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Are Antidepressants Addictive?

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Antidepressant addiction is fairly rare, but antidepressant abuse is less so. There are so many commonly prescribed antidepressants, and antidepressant use is so common that it’s not surprising to see that so many people suffer from physical dependence on these drugs.

Below, we’ll discuss addiction treatment for patients who have been taking antidepressants more often than necessary and also what to do when you experience withdrawal symptoms.

What Are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are medications used to treat depression and certain components of some types of mood disorders (like bipolar disorder) or mental illness. Typically, these antidepressants take the form of tablets and capsules to be consumed orally.

Some of the most common types of antidepressants include SSRIs, like the following:

  • fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • paroxetine (Paxil)
  • sertraline (Zoloft)
  • citalopram (Celexa)
  • escitalopram (Lexapro)

You may also encounter SNRIs, such as:

  • duloxetine (Cymbalta)
  • venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
  • desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
  • levomilnacipran (Fetzima)

Tricyclic depressants are slowly becoming less common, and they have a higher risk of antidepressant dependence. However, you may encounter drugs like these:

  • imipramine
  • nortriptyline (Pamelor)
  • amitriptyline
  • doxepin
  • desipramine (Norpramin)

Naturally, there are many other types of antidepressants as well.

What Do Antidepressants Treat?

Antidepressants have a far broader range of uses than people realize. Antidepressants treat depression naturally, but they may also be prescribed to treat the following:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorders and Panic Attacks
  • Debilitating Phobias, such as Agoraphobia
  • Bulimia
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Because antidepressants are some of the most commonly prescribed controlled substances in the United States, many people with mental health problems are taking antidepressants. This means that a significant portion of the population is vulnerable to dependence on these drugs.

It also increases the chances of people experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they no longer want to take the drug. For this reason, it’s best never to go off your prescribed medication without consulting a physician.

How do Antidepressant Medications Work?

Antidepressant medications work by increasing the activity and presence of neurotransmitters. These chemicals are your body’s messengers and help relay emotions and feelings.

Some mood disorders, mental illnesses, and mental health disorders are the result of a lack of certain neurotransmitters. Antidepressants work on a wide range of disorders, including bipolar disorder, other mental illnesses, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Different types of antidepressant medications target different neurotransmitters.

  • In the case of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), the medications target Serotonin
  • Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) target both Serotonin and Norepinephrine.
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors, the original antidepressants, inhibit the activity of either or both monoamine oxidase enzymes.
  • Noradrenaline Reuptake inhibitors target Noradrenaline.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants target a range of different neurotransmitters.

Because antidepressants build up in your body over time and affect your brain chemistry, your body can quickly grow accustomed to using them. This means that antidepressant withdrawal is a very real risk if you need to go off the medication for any reason.

Is it Possible to Abuse Antidepressants?

While abusing antidepressants isn’t nearly as common as with other drugs (like benzodiazepines), it certainly does happen. Antidepressant medications have a very specific purpose, which means they don’t give the same buzz as drugs like Meth or cocaine do.

You absolutely cannot get high from using antidepressants. This is one of the reasons doctors use them to treat mental illness and other problems related to the serotonin receptors. There’s also some evidence that antidepressants might be useful for treating chronic neuropathic pain.

Most antidepressants work by building up in the brain over time to alter the brain chemistry and help control the symptoms of depression. However, some patients think that because their antidepressants make them feel better, taking more of the medication will get them high. This is simply not possible.

As with most medications, the people who use them typically develop a tolerance for the medication over time. This means that, sooner or later, the medication will lose efficiency. At this point, many people start taking more of the drug in an attempt to feel as good as the medication once made them feel.

These are the two primary ways that antidepressant abuse happens: either on purpose in an attempt to get high or accidentally in an attempt to self-regulate. No matter which is the case, addiction to antidepressants is essentially impossible.

Antidepressants Addiction Vs. Dependence

Many people use the terms drug addiction and drug dependence interchangeably. However, these two terms have vastly different connotations and meanings.

Antidepressant addiction is essentially unheard of. In the case of antidepressant addiction and abuse, there are many more factors than simple dependence. Substance use disorder generally has a range of accompanying factors. People who fall victim to antidepressant drug abuse may also abuse other medications or alcohol.

Though antidepressants aren’t typically a severe risk for addiction, people with mental health conditions often abuse other substances as well.

Addiction is characterized by behaviors like:

  • Inability to control drug use
  • Compulsively taking medications
  • Continuing to use medications even if they have harmful effects

Antidepressant dependence is far more common and happens when someone’s body becomes so attuned to antidepressant use that it struggles to cope without them. In the case of dependence, the patient may suffer discomfort if they abruptly stop taking the medications. However, they can usually be weaned off the medication with relatively few side effects.

Can Patients Suffer From Withdrawal When They Stop Using Antidepressant Medications?

Doctors generally don’t consider antidepressant medication to be addictive. However, prescribed antidepressants can become such an integral part of users’ lives that they can become physically dependent on them.

In these cases, yes, patients can absolutely suffer from withdrawal when they stop using their prescription medications for depression.

What Are the Symptoms of Withdrawal From Prescribed Antidepressants?

The withdrawal period when people stop taking antidepressant drugs may encompass a wide range of symptoms. A few of these include the following:

  • Hand tremors
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depression
  • Vertigo
  • Symptoms mimicking flu
  • Stomach cramps
  • Unusual dreams
  • Sensory disturbances or hallucinations

Can You Overdose on Antidepressants?

While antidepressant abuse isn’t common, and antidepressant addiction is rare, overdose is possible. Antidepressant overdose is highly variable, and the symptoms range from relatively mild to severe.

Some of the symptoms of overdosing on antidepressants include the following:

  • Heart rhythm abnormalities like tachycardia, bradycardia, and arrhythmia.
  • Low blood pressure
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Stiff or twitching muscles
  • Confusion
  • Blurred Vision
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • Breathing problems

Co-Addictions With Antidepressants

People who suffer from depression and other forms of mental illness are susceptible to addictions. Often, a person who doesn’t understand how these drugs work will try to take higher doses or mix them with other antidepressants in an attempt to lift said person’s mood further.

When that doesn’t work, many people (especially young adults) will turn to a different substance with a much higher risk of addiction. This is because people with chemical imbalances in their brains often struggle with impaired control when it comes to using things that make them feel euphoric or happy.

One of the most common types of substance abuse that occurs alongside antidepressant abuse is alcohol. Unfortunately, this can be a somewhat devastating combination. Mixing antidepressants with alcohol can lead to a range of worsened symptoms, including the following:

  • It can worsen the sedative effects of SSRIs
  • It can exacerbate the side effects of tricyclic antidepressants (tiredness and lack of coordination)
  • Alongside MAOIs, alcohol can have disastrous consequences, including sudden hypertension as well as worsened depression and anxiety.
  • General potential side effects include:
    • Loss of coordination
    • Confusion
    • Fatigue
    • Hypertension or Hypotension

Unfortunately, the results of mixing the two substances are not the only problem. Patients on antidepressants are often prone to alcoholism. In this case, alcohol addiction rehabilitation is a necessity, and patients should seek medical help as soon as possible.

Other drugs that are commonly abused by people on antidepressants include the following:

Essentially, any substance that could potentially cause a surge of endorphins and Serotonin is a risk for addiction and abuse where sufferers of depression are concerned.

Antidepressant Addiction Treatment

As mentioned, it’s not possible to get addicted to antidepressants. Studies have not found antidepressants addictive, but dependence may require treatment sometimes.

In these cases, it’s best to go to an addiction treatment provider where medical supervision is available. Because the withdrawal period can have so many negative symptoms, it’s best to be sure that you have support to help you deal with the results.

If you’ve become dependent on taking antidepressants, it might be time to consider attending medical detox. It’s an excellent way to get the help you need while ensuring that your health and safety are taken care of.

In the case of severe depression, support groups can be helpful. This is true not only in terms of dealing with the depression itself but any addictions that are rooted in it.

Whether you’d like to learn more about how we offer dual addiction treatment, deal with mental health problems, or about the services we offer, check out The Dawn Rehab. Based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we offer a peaceful home away from home where we can help you face your problems.

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