Updated on February 15, 2024
8 min read

Can You Get Addicted to Antidepressants?

Key Takeaways

Are Antidepressants Addictive?

Most antidepressants and anxiolytics (anxiety medication) aren’t addictive but can trigger serious side effects. Common effects include suicidal thoughts, serotonin syndrome, insomnia, and headaches.

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Risk of Dependence on Certain Antidepressants

Most commonly prescribed antidepressants have a low risk of causing dependence. These medications regulate neurotransmitters and are not typically associated with addictive properties. 

Vilazodone and trazodone aren’t considered addictive, but improper or long-term use can lead to dependence. Abrupt discontinuation of antidepressants can also lead to withdrawal symptoms, so gradual tapering under medical supervision is important.

TCAs, MAOIs, and benzodiazepines can have a higher potential for dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Paroxetine, Vilazodone, and duloxetine are three other medications where users report experiencing antidepressant withdrawal syndrome.

Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome

Although uncommon, some people who suddenly stop taking the drug may experience antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. This condition features flu-like symptoms, which appear upon stopping certain antidepressants.

These symptoms include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sleep apnea

The best way to prevent or minimize discontinuation syndrome symptoms is to work with a doctor. Doing so develops a dosing schedule that progressively declines over time.

By gradually reducing the dose over several days or weeks, the brain becomes accustomed to functioning without the medication.

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Can You Overdose on Antidepressants?

Yes, you can overdose on antidepressants, especially if you abuse them. Antidepressant-related drug overdose deaths have steadily risen, increasing from 1,749 in 1999 to 5,269 in 2017. This trend slightly increased to 5,859 deaths in 2021.

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What Does Antidepressant Overdose Look Like?

The typical symptoms of an antidepressant overdose include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Vomiting

Severe symptoms include:

  • Coma
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Respiratory depression
  • Seizures

Seek immediate medical attention if you think you or someone else has overdosed on antidepressants. These signs may progress in severity and even be fatal if left untreated.

Addiction Treatment for Antidepressants

If you believe you or someone else is addicted to antidepressants, help is available. Medical detoxification and specialized treatment programs safely reduce symptoms of an antidepressant addiction.

Treatment typically begins with a comprehensive drug assessment that evaluates current physical health status, mental health, and substance abuse history. 

The evaluation helps professionals determine the best action to manage antidepressant abuse and addiction.

Depending on the severity, treatment may involve a combination of the following:

  • Therapist visits or group counseling sessions
  • Medically assisted detoxification
  • Behavioral therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy
  • Support groups
  • Lifestyle changes, such as exercise and healthy eating habits
  • Medications, such as antidepressants and psychotropic drugs 

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Side Effects of Antidepressants

Common side effects of antidepressants can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Coordination problems
  • Tingling
  • Insomnia
  • Vivid dreams
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Muscle aches

Other less common side effects include:

  • Flu-like symptoms (usually temporary)
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Crying spells
  • Nausea/diarrhea
  • Discontinuation syndrome (withdrawal reaction), which indicates addiction (rare)
  • Reduced blood clotting

Antidepressants can also cause weight changes. People can gain or lose weight due to changes in appetite, metabolism, and eating habits caused by the antidepressant medication. This effect can benefit many people, except those taking antidepressants for eating disorders.

Long-Term Risks of Antidepressants

Antidepressants can effectively treat depression symptoms in the short-term. However, long-term and excessive use can produce adverse effects, including:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feelings of estrangement
  • Low libido and other sexual problems
  • Caring less about others
  • Physical or psychological addiction
  • Emotional numbness
  • Not feeling like yourself, leading to negative thoughts
  • Having a less positive outlook on life

Many people are tempted to cease use as their symptoms ease. However, this can result in rebound symptoms if you stop taking them too soon.

Doctors typically recommend staying on the medication for six to nine months. However, if you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or any of the symptoms above, talk to your clinician about getting off antidepressants safely.

How Do Antidepressants Work?

Antidepressants balance neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain that affect mood and emotions. These medications can help elevate your mood and allow you to sleep better.

Some antidepressants can also increase your appetite and improve concentration. However, if you use antidepressants for months or years, the medication may lose its effects.

The brain becomes less responsive to the medication due to drug tolerance. If tolerance occurs, you'll either need to switch medications or increase the dosage of your current antidepressant.

The risk of discontinuation syndrome increases as your body becomes more dependent on the medication, leading to mild addiction.

Types of Antidepressants

Different types of antidepressants target brain neurotransmitters to help alleviate symptoms and improve mental well-being, including:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are the most widely prescribed antidepressants for treating moderate to severe depression. They increase serotonin levels in the brain without significantly affecting norepinephrine levels.

Norepinephrine is a natural chemical that acts as a stress hormone and neurotransmitter. This chemical plays a significant role in mood regulation, alertness, and attention and helps improve energy and attentiveness. 

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRI antidepressants work by increasing the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. These neurotransmitters improve mood, increase energy, and regulate pain perception.

SNRIs effectively address the following:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Chronic pain, particularly nerve-related pain

While SNRIs are intended to be a more effective antidepressant than SSRIs, it’s still uncertain whether they are more effective in treating depression. People's responses vary, some finding SSRIs more beneficial and others favoring SNRIs.

Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (NRIs)

NRIs boost the levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine in the brain. They achieve this by preventing its reabsorption in the spaces between nerve cells.

Unlike other medications, NRIs specifically target norepinephrine reuptake. They don't significantly affect other neurotransmitters.

Physicians commonly prescribe them for treating:

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Major depression
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Pain relief
  • Panic disorder and anxiety disorder (off-label)

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) 

MAOIs are a class of antidepressants that have been in use since the mid-1900s. They were among the first drugs developed to treat depression symptoms.

These prescription medications target neurotransmitters and modulate the brain's chemistry to address the underlying causes of depression. But while effective, physicians prescribe SSRIs more since they have fewer side effects. 

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs) 

TCAs ensure an abundant supply of serotonin and norepinephrine in your brain. They play a significant role in influencing your mood. Similar to MAOIs, TCAs emerged in the 1950s to treat major depressive disorder.

Among these classes of antidepressants, SSRIs are the most popular. They have fewer side effects, less drug interactions, and lower suicide rates than MAOIs and TCAs.

Antidepressants and Chronic Pain

Antidepressant medications for chronic pain can also benefit those without depression. These medications target brain chemicals involved in pain relief, like serotonin.

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), have been identified as the most effective option. They're helpful in various pain conditions, including:

  • Back pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Knee osteoarthritis
  • Nerve pain
  • Postoperative pain 

Antidepressants List (Common Medications)

Commonly prescribed antidepressants include:

FAQs

Can You Crush Antidepressants?

The answer depends on the type of antidepressant you're taking. Never crush an extended-release pill, as this can cause dangerous medication levels to release immediately.

Likewise, some antidepressants should not be split in half, as the coating may affect absorption. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist before crushing any pills.

Is It Dangerous to Stop Taking Antidepressants Abruptly?

Yes, abruptly stopping an antidepressant can produce withdrawal or discontinuation symptoms. To prevent these symptoms from occurring or worsening, work with your doctor to develop a tapering schedule. 

Can You Take Antidepressants Without Seeing a Doctor?

Never take any prescription drugs without consulting a medical professional first. Your doctor can determine if antidepressants are right for you and which medication is best. 

Furthermore, the doctor can provide critical safety information regarding use, side effects, and contraindications. 

Which Antidepressant is Most Addictive?

Antidepressants generally don't pose a significant risk of addiction, except for tranylcypromine and amineptine. If you have a history of substance abuse disorders, it's best to avoid these specific medications.

Are Antidepressants a Stimulant or Depressants?

Antidepressants are neither stimulants nor depressants. They’re categorized as psychotherapeutic agents because they work with the brain's chemistry to alleviate depression or anxiety symptoms. Specifically, they increase serotonin and norepinephrine in the nerve synapses of the brain.

How Long Does It Take for Antidepressants to Work?

It can take one to two weeks for antidepressants to start working. Take them as prescribed to improve their effects, and don't skip doses. Changing medications or adjusting doses may be necessary to find the best outcome.

Summary

Antidepressants are psychotherapeutic agents that treat depression and anxiety. While most of these medications aren't addictive, users should be cautious, as they can lead to dependence or cause serious side effects or discontinuation symptoms.

If you think you or someone else is showing signs of antidepressant abuse, seek help from a health professional. Addiction treatment involves therapy, lifestyle changes, and medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Work with your doctor to determine the best treatment course for antidepressant addiction. They can provide safety information and suggest a tapering schedule that decreases dosages over time.

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Updated on February 15, 2024
11 sources cited
Updated on February 15, 2024
  1. Ashford, J. “Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease: Trazodone, Sleep, Serotonin, Norepinephrine, and Future Directions.” Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 2019.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Trazodone/Gabapentin Fixed Dose Combination Products in Painful Diabetic Neuropathy.” National Library of Medicine, 2021.
  3. Francescangeli et al. “The Serotonin Syndrome: From Molecular Mechanisms to Clinical Practice.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2019.
  4. Harvard Medical School. What Are the Real Risks of Antidepressants?” Harvard Health Publishing, 2019.
  5. Strawn et al. “Pharmacotherapy For Generalized Anxiety Disorder In Adult And Pediatric Patients: An Evidence-Based Treatment Review.” Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy, 2018.
  6. Shin, J.J., and Saadabadi, A. “Trazodone.” StatPearls Publishing, 2022.
  7. Pragma Pharmaceuticals, LLC. “HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESCRIBING INFORMATION: Desyrel (trazodone hydrochloride).” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2017.
  8. Gabriel, M., and Sharma, V. “Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.” Canadian Medical Association Journal (Journal De L’association Medicale Canadienne), 2017.
  9. Solan, M. “Which antidepressants are best for treating chronic pain?” Harvard Health, 2023.
  10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Drug Overdose Death Rates.” National Institutes of Health, 2023.
  11. Haddad, P. “Do antidepressants have any potential to cause addiction?” Journal of Psychopharmacology, 1999.

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