Addiction to Antidepressants: Is it Possible?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 8.4% of adults in the United States has experienced depression. Antidepressant medications are one tool that treatment specialists will use to help combat the symptoms of depression. People may wonder “can I become addicted to antidepressants?”

Our article will discuss the common types of antidepressant medications, their addiction potential, and how to get help if you or a loved one is struggling with co-occurring disorders.

What Are Antidepressants?

The term antidepressant medication refers to several classes of drugs that are used for the treatment of clinical depression or major depressive disorder. They are also used in the treatment of the symptoms of depression that are associated with other psychiatric conditions, such as personality disorders, PTSD, and so forth. These medications have a number of other clinical uses that range from treating anxiety disorders and eating disorders to chronic pain and other conditions.

Major Classes of Antidepressant Medications

There are several major classes of antidepressant medications:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors.
  • Atypical antidepressants.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs represent one of the newer classes of antidepressant medications and are also presently one of the most commonly prescribed of all prescription drugs. SSRIs are believed to work by blocking the reuptake mechanism for the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.

The current theory regarding SSRIs is that they block the reuptake mechanism for serotonin, and this increases the amount of available serotonin in the system. This is believed to relieve the symptoms of depression.

Some commonly recognized SSRIs include:

  • Prozac.
  • Paxil.
  • Zoloft.
  • Lexapro.
  • Celexa.
  • Luvox.

Tricyclic Antidepressants

Tricyclic antidepressants are a class of antidepressants that have a very broad mechanism of action compared to the SSRI medications. These medications were developed in an effort to deal with the potential serious side effects of monoamine oxidase inhibitors.

These medications block the reuptake mechanism for the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and partially for the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Some of the more common tricyclic antidepressants include:

  • Elavil
  • Anafranil
  • Pamelor
  • Norpramin
  • Tofranil

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

MAOIs  are the oldest of the major classes of antidepressant medications. MAOIs interrupt the chemical breakdown of neurotransmitters in the brain, and this is believed to be their action of efficacy regarding the treatment of depression. These medications are no longer the frontline treatment for depression, and they are used sparingly.

Some of the more common MAOIs include:

  • Nardil.
  • Parnate.
  • Emsam.
  • Marplan.

Atypical Antidepressant Medications

There are several other antidepressant medications that target the reuptake of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, or neurotransmitters other than serotonin. Some refer to these as atypical antidepressant medications, because they do not fit into any of the above classes. For example, Cymbalta, Remeron, and Effexor are termed SNRIs (selective norepinephrine and serotonin reuptake inhibitors).

Welbutrin is a medication that blocks the reuptake of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, and it is less likely to cause sexual dysfunction as a side effect. Welbutrin also has the property of increasing energy levels and therefore may be effective for types of depression where lethargy and sleepiness are major concerns. The side effect profiles for these drugs are specific to the drug.

Can Antidepressant Medications Be Abused?

A 2014 review published in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation found some evidence that antidepressant medications were abused by a very small number of people, most of whom had other substance use disorder issues with other drugs and abused antidepressant medications in combination with other drugs of abuse. The actual prevalence of antidepressant medication abuse is unknown at this time; however, it is relatively rare.

Some individuals may become psychologically dependent on their antidepressant medications; however, this dependence does not represent the type of severe addiction observed with drugs of abuse such as alcohol, opiate drugs like heroin, cocaine, etc.

Is It Possible to Become Addicted to Antidepressant Medications?

While it is generally accepted that antidepressant medications are not addictive, they do have the potential to cause withdrawal symptoms when use is suddenly reduced or stopped. Most misuse or abuse of prescription antidepressants generally occurs as a result of polysubstance use.

Symptoms of Withdrawal from Antidepressant Medications

There is a set of symptoms that sometimes appear in individuals who abruptly discontinue using their antidepressant medication called antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (ADS).

The symptoms that are most often associated with withdrawal from antidepressant medications include:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression related symptoms (e.g., mood changes, lethargy, etc.).
  • Irritability.
  • Insomnia.
  • Vivid dreams.
  • Dizziness.
  • Headache.
  • Fatigue.
  • Flu-like symptoms, such muscle ache and chills.
  • Nausea.

Factors Affecting Withdrawal from Antidepressants

There are factors that typically influence the length and severity of the types of symptoms one experiences following discontinuation. These include:

  • The type of drugSome drugs have no effects associated with their abrupt discontinuation and some do.
  • Length of useTypically, the probability of experiencing withdrawal-like symptoms increases the longer one takes a drug.
  • Dosage levelTaking higher dosages of a drug results in higher probabilities of experiencing symptoms when one stops taking it.
  • Speed of discontinuation of useWhen one stops taking a drug altogether suddenly, one will have a higher probability of experiencing symptoms associated with withdrawal as opposed to slowly tapering down the dosage as one discontinues taking it.
  • Individual variability: Different people have different reactions to drugs.

Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment Near Dallas

If you are struggling with depression and a substance use disorder, there is effective help available. The treatment specialists at Greenhouse Treatment Center use evidence-based addiction-focused healthcare to help you get on the road to recovery from co-occurring disorders.

Contact our helpful and knowledgeable admissions navigators at 24/7 to learn more about the different levels of care that we offer at our inpatient rehab in Grand Prairie, TX. Our navigators can answers your questions about what to expect in rehab, how to start the admissions process, and can also give you more information about using your insurance for rehab.

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