How the antidepressant addiction develops
There is an ongoing debate about whether or not antidepressants are addictive. The argument is fuelled by the fact that most antidepressants do not produce cravings. However, when the use of certain antidepressants is discontinued, withdrawal symptoms (fatigue, dizziness, nausea, confusion, low mood, flu like symptoms etc.) similar to that experienced with other drugs often occur. The physical and mental discomfort that some individuals experience when trying to stop using antidepressants can cause them to continue taking the drug, even when the initial reason for their prescription has passed, in order to avoid these unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Additionally, any drug that we rely on to produce false emotions can become psychologically addictive; some individuals feel that they cannot function effectively without taking antidepressants and even go as far as ‘demanding’ repeat prescriptions from their GP; they are now addicted to their medication.
Unfortunately, not all medical practitioners take sufficient heed of the 'discontinuation syndrome' (official terminology for antidepressant withdrawal symptoms) and the patient is often at a loss as to how to stop taking antidepressants without experiencing withdrawal. Devoid of appropriate support, the cycle of psychological addiction can establish itself quickly and individuals find themselves relying on antidepressants years after they were first prescribed.
It is evident that many people are prescribed antidepressants for very valid reasons – depression and post traumatic stress disorder are common examples. For some people antidepressants are a vital part of recovery from a psychological trauma or persistent low mood. Conditions like these, however, should be treated with a dual approach; if medication is involved so should therapy.
Whilst antidepressants may provide appropriate chemically induced stability, the patient needs to get to a state of mind where they can address the underlying reasons prompting the use of antidepressants.
Any individual who abuses antidepressants or takes them beyond the manufacturer’s recommended time limit (often 6-12 weeks) places themselves at risk.
Common antidepressants include:
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Moclobemide (Aurorix)
- Phenelzine (Nardil)
- Selegiline (Eldepryl)
- Tranylcypromine (Parnate)
- Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)
- Nortriptyline (Allegron)
- Amitripyline (Elavil)
- Clomipramine (Anafranil)
- Doxepin (Sinepin)
- Trimipramine (Surmontil)
- Desipramine (Norpramin)
- Nortriptyline (Aventyl)
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Citalopram (Cipramil)
- Escitalopram (Cipralex)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Fluvoxamine (Faverin)
- Paroxetine (Seroxat)
- Sertraline (Lustral)
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
If you become dependent on antidepressants/SSRIs/SNRIs it is extremely important to get the right professional help to detox safely and negate the effects of withdrawal. Additionally, it is vital to get professional support to manage the original condition that prompted the use of the antidepressants.
Regardless of how the antidepressant addiction has developed, it is important to get specialist help in a suitable clinic that can address the physical and psychological affects of antidepressant abuse and provide the level of support the individual needs to function effectively without their medication.
Taking antidepressants can cause a variety of side effects, even when taken at the prescribed dose. The spectrum of side effects is large and ranges from sexual dysfunction to confusion and paradoxical depression (the depression worsens when taking antidepressants). Some antidepressants also cause unpredictable adverse reactions when taken with other drugs. Additionally, due to the availability of high-dose antidepressants it is possible to become reliant on antidepressants as mood stabilisers unnecessarily, impacting on sociability and personality.
Getting professional support to address an antidepressant addiction is life changing and life saving.