Doctors do not consider antidepressants to be addictive. However, people may experience negative side effects when they stop taking them. These may include problems with mood, thinking, and vision.
Read more to learn about whether antidepressants can be addictive, how they work, and whether people experiencing substance misuse should take them.
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However, if a person suddenly stops taking their prescribed antidepressants, they may experience unwanted effects. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), up to 80% of people who abruptly stop taking them or reduce their dosage too quickly experience discontinuation syndrome or withdrawal symptoms. These typically develop within a few days of stopping the medication and may persist for weeks.
NAMI breaks the symptoms of withdrawal of discontinuation syndrome into several categories:
- mood-related symptoms, such as agitation, low mood, aggression, panic attacks, mood changes, and anxiety
- somatic symptoms, such as unexplained fatigue or sweating, flu-like symptoms, dizziness, and headaches
- sleep-related symptoms, such as insomnia, excessive nightmares, and daydreaming
- digestive symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea
Other symptoms that have associations with discontinuation syndrome and withdrawal
- sensations that feel like jolts or zaps of electricity in the body or brain
- cognitive problems
- muscle tension or pain
- vision problems
- ringing in the ears
- taste changes
To avoid experiencing these effects, the American Psychological Association recommends that people gradually reduce their dose of antidepressant medications over several weeks. They also need to do this under the guidance and supervision of a doctor.
There is also some evidence that individuals seem to develop progressive tolerance to antidepressants. This means that the same dose of a certain medication can become less effective over time, so a person may need to increase their dose or change medication.
Depending on the type of antidepressant, these medications either increase the release or block the reabsorption of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, or in some cases, a mixture of the three.
Many people experience depression and substance misuse simultaneously, as around
A 2019 study looked at the best treatment options for those with both depression and substance misuse disorders. It concluded that antidepressants, in particular selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), were the recommended first-line treatment.
The study authors also recommended forms of psychotherapy in conjunction with antidepressants.
These results mean that if a person is experiencing both conditions, their treatment will be most successful if they receive treatments for them simultaneously — likely with a combination of medication and therapy.
Antidepressants can interact with other medications, such as migraine medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, and some asthma medications.
Taking antidepressants with other psychotropic medications
Some antidepressants can also negatively interact with other medications, such as:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- some asthma medications, such as theophylline
- psychosis and schizophrenia medications, such as clozapine and pimozide
- bipolar disorder and severe depression medications, such as lithium
Some antidepressants may also not be safe for people with certain medical conditions or other demographic factors, such as:
- cardiovascular disease
- seizure disorders
- types of glaucoma
- liver disease
- kidney disease
- type 1 or type 2 diabetes
- bipolar mania
- bleeding disorders
- benign prostate enlargement
- being under the age of 18 years
People taking antidepressants should also avoid consuming alcohol, as it is a central nervous system depressant and can worsen symptoms of depression and cause excessive drowsiness and dizziness. Additionally, those taking antidepressants should avoid using cannabis and illegal substances such as cocaine, heroin, ketamine, and amphetamines.
Additionally, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, a class of antidepressants, can cause serious interactions with some foods, such as:
- cured meats
- aged cheeses
- fermented soy products, such as tofu, soy sauce, miso
Like all medications, antidepressants can cause side effects, and around
Side effects that have links to taking antidepressants include:
- dizziness and unsteadiness
- dry mouth
- sexual problems
- problems sleeping
- nausea and vomiting
- vision problems
- trouble urinating
- weight loss or gain
- increased sweating
- sudden decreases in blood pressure when transitioning from sitting to standing
increase in or new anxiety or depression
- panic attacks
Less common but more severe side effects that have associations with taking antidepressants
- heart issues
- liver damage
- suicidal thoughts or behaviors
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.
According to a 2020 study, around 14% of people with bipolar disorder who take antidepressants experience antidepressant-associated mania within a few days of taking the medications.
A doctor should monitor people who start taking antidepressants, and individuals should seek medical attention as soon as possible if signs they develop signs of mania, such as:
- trouble listening to others or following conversations
- pressured speech, or talking excessively
- being very impulsive, making reckless decisions, or taking unusual risks
- extreme irritability
- excessive or unnecessary spending
- reduced self-care
- trouble focusing
- hypersensitivity to external stimuli
- extreme self-confidence
Antidepressant medications are not addictive, but the body becomes accustomed to them with prolonged use. If a person stops taking them suddenly, they can experience symptoms of withdrawal or antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.
In most cases, doctors recommend antidepressants for individuals experiencing both depression and substance use disorders.