Are Antidepressants Addictive?

According to the CDC, about one in six adults will experience depression at some point in their lives. Depression often goes hand in hand with other mental illnesses, like anxiety and substance use disorders.

Fortunately, depression is treatable. Many people choose to treat their depression through therapies, lifestyle changes, or medications like antidepressants. No matter how you treat your depression, it’s important to prioritize your health, remember that mental illness is treatable, consult your doctor, and be diligent about seeking help.

About 16 million American adults are diagnosed with depression every year, and many people with diagnosed depression take antidepressants. Antidepressants can help treat other conditions as well, like:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Eating disorders

If you’re already on antidepressants or are considering taking them, it’s common to wonder about their benefits and risks, like whether antidepressants are addictive.

What Are Antidepressants?

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common type of antidepressants. They work by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is associated with well-being, emotional stabilization, and general happiness. SSRIs include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
  • Citalopram (Celexa)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)

Most people first start taking their prescriptions at the lowest dose. It can take several weeks to notice your symptoms improving. Expect anywhere from four to six weeks of treatment to first see changes.

There are different side effects associated with each SSRI medication, but some common side effects include:

  • Insomnia
  • Skin rashes
  • Headaches
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Slightly increased risk for internal bleeding
  • Diminished sexual interest, desire, performance, and/or satisfaction

If the side effects of the SSRI you are taking feel severe, talk to your doctor. You may need to try a different medication or decrease your dosage. In rare cases, some people experience suicidal thoughts. If this occurs, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) immediately.

Don’t stop taking antidepressants without seeking professional instruction first. As you begin taking antidepressants, you might feel worse for a while before you feel better. This doesn’t mean the medication isn’t working; you may just need time to adjust.

Are Antidepressants Addictive?

No, antidepressants aren’t addictive. You can’t get high on antidepressants, nor can you build a physical tolerance to them, like you would to other addictive drugs.

If you suddenly stop taking your antidepressants, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. These could lead you to believe that you’re addicted to your medication. But doctors call these physical and emotional effects “discontinuation symptoms.” Well-known discontinuation symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Loss of coordination
  • Tingling
  • Burning
  • Blurred vision
  • Insomnia
  • Vivid dreams

Less common discontinuation symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Crying spells

These symptoms aren’t typically severe or dangerous. Most people experience only a few discontinuation symptoms—if any at all. To avoid them, don’t skip your antidepressants, and don’t stop taking them abruptly. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions on how to take them safely.

Alternatives to Antidepressants

Antidepressants aren’t for everyone. If you’re not comfortable taking them or they haven’t worked for you, that’s okay. You have options for depression treatment, and you can find what works best for you.

Many people benefit from psychotherapy for depression. Therapy provides a safe place to explore your innermost thoughts and feelings. Additionally, therapy can help you with:

  • Understanding your depression triggers
  • Learning and implementing healthy coping skills
  • Crisis management related to suicidal or self-harm thoughts
  • Social skills
  • Self-esteem
  • Trauma
  • Family dynamics
  • Other co-occurring mental illnesses, like anxiety

Some people go to psychotherapy and take antidepressants. Others choose one method over another. All treatment is flexible; your needs may change over time, and that’s normal.

Some people have success integrating holistic treatments for depression like:

  • Acupuncture
  • Exercise
  • Massage therapies
  • Chiropractic care
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Vitamins
  • Medicinal teas
  • Herbs
  • Essential oils.
  • Yoga
  • Ayurveda

These alternatives are sometimes combined to promote an overall healthy lifestyle. Some of these tools and techniques are used as preventative measures. There is no way to guarantee you won’t experience depression or other mental illnesses. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle sets most people up to better manage their conditions.

Some other preventative measures that can also help manage your depression include:

  • Getting regular sleep
  • Regularly exercising
  • Eating a balanced, healthy diet
  • Mind-body techniques
  • Biofeedback (a process where you’re connected to electrical sensors that help you receive information about your body and then make subtle changes, like relaxing certain muscles, to get the results you want)
  • Meditation
  • Tai chi
  • Journaling

No matter your treatment plan, your priority should be finding help to treat your mental illness. At times, this may be a process of trial-and-error, but don’t let a fear of whether antidepressants are addictive stand in your way. Acknowledging the need to do something is the first step. Next, speak to a doctor or therapist. Depression is treatable. You deserve to explore the options available to you.

References:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/depression-anxiety.html
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-are-the-real-risks-of-antidepressants
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/alternative-medicine-for-depression
  4. https://www.stlukes-stl.com/health-content/medicine/33/000047.htm

Sierra Gabrys

Sierra Gabrys, M.Ed., LCPC, NCC, CCM, enjoys exercise and fitness and feels her best when she's staying active and caring for herself. She loves watching patients make progress in their treatment and supporting them and the treatment team through their journeys.

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