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Updated on December 6, 2022

Lexapro

What is Lexapro (Escitalopram)? 

Lexapro, the branded name for the drug escitalopram, is an antidepressant that treats mental health conditions, such as:

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD) — a condition where you experience persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) — a condition where you experience recurring anxiety.
  • Bipolar disorder — a disorder that causes extreme mood swings.
  • Panic disorder ⁠— an anxiety disorder where you experience regular panic attacks or sudden bouts of fear

Lexapro is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Serotonin is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters. It’s responsible for several body functions, including mood stabilization.

Lexapro can increase serotonin levels in the brain. Doctors typically prescribe it in 5, 10, or 20 milligrams (mg) doses.

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Is Lexapro Addictive? 

The potential for abuse and addiction from taking Lexapro has not been studied extensively. Currently, the FDA reports that it is not physically addictive.

However, if you’ve been using Lexapro for a long time, your body can get used to the drug. If you struggle with anxiety or depression, you may become psychologically addicted to the drug.

Psychological addiction can lead to dependency. It can make you think you need to take bigger doses of the drug to feel normal.

Lexapro Addiction Symptoms

When your body gets used to Lexapro, you can potentially experience withdrawal-like symptoms such as:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Nightmares
  • General feelings of uneasiness
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Lethargy
  • Paresthesias (tingling or prickling sensation on the skin)

These symptoms are most likely to occur after quitting “cold turkey” or abruptly.

How to Quit Lexapro

The safest method of discontinuing the use of Lexapro is under direct medical supervision. The mental health conditions treated by the drug are serious and require continued treatment. 

Tapering is also an effective method for preventing severe withdrawal symptoms. It involves gradually decreasing the dosage of the drug. Doing this prevents shock to your body’s system.

Side Effects of Lexapro

The most common effect of Lexapro is an improvement in mood. However, it’s still possible to experience side effects.

Common side effects include:

  • Decreased energy levels
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Decreased sex drive(difficulty with orgasm, loss of interest in sexual intercourse)
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Heartburn
  • Eye pain

It is important to continue taking Lexapro even if you feel well to maintain a steady state and properly treat your mental illness.

How Long Do Side Effects Last?

These side effects will improve after the first week or two of treatment. SSRIs take four to five weeks to reach a steady state. This state is when you will get the full benefits from the drug.

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Risks of Lexapro

SSRIs, including Lexapro, are generally safe for most people. However, you should be aware of certain risks associated with taking Lexapro. 

These risks include: 

  • An increased risk of suicide 
  • Serotonin syndrome 
  • Hyponatremia 

Lexapro can increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding when taken with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Avoid taking Lexapro alongside drugs like warfarin, aspirin, or other blood thinners.

What is Serotonin Syndrome?

Serotonin syndrome is the result of combining two medications that increase serotonin levels. 

This is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by having too much serotonin in your body. Examples of medications that can cause serotonin syndrome include: 

  • Fentanyl 
  • Other antidepressants 
  • St. John’s wort herbal supplement
  • Amphetamines

Signs of serotonin syndrome include:

  • Sweating
  • High fever
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Dangerous changes in blood pressure
  • Lack of coordination
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Coma
  • Diarrhea

If you have any of these symptoms, contact emergency medical services immediately. 

What is Hyponatremia?

Hyponatremia is a condition that occurs when the concentration of sodium in your blood is too low. SSRIs, such as Lexapro, interfere with the kidneys and normal hormonal processes in the brain, resulting in an electrolyte imbalance.

Signs of hyponatremia include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Memory impairment
  • Confusion
  • Muscle stiffness, cramps, spasms, or weakness
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating

In severe cases, hyponatremia results in hallucinations, respiratory arrest, and death. If you experience any of the above symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Drug Interactions

Combining Lexapro with other antidepressants, particularly monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), should be avoided to prevent serious side effects. 

If you discontinue using Lexapro, you must wait five weeks before taking an MAOI. If you discontinue MAOIs, you must wait two weeks before taking Lexapro.

Serious side effects can occur if the use of the two drugs overlaps, including:

  • Agitation or irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures or severe convulsions
  • Confusion
  • High body temperature
  • Stomach or intestinal problems
  • Extremely high blood pressure

You should also avoid drinking alcohol while taking Lexapro. Alcohol can worsen depression symptoms, which can be dangerous if you take Lexapro to treat it.

Due to these effects, it is best to talk with your doctor about your history of depression and alcohol use beforehand.

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Lexapro Abuse Treatment

Current research suggests that Lexapro is not addictive. Therefore, there is little information on treatment and few resources available. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about possible addiction and have a history of drug abuse.

Different SSRIs are available to treat various mental health conditions, and switching medication may help. Some examples of other medications include Celexa and Zoloft.

Summary

Lexapro, or escitalopram, is an antidepressant that treats mental health conditions. Although it isn’t addictive, your body can get used to the drug.

When your body becomes used to Lexapro, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Seek medical attention if this happens.

Although Lexapro is generally safe for use, some risks are still involved. Talk to your doctor before using Lexapro.

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