If you’re currently taking antidepressants, you might be wondering if they’re addictive. And is it possible that you’re misusing them in some way?
To answer these questions, it helps to learn more about what antidepressants are and what effects they can have on people.
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What Are Antidepressants?
To begin, let’s talk a little about depression.
Depression is a mental health disorder that affects, according to the World Health Organization, approximately 5% of adults worldwide. Among many other potential symptoms, depression is usually characterized by lingering sadness and a generalized disengagement from friends, family, and society.
Among the common treatments for depression are medications called antidepressants. (These drugs may be used to treat other disorders as well, including anxiety and insomnia.) Many patients stay on antidepressants for 6 months to a year, although some take them for a longer period.
Most people start feeling relief from the effects of depression after taking antidepressants for at least four weeks.
Approximately 80% of patients experience no side effects from antidepressants, while others have mild symptoms like fatigue, nausea, or some weight gain. Intense side effects are rare.
Also, antidepressants come in different categories. Here are the four main groupings:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – The most common type of antidepressant, SSRIs help the body to improve its flow of serotonin. Serotonin is a messaging chemical that affects mood along with biological processes like digestion and sleep.
- Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) – SNRIs boost the flow of norepinephrine, an important hormone and neurotransmitter, as well as serotonin.
- Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs) – TCAs are older drugs that increase the brain’s supply of serotonin and norepinephrine. They often induce stronger side effects than other antidepressants. Thus, doctors generally prescribe them only when other antidepressants aren’t working effectively.
- Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) – MAOIs suppress monoamine oxidase enzyme activity. This enzyme removes serotonin and norepinephrine from the brain. MAOIs often bring about the most acute withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia and flu-like conditions. These days, it’s somewhat rare for doctors to prescribe MAOIs since they sometimes interact poorly with certain foods and medications.
Are Antidepressants Addictive?
Antidepressants are not addictive in the way opioids, for example, are. That’s because antidepressants don’t incite euphoric sensations.
As a result, people almost never, say, lose their life savings or commit crimes in order to feed an antidepressant addiction.
Nevertheless, it is possible to develop a physical dependence on these drugs. In particular, some patients may keep taking these medications to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Those symptoms could include nausea, shaky hands, or even a recurrence of depression symptoms.
Plus, some patients have something of a psychological dependence on antidepressants. They’re afraid to stop taking them because they fear the depression will return.
Moreover, some people abuse antidepressants. For instance, they might take higher doses than their prescriptions call for because they’re not seeing the results they were expecting. Or, attempting to get high, some people take antidepressants without a prescription.
For sure, any type of drug dependence or abuse is a serious health matter, one that requires a professional evaluation. After all, dependence on one drug frequently leads to experimentation with other drugs and additional addictions.
With that in mind, let’s look at antidepressant addiction and how it can be treated.
Recognizing Antidepressant Addiction or Dependence
The signs of antidepressant addiction, dependence, or abuse include the following:
- Worsening depression
- Increased anxiety
- Thinking or talking obsessively about antidepressants
- Withdrawal from social activities and family life
- Impulsiveness, emotional instability, and irrational decision-making
- A chemical tolerance for the medication (the prescribed dosages stop working)
- Taking higher doses than the prescribed amounts (and then running out of the medication early)
In addition, antidepressant withdrawal symptoms can be telling. Generally speaking — except perhaps with MAOIs — when such symptoms occur, they’re mild. And they last no longer than two weeks — usually no longer than one week.
Therefore, if your withdrawal symptoms are intense or persist for longer than 14 days, it’s wise to seek professional help.
On top of that, doctors sometimes diagnose people as having depression when they don’t. Those misdiagnosed patients could be at a higher risk for antidepressant dependence.
Moreover, antidepressants can be dangerous when they’re combined with other controlled substances. For example, drinking alcohol with these medications can lead to impaired judgement, worsened side effects, and even a deeper depression, among other problems. In rarer instances, it could even lead to an overdose.
Treatment Options for Antidepressant Addiction
If you believe you may be dependent on an antidepressant — perhaps in combination with another controlled substance — it’s crucial to seek help. An excellent addiction treatment center could help you achieve your sobriety goals.
Indeed, a number of treatments are available.
For example, through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), people learn strategies for fighting addiction and altering their thoughts and behavioral patterns. CBT incorporates calming methods and problem-solving skills. And it can boost patients’ self-confidence through role-playing and other interactive techniques, all while helping them deal with their fears and phobias.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), meanwhile, is a form of talk therapy that seeks to make patients more tolerant and mindful on a daily basis. It also helps them regulate their emotions, accept various circumstances in life, and devise strategies for meaningful change.
For its part, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) focuses on, as the name indicates, accepting what happens in life instead of analyzing, evaluating, or trying to change those situations. To foster acceptance, patients undergo therapy and learn mindfulness techniques.
Another possible form of treatment is medication management — which may involve switching to a different drug. Holistic approaches such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, exercise, and nutritional counseling are all options as well.
An important element of addiction and chemical dependency treatment is relapse prevention. To that end, treatment centers usually find ways in which patients can obtain continuing care. Support groups, networks of family and friends, 12-step programs, therapy, and ongoing medication management can all be part of a personalized relapse prevention plan.
Whichever treatment options you receive, know that professional care is so often the key to successful sobriety-related outcomes. Trained, caring experts have helped so many people all over the world overcome addiction. And, when you prioritize your mental health and wellbeing, you could transform virtually any aspect of your life.
For more information about how our specialists could assist you, please contact us at Recreate Life Counseling.
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Signs your antidepressant dose is too high
There are some potential signs that your antidepressant dose may be too high. If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important to consult your healthcare professional. They may adjust your dose or suggest a different medication. Possible signs include:
Increased anxiety or agitation: If you're feeling more anxious, restless, or irritable after starting a new dose, it may be too high.
Sleep disturbances: Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing vivid dreams or nightmares can be a sign.
Rapid or irregular heartbeat: A faster or irregular heartbeat could indicate that the medication is affecting your heart function.
Hypomania or mania: Feelings of euphoria, high energy, racing thoughts, or risky behaviors can be signs of hypomania or mania, which may indicate a dose that's too high.
Increased suicidal thoughts: If your thoughts of self-harm or suicide worsen, contact your healthcare professional immediately.
Nausea or vomiting: Experiencing persistent nausea or vomiting could indicate that your body is not tolerating the dose well.
Dizziness or lightheadedness: Feeling dizzy or lightheaded could be a side effect of a high dose.
Confusion or memory problems: If you're struggling to think clearly, remember things, or concentrate, the dose might be too high.
Tremors or muscle stiffness: Shaking, muscle stiffness, or difficulty controlling movements can be a sign that your dose needs adjusting.
Serotonin syndrome: This is a rare but serious condition caused by high levels of serotonin in the body. Symptoms include agitation, confusion, rapid heartbeat, high fever, sweating, and muscle stiffness.
Again, consult your healthcare professional if you experience any of these symptoms or have concerns about your antidepressant dose. They can help you determine the best course of action.
Signs your antidepressant dose is too low
If you suspect that your antidepressant dose is too low, it's important to discuss your concerns with your healthcare professional. They can help determine if a dose adjustment is necessary. Some possible signs that your dose might be too low include:
Lack of improvement in mood: If you're still experiencing persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or depression, your dose may not be high enough to be effective.
Persistent fatigue or low energy: If you're still feeling constantly tired or lacking the energy to complete daily tasks, it may be a sign that your dose is too low.
Difficulty concentrating: If you're still having trouble focusing or find yourself easily distracted, it could indicate that your dose isn't working optimally.
Ongoing sleep disturbances: If you continue to experience sleep problems, such as trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early, the dose might be insufficient.
Appetite and weight changes: If you're still experiencing a significant change in appetite or weight, it could be a sign that your dose is too low.
Persistent anxiety: If you're still feeling anxious, worried, or tense despite taking your antidepressant, it may indicate that the dose is not high enough.
Continued feelings of worthlessness or guilt: Persistent feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt may suggest that your dose is too low to effectively manage your symptoms.
Lack of interest in activities: If you're still experiencing a loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy, it could be a sign that your dose is too low.
Slow or partial response to treatment: If you've been on the medication for several weeks and have seen only minimal improvement in your symptoms, the dose may need adjusting.
Keep in mind that it can take several weeks for an antidepressant to reach its full effect, so it's important to be patient and communicate with your healthcare professional about your symptoms and progress. They can guide you in finding the most appropriate treatment plan for your situation.