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Updated on July 30, 2021

Zoloft Effects, Addiction, and Treatment

What is Zoloft?

Zoloft, also known in its generic form as sertraline, is an antidepressant medication. It is primarily used to treat depression. However, it is also prescribed for a number of mental health disorders.

Zoloft works by improving mood, thoughts, appetite, sleep, and energy in those diagnosed with:

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Panic disorder (panic attacks)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Zoloft belongs to a class of drugs called SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. In general, SSRIs work by inhibiting the reuptake of the brain chemical called serotonin. More specifically, SSRIs block serotonin transporters.

By blocking transporters, SSRIs stop the reabsorption of serotonin back into brain cells. This, in turn, increases the overall levels of serotonin available to interact within the brain.

Many people find Zoloft to be therapeutic. Studies have shown that Zoloft can alleviate unwanted psychiatric symptoms just as well as other forms of therapy or treatment. But Zoloft has many side effects. Further, there is also a dark side to this drug. Zoloft is addictive.

Side Effects of Zoloft

People who take Zoloft report a wide range of side effects. Some side effects are more moderate while others are more serious, even dangerous. The most common side effects of taking Zoloft include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Diarrhea and loose stools
  • Indigestion
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Violent behavior
  • Mania (racing thoughts, increased energy, unusual risk-taking behavior, etc.)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite changes
  • Decreased libido
  • Delayed ejaculation
  • Dyspepsia
  • Hypouricemia
  • Insomnia
  • Malaise
  • Paresthesia
  • Tremors
  • Xerostomia

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Risks of Zoloft

Zoloft is safe for most people when used as directed, but there are risks associated with it. Do not mix Zoloft with alcohol or medications containing alcohol. This exacerbates the effects of alcohol, including diminishing motor and mental function.

Other risks of Zoloft use include vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms should not be taken lightly, as they put individuals at risk for dehydration, a drop in blood pressure, and even heart failure. Changes in behavior such as engaging in manic behaviors and experiencing suicidal thoughts are also serious.

Antidepressants (such as Zoloft) should not be given to soldiers when they return to war because of the increase in violence and suicidal behaviors. These extreme symptoms are even more likely to present when the individual is a teen/younger adult.

What’s also serious is that sometimes these symptoms and behaviors actually start when someone stops taking Zoloft, which suggests physical dependence.

People who have used MAO inhibitors in the last 14 days should not take Zoloft and do not use MAOIs for at least 14 days after taking Zoloft.

Some Zoloft users report weight gain while taking the medication. This might be caused by fluid retention, not enough exercise, increased appetite, or other issues. Zoloft users concerned about weight gain should speak to their doctors about maintaining a healthy weight.

Is Zoloft Addictive?

Zoloft and other SSRI antidepressants can be addictive in many individuals. This addictiveness affects about half of those treated with SSRIs.

Zoloft raises serotonin levels in the brain. It is altering brain chemistry, which means the brain can become dependent on the drug to be able to function properly. This creates dependency and can lead to addiction. 

Zoloft is also one of the most often abused pharmaceuticals on the market. This is in part because it’s so easy to get. Someone who abuses the drug by overusing it or misusing it has a higher risk of developing an addiction to Zoloft.

Ongoing use also creates a problem. As a person’s tolerance level increases, he or she might need higher doses to achieve the same effect. It can also be a problem if someone uses Zoloft chronically and suddenly stops using it “cold turkey.” He or she might experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. 

The risk of Zoloft addiction is higher when the drug is misused or abused.

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Zoloft Addiction Symptoms

Symptoms of Zoloft addiction are similar to the general side effects of taking Zoloft. These symptoms can be behavioral or physical. Behavioral changes in a Zoloft-addicted individual might include:

  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Mania
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia

These are symptoms of serotonin syndrome that occur because serotonin levels are elevated. A person taking Zoloft who develops serotonin syndrome might experience problems with the autonomic function, rhythmic muscle spasms, and changes in mental status. Serotonin syndrome is potentially fatal.

Other symptoms of Zoloft addiction can present themselves in a more physical manner and include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea

All of these addiction symptoms can occur when someone starts taking Zoloft or when they stop taking Zoloft (even if they are attempting to wean off of the drug). It is for these reasons that seeking treatment is important and potentially life-saving.

Zoloft Withdrawal Symptoms

Abruptly stopping the use of Zoloft after extended use triggers withdrawal symptoms. Doctors view these symptoms as less severe than those that occur with other antidepressants, but they are still unpleasant. One of the most unpleasant side effects of quitting Zoloft quickly is the almost immediate return of the original symptoms (anxiety, depression, etc.). 

Most doctors recommend using Zoloft for at least six months before gradually tapering use.

Withdrawal from Zoloft triggers something known as antidepressant discontinuation symptoms. These last about two or three weeks and include:

  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

You can experience antidepressant discontinuation symptoms after extended Zoloft use even without an addiction. 

Zoloft might also trigger a symptom called “brain zaps.” Brain zaps are a sensation that feels like an electrical shock. There might also be dizziness or pain. Zaps occur when there are alterations in the neurotransmitters in the brain. Brain zaps are a risk associated with discontinuation of antidepressant medications and are frightening and uncomfortable. 

The best way to minimize withdrawal symptoms is to gradually taper the use of Zoloft. Doctors can also prescribe medication and supplements that ease the symptoms of withdrawal. This includes milder antidepressants and supplements such as magnesium, melatonin, and glutathione.

Zoloft Addiction Treatment

If you suffer from Zoloft addiction do not be afraid to seek help. Professional treatment programs are available across the country where inpatient rehabilitation and medical detox can save lives. The first part of the rehabilitation process is detoxification (or detox). This is when an individual clears the Zoloft from their body.

During detox is when symptoms and side effects of Zoloft withdrawal are at their worst. Individuals should be particularly cautious of excessive vomiting or diarrhea, as dehydration and subsequent blood pressure drops can lead to heart failure or cardiac arrest. Therefore, it is important to detox under the supervision of a medical professional at a rehab center.

Treatment options also include outpatient rehab and aftercare programs. These are like stepping stones down the path to sobriety. Start the journey for you or a loved one by seeking medical advice today.

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Resources

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Breggin, Peter R. "Antidepressant-induced suicide, violence, and mania: Risks for military personnel." Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry. 2010, http://truemedmd.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Antidepressant-induced-suicide-Risks-for-military-personnel-Peter-Breggin-2010.pdf

Gøtzsche, Peter C. "Antidepressants are addictive and increase the risk of relapse." Bmj. 2016, https://www.bmj.com/content/352/bmj.i574.full

“National Helpline.” SAMHSA, 6 Nov. 2019, https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Rosenberg, Paul B., et al. "Sertraline for the treatment of depression in Alzheimer disease." The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2842121/

“Sertraline: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a697048.html

Watts, Bradley V., et al. "Meta-analysis of the efficacy of treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder." J Clin Psychiatry. 2013. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/articles/article-pdf/id41029.pdf

“Brain Zaps: Causes & Treatments For Electrical Shock Sensations.” Mental Health Daily, 29 Nov. 2014, mentalhealthdaily.com/2014/11/29/brain-zaps-causes-treatments-for-electrical-shock-sensations/

 “Zoloft.” Drugs.Com, Drugs.com, 2019, www.drugs.com/zoloft.html.

“Is Zoloft Addictive?” Zoloftfacts.Com, 2020, www.zoloftfacts.com/is-zoloft-addictive/

“Withdrawal From Zoloft.” Zoloftfacts.Com, 2014, www.zoloftfacts.com/zoloft-withdrawal/

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