Antidepressants are medications prescribed if you have depression. They are actually the most prescribed medications in the United States. Two commonly used types of antidepressants are known as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) and SNRIs (Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors).
Here are some commonly prescribed antidepressants:
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
SSRIs and SNRIs help balance the chemistry of the brain, helping elevate your mood. Antidepressants don’t kick in immediately, though. Instead, they accumulate in the brain, and you will feel the mood-improving effects over time.
For many doctors, antidepressants are not considered addictive drugs. They do not produce feelings of euphoria or drug-seeking behavior. Also, since their effects are not immediately felt, it’s much harder to get a kick out of them.
While antidepressants are not technically addictive, they can still produce physical dependence. Also, these drugs can be abused along with other substances.
Addiction vs. dependence
Before going into how you can become dependent on antidepressants, it’s good to look at the difference between dependence and addiction.
If you are dependent on a substance, it does not mean you are addicted already. In the case of antidepressants, these drugs can produce withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. Withdrawal can get pretty stressful and painful, so the symptoms can compel you to take antidepressants again. You can still control your intake, though. You only have the urge to take more of the drugs when the withdrawal symptoms get really bad.
Addiction, however, is a different story. When you have a substance addiction, you no longer have control over the urge to take more drugs. Even if you want to quit, you would often find yourself unable to quit. Drug cravings and drug seeking behavior have controlled your life, and you can no longer function normally without them.
Addiction also changes many parts of your life aside from your physical body. For one, it affects your social life too. Spending time with family and friends becomes less pleasant, so you may decline invitations more often, in favor of taking drugs. You could also be ditching personal responsibilities to make more time for drugs. Addiction will also take a toll on your performance at work or in school.
Can antidepressants be abused?
While antidepressants are not addictive drugs, they can still be abused. This is not limited to recreational use; people on prescription can also abuse these drugs.
Antidepressant abuse often begins with taking higher doses than what’s prescribed. Let’s say you’re on antidepressant medications. One day, you feel as if they are not working as well as they should. To get a better effect, you take a higher dose, which works for a while. Later on, when you go back to your prescribed dose, you feel as if there is no effect at all.
At this point, your body has developed a tolerance for the drug. You then need to take a higher dose to get the same effects as when you first took it. If you’re not careful, tolerance can build up, forcing you to take ever higher doses of the antidepressant for it to take effect on you.
Once it’s time to stop taking the drug, you will then get withdrawal symptoms. That makes it hard to stop taking antidepressants. If you’ve reached this point, dependence has formed.
In a lot of cases, doctors have incorrectly diagnosed depression. In turn, they prescribed antidepressants to patients who didn’t actually need them. Based on a study, nearly two thirds of depression patients were misdiagnosed and given unneeded antidepressant medications. These people also become vulnerable to dependence on the drugs.
What are the symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal?
If you have become dependent on antidepressants, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly stop taking them. Some of these symptoms are:
- Vivid dreams
- Feeling electric shocks on your body
- Flu-like symptoms (like muscle pains and chills)
- Returning symptoms of depression
In some cases, withdrawal symptoms may show up even if you haven’t developed a dependence on antidepressants. To avoid this, talk to your doctor before stopping your intake.
Your doctor may recommend “tapering off” your dose. In other words, you will take smaller and smaller doses over several weeks. This allows your body to adjust to the medication going away. Other times, your doctor may prescribe another type of medication to ease withdrawal.
Why are antidepressants considered not addictive?
Antidepressants have a cumulative effect. In other words, they don’t immediately kick in. Instead, it can take weeks to a month for you to feel the mood-elevating effects. For that reason, it is not addictive like other substances, which have immediate effects.
Also, antidepressants do not produce feelings of euphoria, which is the exact thing that most users seek. They also do not give you intense drug cravings or drug seeking behavior.
What if I take too much antidepressants?
If you take a high enough dose of antidepressants, you are at an increased risk of experiencing a seizure. If you take too much at once, you may overdose on the drug.
The symptoms of an antidepressant overdose include:
- Impaired coordination
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Irregular heartbeat
If you or someone close to you experiences these symptoms, call for medical help immediately.
Why do some people take other substances along with antidepressants?
Since antidepressants take time to kick in, some people can’t wait for the drug to take effect. With that, some of them self-medicate with other substances like opioids. Some even take marijuana or drink alcohol while taking their medications.
Alcohol is a common substance combined with antidepressants. If you take both together, it may cause:
- Intense sedation
- Dangerously high blood pressure
- Impaired coordination
- Worse symptoms of depression or anxiety
What can I do if I have abused antidepressants?
The best way to quit antidepressant use is with medical help. Talk to your doctor so he can help you get off the medications safely.