What are antidepressants?
Antidepressants are prescription medications primarily used to combat moderate to severe clinical depression. Doctors and psychiatrists may also prescribe antidepressants to treat obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalized anxiety disorder.
Common antidepressants are:
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
- Bupropion (Wellbutrin XL)
- Viibryd (Vilazodone)
Many antidepressant medications are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). SSRIs affect the chemical balance of serotonin in the brain, which can help lift a person's mood over time. Similarly, SNRIs are meant to increase positive feelings by balancing levels of norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain.
It's important to note that it almost always takes several weeks to months for antidepressant medications to take effect.
How do you know if you're addicted to an antidepressant?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 14.8 million people suffer from depression in the United States. Antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft are among the most popular and most frequently prescribed medications in the country.
A number of doctors and psychiatrists prescribe antidepressants instead of benzodiazepines because they believe them to be safer in terms of less potential for abuse. Unlike other substances that can affect mood immediately and dramatically (such as alcohol or heroin), antidepressants cannot get you "high", nor do they cause physical cravings in the same way other drugs do. However, some people still become addicted to prescription antidepressant medications, and those who suddenly stop taking them (go cold turkey) can experience withdrawal symptoms that include nausea, hand tremors and depression.
While developing a physical addiction to antidepressants is uncommon, it is possible to establish a psychological addiction. One sign of addiction is "needing" the drug to get a boost in energy, to prompt numbness, or to enhance your mood. Other signals of abuse signals include nausea, numbness, irritability, violent thoughts or actual aggression.
Many of those who end up abusing antidepressants do so because they feel as though the drug isn't working fast enough, so they increase their prescribed dose on their own. Others combine antidepressants with other substances like alcohol in an attempt to amplify the medication's effects. This can be both dangerous and counterproductive.
What are the risks of addiction to antidepressant medication?
In general, antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft aren't as dangerous as opiate or opioid prescription drugs, or illicit drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines. However, antidepressant prescription drugs do carry serious risks, including increased risk of overdose and suicide. Those who suffer from depression are 2-3x more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, which can increase the dangers associated with prescription medications like Paxil or Lexapro.
As is true for most drugs, taking large doses of antidepressants is particularly risky, and those abusing antidepressants increase their risk of overdose when they do so (especially if the person is combining it with other drugs or alcohol).
Signs of antidepressant overdose include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Impaired coordination (staggering or not moving well)
- Shaking uncontrollably
Research also demonstrates that high doses of antidepressants can elevate risk of suicide, particularly in teens and young adults (those 18-25). The FDA has even changed the labeling on antidepressants to better warn people about this alarming health risk.
Signs of depression and suicidal behavior include:
- Feelings of guilt or unworthiness
- Talking about life being hopeless or meaningless
- Giving up on or lacking plans for the future
- Giving away belongings
- Sudden mood changes
- Increased alcohol or drug abuse
- Sleep issues, like insomnia or sleeping over 12 hours a day
- Checking insurance plans and/or suddenly drawing up a will
It's important to remember that for someone who forms an addiction to any substance, whether antidepressants or something else, consuming drugs has become compulsive. It's not something within the person's control (even if it started out that way).
No one is "wrong" or "bad" for being a drug addict; they need help. And not getting it can be life-threatening.
What is rehab?
Rehab, short for rehabilitation, is the process of getting support in order to overcome drug addiction. Drug rehab centers and substance abuse treatment facilities keep confidential records, and can offer both inpatient and outpatient services. Depending on the severity of the addiction - particularly if what's needed is a dual diagnosis treatment center (for those using antidepressants in combination with other drugs or alcohol) - an inpatient drug rehab center may be the best option. Inpatient drug rehab should also be strongly considered if suicide risk is a factor.
After intake, the first step at an inpatient drug rehab center is usually medical detox, which lasts anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks. Heavy users are particularly in need of professional medical help while ridding their body of the substance or substances on which they've become dependent, especially if alcohol is involved. Without structured support, going through detox can be physically and mentally painful, and sometimes fatal. Inpatient drug rehab treatment centers are well prepared to help manage symptoms and keep people safe and comfortable as they detox and go through withdrawal.
After detox, you begin therapy. Most alcohol or drug rehab centers provide both individual and group therapy. In individual therapy, you meet with a licensed therapist or counselor who guides you to a better understanding of your situation and how to recover. This in conjunction with peer-based group therapy is considered one of the best treatment options for alcohol and drug addiction.
Group therapy is a chance for people to share their experiences and struggles with one another in a safe environment. You connect with others are going through or who've been through similar things (both related to the addiction as well as outside of it). Many report group therapy as enlightening, inspiring, and effective. Group work allows for healing and growth in a non-judgmental setting, which can be remarkably transformative.
A brighter future
For many of those suffering from substance abuse, life is a battle, a desperate and endless search for safety and comfort. The situation can be even worse for those who thought a prescription antidepressant would actually help with depression, only to find themselves caught in the cycle of addiction. Depression and drug addiction harms not only one's physical health, but can put one's career, close relationships, and future in jeopardy.
Drug addiction doesn't go away on its own, but help is available. You are not alone. Drug rehab is fundamentally a chance for you to turn your life around. If you or someone you love needs help, there are those who can guide and support you. Millions have been through the same struggle and come out the other side. With the right care, counseling, and rehabilitation, you are capable of leading a healthy, happy, and meaningful life.
The sooner you or a loved one can get help, the better.