Antidepressant Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Antidepressants, prescribed to treat depression and other anxiety disorders, come with a black box warning, the strictest warning for prescription medications. Children and adolescents may become suicidal when antidepressants are misused or initially prescribed.

Antidepressants are more likely to be abused by people suffering from mental health issues or substance use disorders. Although not considered addictive, antidepressants may cause withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using, especially if they take larger doses than directed for long periods of time. Mixing antidepressants and alcohol can increase harmful side effects, including high blood pressure and worsening depression.

What Are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are prescription medications used to treat depression and other mood disorders like social anxiety disorder or seasonal affective disorder. While there are at least 5 main types of antidepressants, they all work to balance chemicals in the brain related to mood and behavior. The 5 types of antidepressants include:

  • serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NASSAs)

The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are SSRIs. Brand names include Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and Viibryd. These drugs ease depression by increasing a chemical in the brain called serotonin, which is thought to lift the mood and reduce stress.

People may abuse antidepressants to achieve a stimulant-like effect or to increase energy or alertness. Normally, doctors recommended taking antidepressants 1-2 times daily. Taking more antidepressants, or using them in ways other than directed, like taking larger doses, is suggestive of abuse. Antidepressants can be abused by crushing the tablets and snorting them, taking them orally, or dissolving tablets in liquid and injecting them.

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Signs And Symptoms Of Antidepressant Abuse

Taking more antidepressants than directed may result in an increase in side effects. Common side effects include:

  • abnormal thinking
  • agitation
  • diarrhea
  • drowsiness
  • dry mouth
  • a headache
  • insomnia
  • loss of appetite
  • nervousness
  • restlessness
  • sedation

When a person abuses antidepressants, they may experience extreme mood elevation to the point of mania, or intense excitement and euphoria. There have been case reports of people opening and “sucking” on Prozac tablets to achieve stimulant-like effects. If a person becomes manic on antidepressants, they’re likely suffering from abuse.

Those abusing antidepressants may also suffer from another substance use disorder (SUD) or mental health condition. Many cases of antidepressant abuse involve people with other addictions or mental illnesses, and they may experience confusion, seizures, and psychosis (losing touch with reality).

The Dangers Of Antidepressant Abuse

Mixing antidepressants and alcohol can be dangerous and may worsen symptoms. Mixing alcohol with antidepressants can cause:

  • a dangerous spike in blood pressure
  • impaired thinking and alertness
  • more side effects
  • sedation and drowsiness
  • worsening anxiety or depression

Taking antidepressants, especially children, and adolescents, may lead to severe and unexpected mental health changes. This can occur when changing the dose of an antidepressant, making it dangerous for those who abuse the drug. People may risk harming themselves when taking more antidepressants than usual, experiencing:

  • aggressive behavior
  • extreme worry
  • suicidal thoughts
  • panic attacks
  • worsening depression

If a person experiences any symptoms relating to suicide or harming themselves, call a doctor immediately.

Overdose is also possible when a person takes too many antidepressants either on purpose or by accident. Symptoms of overdose may include fainting, confusion, fever, pounding heartbeat, unsteadiness, and unresponsiveness or coma.

Are Antidepressants Addictive?

Antidepressants are not considered addictive because an addiction implies long-term chemical changes in the brain that cause intense drug cravings and harmful consequences. Antidepressants usually do not lead to these issues, but may still cause symptoms of withdrawal when a person stops using.

Abusing antidepressants, or taking them for longer than 6 weeks, increases the chance of experiencing withdrawal.

Symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal may include:

  • anxiety
  • chills
  • dizziness
  • flu-like symptoms
  • a headache
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • return of depression
  • tiredness

Withdrawal symptoms, also called antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, can onset within 1-2 days and may last for up to 3 weeks. Depression may worsen during this time, and certain antidepressants may cause withdrawal symptoms to last longer than others.

A medically supervised detox program can help for severe withdrawal, ensuring a person stays safe and comfortable. It may involve a process can tapering, which slowly decreases the dosage of the drug over time. Medical detox may be especially useful for those experiencing any dangerous side effects of antidepressants, such as suicidal thoughts or aggressive behavior.

Antidepressant Abuse Treatment Options

Although antidepressants aren’t addictive like other drugs, abusing them may indicate another drug or alcohol problem. In many of the case studies reporting antidepressant abuse, people suffered from a substance use disorder or co-occurring mental health condition.

Inpatient rehab centers are generally capable of treating both mental health and substance use disorders. Behavioral therapy is the most common form of addiction treatment, which aims to change a person’s thinking and attitudes towards drugs, promoting healthy lifestyles and the skills needed to remain sober after treatment.

Teens and young adults battling suicidal thoughts as a result of antidepressant abuse may best be served at an inpatient treatment center, which ensures maximum safety and support during recovery. Many centers can provide 24-hour care and observation, while also treating other mental health issues like depression. Treatment plans are highly individualized and implemented by a host of professionals to offer the best quality of care.

Call now for more information on antidepressant abuse and treatment.

Mayo Clinic - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/antidepressants-and-alcohol/FAQ-20058231?p=1

Mayo Clinic - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/ssris/ART-20044825?p=1

Mayo Clinic - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/antidepressant-withdrawal/FAQ-20058133?p=1

MedlinePlus - https://medlineplus.gov/antidepressants.html

MedlinePlus - https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a689006.html

U.S. National Library of Medicine - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4140701/#__sec12title

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