is a primary, chronic, neurobiological disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors that influence its development and manifestation. It is characterized by behaviors that may include at least one or more of the following: impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, and continued use despite harm. Drug addiction is a treatable disease, necessitating a multidisciplinary approach, and relapse is common.
Are Antidepressants Addictive?
Doctors generally do not consider Antidepressants to be addictive in the traditional sense. But Antidepressants can absolutely can cause physical dependence, as evidenced by the withdrawal symptoms stopping or reducing Antidepressant use can cause. People who suddenly stop taking Antidepressants often have withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, hand tremors, and depression.
However, very few people give up their daily responsibilities to find Antidepressants because the reward is not big enough; there is no euphoric rush of dopamine from taking Antidepressants. There are no cravings, no hazardous behaviors, and no examples of prolonged addictive behavior for Antidepressants.
People do try to abuse Antidepressants, especially Wellbutrin, by snorting them. Even this, however, does not create an addiction — and may only be done because a desired substance is unavailable. The only result may be a placebo-like effect, a poor substitute for the actual drug of choice.
Although there are risks with taking Antidepressants, these medications help many people live better and more functional lives. Those prescribed Antidepressants should never stop taking their medication without first speaking to a doctor.
What Are Antidepressants?
Antidepressants are prescription medications used to treat moderate to severe depression. The most common forms of Antidepressant medication are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
SSRIs treat depression by changing the brain’s chemical balance of serotonin. This chemical impacts mood and helps people feel positive about their lives. SNRIs similarly boost mood by interacting with norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain. Doctors also prescribe Antidepressants to treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Antidepressants are most often available as oral tablets or capsules. Common Antidepressants include:
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
Antidepressant Effects And Abuse
Antidepressants are among the most prescribed medications in the United States. Many doctors prescribe SSRI and SNRI Antidepressants as a safer alternative to Benzodiazepines. (Many also prescribe Buspar as a safer alternative to Benzodiazepines as it specifically treats anxiety disorders.) Doctors consider Antidepressants safer because the drugs have less potential for abuse. Despite this, some people abuse Antidepressant medications.
A small but growing literature on the misuse and abuse of Antidepressants consists largely of case reports. […] The most commonly reported motivation for abuse is to achieve a psychostimulant-like effect.
Antidepressants don’t have the euphoric effects other drugs have. In other words, Antidepressants can’t get the user high. That doesn’t stop some people from trying, though. Some people think since Antidepressants improve mood that high doses must induce euphoria, but that is not how the drugs work.
Antidepressants work over time, accumulating in the brain. They don’t produce immediate effects. It can take over a month before an Antidepressant starts working.
Most Antidepressant abuse is typically someone increasing their prescribed dose when they feel like the drug isn’t working fast enough. Some people combine Antidepressants with other substances, like alcohol, in an attempt to amplify the medication’s effects. Over time, Antidepressants can stop working for those who truly need them. This can lead some users to increase their doses when they can’t find the relief they need on what was initially prescribed.
I start to get the feeling that something is really wrong. Like all the drugs put together — the [L]ithium, the Prozac, the [D]esipramine, and Desyrel that I take to sleep at night — can no longer combat whatever it is that was wrong with me in the first place.
Like most drugs, taking large doses of Antidepressants can be dangerous and can also increase the likelihood of seizures. People abusing Antidepressants increase their risk of overdosing.
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Signs Of Antidepressant Overdose
Signs of an Antidepressant overdose can include any or all of the following:
- Impaired coordination
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Irregular heartbeat
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Common Drug Combinations
Alcohol is one of the most common substances combined with Antidepressants. Doctors recommend avoiding alcohol while taking Antidepressants. People who already suffer from another addiction, such as alcoholism, are more likely to abuse Antidepressants.
Combining alcohol and Antidepressants can cause severe physical and mental health problems, including:
- Worsened depression or anxiety
- Intense sedation
- Dangerously high blood pressure
- Impaired coordination
Some find it hard to wait for their Antidepressants to start working. During this wait, people suffering from depression may self-medicate with other drugs such as Marijuana and Opiates.
Antidepressant Addiction Statistics
10 percent of Americans take Antidepressant medication.
More than 60 percent of Americans on Antidepressants have taken them for 2 years or longer.
The rate of Antidepressant use in the US increased by almost 400 percent between 2005-2008.
Getting Help For Antidepressant Addiction And Abuse
It can be dangerous to quit Antidepressants, especially if a doctor prescribed them. Anyone looking to beat an addiction may benefit from medical oversight during the withdrawal period. If you’re interested in finding rehab-related help for yourself or a loved one, reach out to a treatment provider today.
Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.
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- Rabin R (2013). "A Glut of Antidepressants." The New York Times. Retrieved on September 30, 2015 from: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/12/a-glut-of-antidepressants/?_r=1
- Evans E and Sullivan M (2014). "Abuse and Misuse of Antidepressants." The U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved on September 30, 2015 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25187753
- Pratt L, Brody D and Gu Q (2011). "Antidepressant Use in Persons Aged 12 and Over: United States, 2005-2008." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on September 30, 2015 from: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db76.htm
- Hall-Flavin D (2014). "Why is it Bad to Mix Antidepressants and Alcohol?" The Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on September 30, 2015 from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/antidepressants-and-alcohol/faq-20058231
- Calderone J (2014). "The Rise of All-Purpose Antidepressants." Scientific American. Retrieved on September 30, 2015 from: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-rise-of-all-purpose-antidepressants/
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2014). Facts & Statistics. Retrieved on September 30, 2015 from: http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
- Evans, EA et al. Substance Abuse Rehabilitation. (2014). Abuse and Misuse of Antidepressants. Retrieved on September 30, 2015 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25187753
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Certified Addiction Professional
Theresa Parisi received her bachelor’s degree in Addiction Science and Psychology from Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota in 2010. She is currently working towards her master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. She is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager (CBHCM), and International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) by the Florida Certification Board. Theresa is passionate about recovery having gone through addiction herself.
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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.