According to the World Health Organization, depression affects about 350 million people of all ages across the globe. With the rising numbers of depression cases being reported every day, the use of antidepressants has grown common.

Although designed to treat depression and other mood disorders, antidepressants may bring along certain side effects and risk factors. Taking these medications over a prolonged period of time without proper medical supervision, medical treatment, and regular medical evaluations conducted by trained professionals may possibly lead to drug dependency or addiction.

What Antidepressants Really Are

Addiction to AntidepressantsAntidepressants are medications prescribed by physicians for treating moderate to severe depression. The most common form of antidepressants is Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).

SSRIs help reduce the symptoms of depression and treat the disorder by altering the chemical balance of serotonin in the brain. It basically slows down the speed at which the body reabsorbs serotonin, prolonging the naturally occurring pleasant effects of the neurotransmitter. Serotonin serves as a miracle worker when it comes to improving mood and helping patients feel positive about their lives.

Combined with non-pharmacological interventions, such as stress management, lifestyle changes, and psychological therapy or counseling, antidepressants greatly alleviate the depression symptoms in patients.

The Effects and Abuse of Antidepressants

Antidepressants are perhaps one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States. Since these drugs have less potential for abuse, medical professionals consider it as a safer alternative to benzodiazepines. Despite this, many patients abuse antidepressant medications, mainly to achieve a psychostimulant-like effect.

Antidepressants do NOT offer the euphoric effects other drugs have, meaning they cannot get you high. However, this does not stop some people from trying. They expect these medications to induce euphoria when taken in large doses since their primary function is to improve mood. But that is not how they work!

Antidepressants accumulate in the brain and produce their effects over time, instead of giving a patient immediate effects. They can take over a month before they start working in the body. Not being aware of this fact makes people think the drug is not working fast enough and so they end up increasing their dosage and abusing the drug. Some people even combine them with other substances such as alcohol to amplify the effects of the medication.

As with most drugs, not following the physician’s prescribed dosage guidelines and taking large doses of antidepressants may lead to dangerous health consequences. People who abuse the medication increase their risk of overdosing on the drug.

Signs and Symptoms of Antidepressant Addiction

While antidepressants are not naturally addictive, their strong, mood-altering effects combined with the fact that they are used to treat mental illness calls for caution when you take these drugs.

Patients tend to develop tolerance to their prescribed antidepressants over time and this tolerance then escalates to dependence and eventually a substance use disorder.

The presence of two or more of the following signs and symptoms indicate that a person is struggling with antidepressants addiction, as mentioned in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, tremors, suicidal thoughts, cardiac arrhythmia, and panic attacks
  • Ignoring and avoiding family members and friends in favor of taking antidepressants
  • Inability to focus and concentrate on work or school because of taking antidepressants
  • Taking doses higher than what the doctor has prescribed
  • Deterioration of personal relationships
  • Continuing the use of antidepressants despite the risk factors and health consequences

Another important factor that helps identify antidepressants abuse is the presence of other substance abuse issues. The individual is likely to seek ways to reduce the side effects of those substances by taking a prescribed antidepressant.

Health Risks of Antidepressants Abuse

Individuals may develop tolerance and experience on-going side effects throughout the prolonged course of use. Some antidepressants pose risks for a developing fetus and breastfeeding babies. Moreover, antidepressants abuse is also linked to certain medical conditions, such as a Serotonin Syndrome which can be potentially fatal. It is important to note that some antidepressants have a higher potential for addiction than others.

What Are The Withdrawal Symptoms of Antidepressants?

It is recommended that individuals talk to their doctor before discontinuing the use of prescription antidepressants. Bear in mind that stopping the use of any medication should be done under the careful direction and supervision of a medical professional.

The antidepressant withdrawal may include minor physical symptoms, ranging from:

  • Headaches
  • Lethargy
  • Agitation
  • Upset stomach

Some psychological symptoms may also be experienced, including:

  • Severe mood swings
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Severe agitation
  • Death from suicide

Treatment for Antidepressants Addiction

Treatments for antidepressants addiction include detoxification, therapy, and support groups. For individuals who have a co-occurring addiction or severe depression, the treatment calls for a rigorous plan.

Outpatient treatment can help individuals wean off the antidepressant medication without negatively affecting their personal or professional life. It is crucial for recovering addicts to manage their depression while trying to get off antidepressants because untreated depression can pave the way for a relapse into antidepressant use.

One way to get around this is by continuing therapy. Certain activities and coping techniques can help keep individuals on their feet and prevent depression relapse, also keeping antidepressant addiction at bay.

Recovering from and fighting against antidepressant addiction is very difficult and nearly impossible to be done on your own. Consider benefitting from the services provided by rehabilitation centers during this challenging time. The Scottsdale Recovery Center should be a top consideration if you or someone you know is struggling with antidepressant addiction. From helping with physical and psychological addiction through detoxification, to offering helpful therapy and counseling sessions, Scottsdale Recovery Center® aims to make your rehab journey as beneficial of an experience as possible.


Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center® holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.