Signs of a problem include difficulty with day-to-day functioning and taking all prescribed antidepressants well before the refill date.
Stopping certain antidepressants can cause withdrawal symptoms that affect the body and mind. Without the medication, your depression symptoms could become worse or return.
A licensed medical provider can help you safely stop antidepressant misuse and explore other treatment options.
Antidepressants are among the most frequently prescribed medications in America for diagnoses of depression and other conditions.
Although most people who use antidepressants do so safely, some of these medications can be misused and cause withdrawal symptoms if they’re no longer taken. They can also pose other dangers, including the risk of overdose. This risk is greater in people who have other underlying conditions, including a history of substance use disorder or other mood disorders.
Recovery from antidepressant misuse or dependency is possible.
When seeking care for a diagnosis of depression (or for diagnoses of anxiety, pain, or insomnia), your licensed medical professional can prescribe an antidepressant medication to be taken orally, used as a nasal spray, or worn as a patch. If you don’t feel relief from symptoms after four to eight weeks, your provider may adjust your medication or dosage. But any prescribed antidepressant comes with clear instructions on how much and how often to take the medication.
Several classes of antidepressants are prescribed to treat depression. They have varying potential for misuse, withdrawal, dependency, and other adverse health effects — including risk of overdose. The most common classes and well-known brand names of such medications include:
Misuse of antidepressants occurs when you consume these medications for reasons other than the original diagnosis, such as for a cocaine-like “high” (euphoria), for motivation, and for numbing or stimulant effects. Signs of antidepressant misuse include:
The short- and long-term side effects of antidepressant misuse can also include confusion or delirium, hallucinations, hypertension, irregular heartbeat, liver damage, psychosis, seizures, tremors, weight loss, and withdrawal. A dangerous, even deadly, condition called serotonin syndrome can result from combining different drugs that contain serotonin, which is a common ingredient in antidepressants and in pain medications for conditions such as migraines.
If you think you or a loved one is in danger from misusing an antidepressant, call 911 immediately.
Experts advise managing use of antidepressant medication under the guidance of a licensed medical provider. Suddenly stopping certain medications can cause dizziness, headaches, and other withdrawal symptoms. Without the medication, depression symptoms could become worse or return.
Withdrawal from stopping antidepressants could also affect:
Negative effects of antidepressants on the brain: The brain relies on chemicals called neurotransmitters — including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine — to send messages between neurons. Depression can result from a chemical imbalance in your brain; antidepressants may restore that balance and relieve your symptoms. However, misuse of these drugs can throw off the balance and create new problems.
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Faces & Voices of Recovery
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Recovery from antidepressant misuse is possible. To safely stop misuse of an antidepressant medication, you or your loved one can contact a licensed medical professional who can help develop a treatment plan and address underlying conditions.
Therapy: A licensed medical professional or mental health specialist may recommend care from a substance use disorder specialist. A health professional may also suggest group therapy, which has proved more effective than individual therapy in treating antidepressant misuse. Other effective therapeutic options include family counseling, 12-step and other support groups, and out- and inpatient residential treatment programs.
Medication: Instead of recommending that you stop using antidepressants altogether, your doctor may switch you to a different medication, schedule more frequent appointments, or prescribe your medication in smaller quantities.
Recovery: Recovering from misuse of antidepressants could involve complementary and alternative activities such as acupuncture, meditation, spiritual exercises, yoga, and art or music therapy.
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Depression Medicines, Food and Drug Administration, Nov. 18, 2019
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Mental Health Medications, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Health, June 2022
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Serotonin syndrome, Mayo Clinic
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What treatments are available for people who become addicted to antidepressants? Cleveland Clinic, Oct. 11, 2019