Antidepressant Addiction and Abuse

Antidepressants change the brain’s chemical makeup to treat mood disorders such as depression. Those who abuse antidepressants might be struggling with an addiction to another substance.

Addiction to Antidepressants

Even though antidepressants aren’t addictive in the same way substances like alcohol and heroin are, people can still develop a physical dependence on the drug. Those abusing antidepressants do not experience the cravings that other drugs cause.

Doctors debate the addictive nature of antidepressants. Some consider these drugs non-addictive. Others point to the withdrawal symptoms of antidepressants as evidence that a dependence can form. People who suddenly stop taking antidepressants often have withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, hand tremors, and depression.

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).

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)
  • Wellbutrin

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Antidepressant Effects and Abuse

Antidepressants don’t have the same euphoric effects as other drugs. In other words, antidepressants can’t get you high. Some people think that since antidepressants improve mood, high doses must induce euphoria. However, this is not the case.

Like most drugs, taking large doses of antidepressants can be dangerous. People abusing antidepressants increase their risk of overdosing.

Signs of an antidepressant overdose include:

  • Impaired coordination
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Dizziness
  • 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. Combining alcohol and antidepressants can cause problems such as:

  • Worsened depression or anxiety
  • Intense sedation
  • Dangerously high blood pressure
  • Impaired coordination
  • Overdose

Signs of Antidepressant Abuse

Unlike many mood-improving prescription medications, antidepressants don’t get people “high” or cause cravings. They are designed to work slowly over time to lift the user’s mood.

Some general signs of abuse include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Diminished appearance
  • Financial difficulties
  • Changes in appetite
  • Odd sleep habits
  • Slurred speech
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The Dangers of Antidepressants

Antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft aren’t as dangerous as illicit drugs or narcotic prescription drugs. In fact, they help many people manage their depression and live functional lives.

Antidepressants take weeks to start working and they don’t work for everyone. People with severe depression often feel robbed when they learn they have to wait to get relief. There are a host of possible side effects of antidepressant abuse including:

  • Insomnia
  • Disorientation
  • Suffocation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Convulsions
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Coma
  • Nausea or vomiting
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Anyone taking antidepressants or abusing other drugs also has an increased risk of suicide. Some signs of depression and suicidal behavior include:

  • Having no plans for the future
  • Giving away belongings
  • Checking insurance plans
  • Suddenly making up a will
  • Talking about life being hopeless or meaningless
  • Changes in mood
  • Increased alcohol or drug abuse
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies

Questions about treatment?

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Recognizing a Problem

People taking antidepressants can become physically dependent on the drugs, but this doesn’t mean they have an addiction. These drugs don’t cause the compulsive drug-seeking behavior common among addicted people.

Withdrawal and Treatment

Those wishing to quit using antidepressants should find an alternate treatment for their depression. Certain therapies may even be more effective than taking antidepressants for depression. If you or someone you know is depressed and/or has a substance use problem, there are many affordable ways to get them help. Call an addiction specialist now to discuss their options.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Quitting antidepressants may produce symptoms similar to benzodiazepine withdrawal. However, withdrawal from antidepressants is typically less intense. The longer someone takes antidepressants, the worse their symptoms are likely to be.

Some of the symptoms from quitting antidepressants can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Vivid dreams
  • Diarrhea
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Questions about treatment?

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Withdrawal Duration

An important factor in the duration of withdrawal is how long the person took antidepressants. Someone who took an antidepressant for six months usually has less intense symptoms than someone who took the medication for two years.

Antidepressants with longer half-lives, like Prozac and Zoloft, linger in the body for days. Withdrawal from these antidepressants lasts longer than short half-life drugs but are less intense.

Approximate half-life of popular antidepressants:

  • Effexor – 6 hours
  • Zoloft – 24 hours
  • Paxil – 29 hours
  • Lexapro – 30 hours
  • Celexa – 36 hours
  • Prozac – 5 days

Antidepressant Withdrawal Timeline

Days 1-3 Depending on the drug, most people experience the first signs of withdrawal symptoms in the first few days of quitting. Even if the user tapers their dose, mild symptoms may appear.
Days 4-5 Withdrawal symptoms become more intense before they begin to fade. Users start experiencing dizziness, nausea, shakiness and fever. Those who took antidepressants in higher doses for a longer time have more intense symptoms.
Weeks 1-3 Withdrawal symptoms typically persist for up to three weeks. The symptoms gradually fade during this time. Most people who quit taking their antidepressants stop having symptoms after three weeks.
Weeks 4+ There are many factors that affect how long withdrawal symptoms last. Some people have symptoms that last several months.

Top Treatment Centers

Inpatient rehab is a good option for people with severe depression or a drug addiction. Most treatment centers are capable of treating both addiction and depression. Some of the top rehabs in the country that can treat these disorders include:

Questions about treatment?

Call now to be connected with a compassionate treatment specialist.

Find Help Now

There are many reasons people want to stop taking antidepressants. Some people gain weight while taking antidepressants. Some don’t like the idea of relying on a medication to be satisfied with life. Treatment is available for anyone who wants to stop taking antidepressants.

The first step in getting treatment is determining your needs. If antidepressants haven’t worked for you or you have severe depression, it’s worth looking into inpatient treatment. You may require special treatment if you have a co-occurring substance abuse problem.

Our addiction specialists can explain your treatment options. They can even discuss ways to help you pay for treatment. Call us now to get help.