Antidepressants are used to treat moderate to severe depression. They are some of the most prescribed medications in the U.S.—around 13% of Americans take them.
Doctors also prescribe antidepressants to treat obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalized anxiety disorder.
The two most prescribed forms are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and serotonin and norepinephrine inhibitors (SNRIs). SSRIs work by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. SNRIs work by changing how the brain absorbs serotonin and norepinephrine.
Most antidepressants are taken in pill or capsule form. Common medications include:
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
Most people who take antidepressants have a prescription. But some people try to abuse them by crushing and snorting the pills (especially Wellbutrin). This has little effect, however, because antidepressants do not produce the euphoric effects of drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.
Are Antidepressants Addictive?
Antidepressants are not considered addictive in the traditional sense. They don’t cause cravings or drive people to keep using them despite negative consequences—the hallmarks of addiction.
But it is possible to become chemically dependent on antidepressants.
This can happen whether a person takes the medication exactly as prescribed or intentionally misuses or abuses it. And since depression misdiagnosis is very common, many people are taking antidepressants they don’t need—and some will develop a chemical dependency.
The Difference Between Addiction and Dependence
Addiction (or substance use disorder) is classified as a mental illness. It’s what drives someone to use a substance even when it causes problems in their life.
Dependence is when a person develops a tolerance to a drug and experiences withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it.
A person can be addicted to something without being physically dependent, and vice versa.
For example, someone with chronic pain might be physically dependent on a pain medication—meaning they experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it—even though they take the medication as prescribed.
Conversely, someone might have an alcohol use disorder—meaning they compulsively drink despite negative consequences—without experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking.
Antidepressants are not generally considered addictive, but longer-term use can lead to dependence.
Combining Antidepressants with Other Drugs
As with all prescription drugs, antidepressants come with risks. In general, the benefits outweigh the risks.
But since antidepressants don’t always work right away, some people turn to other drugs, such as alcohol, marijuana, or opioids to get relief.
Yet, mixing antidepressants with other substances can be dangerous. The possible side effects can include:
- Worsened depression or anxiety
- Intense sedation
- Dangerously high blood pressure
- Impaired coordination
Antidepressant Withdrawal Symptoms
Research shows that more than half of all people who stop taking antidepressants will experience withdrawal symptoms. And of those who do experience withdrawal symptoms, half describe their symptoms as “severe.” Antidepressant withdrawal symptoms can include:
- General malaise
- Numbness or tingling
- Rebound depression
- Suicidal thoughts
Quitting antidepressants suddenly can be dangerous. Talk to a doctor or seek out a reputable addiction treatment provider for help with antidepressant recovery.
Effects of Antidepressant Abuse
Doctors sometimes prescribe antidepressants as a safer alternative to benzodiazepines (such as Ativan, Xanax, or Valium) to help treat anxiety disorders. Since they don’t produce euphoric effects like benzodiazepines, doctors believe antidepressants have less potential for abuse.
Still, some people will try to abuse antidepressant medications to achieve a psycho-stimulant effect—in other words, to get high. This only makes the medication less effective, and it can be dangerous. Antidepressant users may end up increasing their doses when they don’t get relief from what was initially prescribed.
Taking large doses of antidepressants can increase the likelihood of seizures, overdose, and other health complications. Signs of overdose can include any or all the following:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Impaired coordination
- Uncontrollable shaking
If you experience any of these symptoms while taking antidepressant medications, get medical help right away.
Co-Occurring Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
Depression and substance use disorders often occur together. This is sometimes called dual diagnosis.
Around half of people who have a mental health disorder also deal with a substance use disorder at some point in their lives, and vice versa. Each condition can worsen the symptoms of the other.
There are several possible reasons substance use disorders and mental disorders occur together, including genes, stress, and trauma.
A person may turn to alcohol or drugs to mask their depression symptoms. For others, using substances triggers the onset of depression or anxiety.
If you are struggling with a mental health disorder and substance addiction, it’s vital to get help for both conditions. For treatment to be effective, you need to stop using drugs or alcohol.
Treatment for co-occurring mental disorders and substance addiction usually includes a combination of medication management, cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, and one-on-one counseling with a trained therapist.
Always seek treatment from a reputable provider qualified to deliver medical care along with addiction counseling.
Treatment for Antidepressant Addiction
Our inpatient residential program offers round-the-clock care by experienced clinicians, addiction experts, and therapists. Our treatment programs are tailored to your needs and typically run from 4-12 weeks.
Our experienced team will work with you to determine the right level of care for your needs. Clients in our specialized treatment program benefit from:
- On-site medical experts and trained therapists
- Medication management by experienced clinicians
- Luxury accommodations and amenities with ocean views
Our beautiful treatment center in Corona del Mar is the ideal place for healing and recovery. We’ve thoughtfully designed our Southern California inpatient drug rehab programs to feel like home away from home.
Call us to learn more about our antidepressant rehab program and for a tour of our Orange County antidepressant treatment center.