Updated on December 1, 2023
8 min read

What are the Signs & Dangers of Zoloft Abuse and Addiction?

At first glance, the prescription drug Zoloft may seem like a harmless solution to treat depression and other mental health issues. However, this powerful medication can also come with serious risks. 

These dangers are especially harmful if you abuse or take Zoloft improperly. Therefore, it's essential to understand how Zoloft abuse occurs and its risks to know all potential red flags before using the drug. 

What is Zoloft?

Zoloft is one of the brand names for the drug sertraline. It’s an antidepressant medication that physicians also prescribe for several mental health disorders.

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Zoloft works by improving mood, thoughts, appetite, sleep, and energy in people suffering from:

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

How Does Zoloft Work?

Zoloft belongs to a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). An SSRI inhibits the reuptake of the brain chemical called serotonin. This stops the re-absorption of serotonin back into brain cells to increase the overall serotonin levels available to interact within the brain.

Many people use Zoloft for its therapeutic effects. This is because it can alleviate unwanted psychiatric symptoms and other adverse effects of therapy or treatment.

Is Zoloft Addictive?

Yes, Zoloft and other SSRI antidepressants can be addictive.  It raises serotonin levels in the brain, making it dependent on the drug to function correctly. This creates Zoloft dependence that can progress to addiction.

The risk of addiction is exceptionally high when users abuse the drug—Zoloft dependence affects about half of the people who receive treatment with SSRIs. Prolonged use may also require higher doses to experience the same effects due to increased tolerance, leading to dependence and addiction. 

However, discontinuing Zoloft abruptly after long-term use can also lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. You must consult your healthcare provider to map out a Zoloft withdrawal timeline to avoid the severe side effects of Zoloft withdrawal.


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What Are The Side Effects of Zoloft?

People who take Zoloft report a wide range of side effects. Some are mild, while others are more serious and 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 (i.e., racing thoughts, increased energy, unusual risk-taking behavior)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite changes
  • Decreased libido
  • Delayed ejaculation
  • Dyspepsia
  • Hypouricemia
  • Insomnia
  • Malaise
  • Paresthesia
  • Tremors
  • Xerostomia

Potential Long-Term Effects of Zoloft Use

While the immediate side effects of Zoloft are well understood, it's equally crucial to acknowledge the potential long-term implications of the drug. Consistent use for years, even when prescribed, can have lasting effects on physical and psychological health.

These effects include:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weight gain
  • Bone fractures
  • Bone loss
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Emotional numbness
  • Addiction
  • Suicidal thoughts

People taking Zoloft need regular check-ups and discussions with their healthcare providers. It’s vital to monitor and address the potential long-term effects of antidepressant medication and ensure their overall well-being.

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What Are The Risks of Zoloft Use?

Zoloft is safe for most people when they take it as prescribed, but it also poses risks.

These risks include:

  • Interactions with alcohol: Combining Zoloft with alcohol exacerbates the latter’s effects, including decreased motor and mental function.
  • Interactions with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): People using MAOIs in the last 14 days shouldn’t take Zoloft since it could lead to developing serotonin syndrome. It’s a dangerous condition that can lead to seizures and death.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea: You shouldn’t take these symptoms lightly, as they put you at high risk for dehydration, a drop in blood pressure, and heart failure.
  • Weight gain: Some Zoloft users report weight gain while taking the medication. Possible causes include fluid retention, insufficient exercise, increased appetite, and other issues.
  • Behavioral changes: These include engaging in manic behaviors and experiencing suicidal thoughts. As such, soldiers returning from war—especially young adults—should avoid Zoloft due to its impact on heightened violence and suicidal behaviors.
  • Physical dependence: Some users report experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon stopping Zoloft, which suggests potential physical dependence.

How Do Users Abuse Zoloft?

The most common form of Zoloft drug abuse is taking the drug in larger or more frequent doses than physicians prescribed. This can cause users to become physically and psychologically dependent on the drug, leading them to experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit. 

Other forms of Zoloft abuse involve mixing it with illegal drugs or alcohol. Some users may even crush and snort the drug to experience a more immediate effect.

What Are 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 Symptoms

Behavioral changes in a Zoloft-addicted person include:

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

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

Physical Symptoms

Other symptoms of Zoloft addiction can manifest physically, such as

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea

Experiencing these addiction symptoms can occur from starting or ending Zoloft use, including gradual tapering. This is why it’s imperative to seek treatment to receive proper Zoloft detox to avoid severe Zoloft withdrawal.

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What Are Zoloft Withdrawal Symptoms?

Abruptly stopping Zoloft use after extended use triggers withdrawal symptoms. Doctors often call it “antidepressant discontinuation syndrome” or “SSRI discontinuation syndrome.” Although they are less severe than other antidepressant side effects, they can still be unpleasant.

One of the most uncomfortable consequences of quitting Zoloft abruptly is the immediate return of original symptoms from major depressive disorders. It may persist for about two or three weeks and include:

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

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

Brain Zaps from Zoloft Use

Zoloft might also trigger a symptom called “brain zaps.” Brain zaps are sensations that feel like an electrical shock that dizziness or pain often accompanies.

These zaps occur due to alterations in the brain’s neurotransmitters. They are a risk that comes with discontinuation of antidepressant medications and can be both frightening and uncomfortable.

How Do You Safely Stop Zoloft Use?

The best way to minimize withdrawal symptoms is to gradually taper using Zoloft. Typically, doctors recommend a minimum of 6 months to taper off the medication.

Doctors can also prescribe medication and supplements to ease the symptoms of withdrawal. This includes milder antidepressants and supplements such as magnesium, melatonin, and glutathione.

What Are Zoloft Addiction Treatment Options?

If you suffer from Zoloft addiction, don’t be afraid to seek help. Different treatment options are available to accommodate where you are in your recovery, such as:


Detoxification is an essential first step in the rehabilitation process. Its primary goal is to remove Zoloft from the user’s body. However, it’s crucial to note that this stage is where the most severe withdrawal symptoms and side effects are usually encountered in this stage.

During Zoloft detox, users should be vigilant about their health, especially regarding excessive vomiting or diarrhea. These conditions can result in dehydration and subsequent drops in blood pressure, potentially leading to heart failure or cardiac arrest. It’s imperative to undergo detox under the close supervision of a medical professional at a reputable rehab center.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people recovering from Zoloft addiction identify triggers and learn new coping skills.

CBT teaches users how to recognize problems in their behavior and how to modify them. It also emphasizes the importance of self-care, setting healthy boundaries, and communicating appropriately.

Support Groups

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) provide a space where people can come together with shared experiences of addiction issues. People in similar situations offer emotional support and practical advice, encouraging members to maintain sobriety.

By joining a support group, people in addiction treatment learn that they’re not alone in their mental health and addiction struggles. This can be the key to staying accountable and committed to recovery.

Aftercare Programs

Finally, aftercare programs are essential to maintain sobriety. These programs provide ongoing support and resources such as psychiatric care, medication management, skills development workshops, and relapse prevention training.

Aftercare caters to the user's needs and goals for recovery. It may involve one-on-one counseling with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or group therapy sessions. 

What Are Alternative Treatments to Zoloft?

For people concerned about the potential side effects or dependency issues related to Zoloft, there are several alternative treatments and therapies available:

  • Other Medications: Other classes of antidepressants, such as SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), and atypical antidepressants, might be more suitable for some people.
  • Psychotherapy: Talk therapy, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can be as effective as medication for many people with depression and anxiety. This approach helps change negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to their symptoms.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and stress-reducing techniques like meditation and deep breathing can significantly impact mental health and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Natural Supplements: Some users find relief from supplements like St. John's Wort, Omega-3 fatty acids, SAMe, and Folate. It is essential to consult a healthcare professional before starting any natural supplement, as they can interact with other medications.


Zoloft is a powerful antidepressant for depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. It’s a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that affects brain chemistry, which can alleviate unwanted side effects of treatment. However, its use comes with risks, such as developing an addiction if you abuse or misuse the drug.

Unfortunately, many people don't recognize the signs of Zoloft addiction. It can range from physical and psychological changes that even become more dangerous with unchecked Zoloft detox.

If you or someone you love is addicted to Zoloft, don’t hesitate to seek help. Treatment for Zoloft addiction can be achieved through inpatient rehabilitation, outpatient rehab, medical detox, and other methods. Professional treatment centers nationwide can provide the care you need to start recovery.

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Updated on December 1, 2023
9 sources cited
Updated on December 1, 2023
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  2. "Antidepressants are addictive and increase the risk of relapse." The BMJ, 2016.
  3. Rosenberg et al. "Sertraline for the treatment of depression in Alzheimer's disease." The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 2011.
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Sertraline.” MedlinePlus, 2022.
  5. Watt et al. "Meta-analysis of the efficacy of treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder." Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2013. 
  6. Brain Zaps: Causes & Treatments For Electrical Shock Sensations.” Mental Health Daily.
  7. Zoloft.” Drugs.com, 2023.
  8. Going off antidepressants” Harvard Health Publishing, 2022.
  9. Cartwright et al. “Long-term antidepressant use: patient perspectives of benefits and adverse effects.” Patient Preference and Adherence, 2016.

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