When individuals are diagnosed with a mental health disorder it’s likely that they may be prescribed antidepressants to help relieve their symptoms. One question on their minds might be “are antidepressants addictive?” If antidepressants help people live happier, calmer lives, will they always crave antidepressants to feel normal? These are valid questions with comforting answers.
The fact is that antidepressants aren’t addictive, but antidepressant addiction is a possibility, just like any other drug. The reason why antidepressants aren’t addictive is that prescription medications in this class don’t cause any euphoric effects like meth or prescription opioids do. Still, this doesn’t stop people from abusing antidepressants, especially when such people are misdiagnosed.
A study notes that about two-thirds of people that were prescribed antidepressants for depression were misdiagnosed. Thus, people in this scenario may start abusing antidepressants in an attempt to make them work, possibly doubling or tripling the recommended dose in the process.
When people suffer from a severe substance use disorder it’s known as an addiction. The medical community doesn’t consider antidepressants to be addictive, unlike other drugs that may be prescribed to treat mental illness. However, some people might think that antidepressants are addictive because abruptly stopping or decreasing one’s prescribed dosage often leads to withdrawal symptoms.
Common antidepressant withdrawal symptoms include:
These withdrawal symptoms may make individuals who are worried about developing an addiction hesitant about taking antidepressants. Ultimately, are antidepressants addictive since they cause withdrawal symptoms? No, not in the typical sense. There is a difference between dependence and addiction.
When someone has an antidepressant addiction they must meet the following criteria, per the American Psychological Association (APA):
People who use antidepressants may experience withdrawal symptoms but generally won’t meet any of the other criteria to be diagnosed with an antidepressant addiction. Yet, some people may still engage in antidepressant abuse. Individuals who try to abuse antidepressants out of desperation may experience a placebo effect. At the end of the day, antidepressant dependence is different than antidepressant addiction.
Although addiction to antidepressants is very unlikely, it doesn’t stop people from becoming dependent upon them. Although dependence may appear as the same thing as antidepressant addiction on the surface, it’s not. Antidepressant dependence and the withdrawal symptoms that come with it develop because the drugs act on the brain’s neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that connect with nerve cells (neurons) to make a person feel and act a certain way. Usually, neurons and neurotransmitters work without a problem unless there is a chemical imbalance, which would happen in the case of an antidepressant withdrawal.
The difference between antidepressant addiction and antidepressant dependence is that individuals with an antidepressant dependence won’t usually crave the medications, nor will they typically develop a tolerance to the antidepressants. Antidepressants work by gradually increasing the amount of “feel-good” chemicals available for the brain to use. On the other hand, drugs that are classified as controlled substances (aka they have a high abuse potential), will immediately alter brain chemistry.
Still, like when dealing with an addiction to other substances, individuals should taper off their use of antidepressants once they decide to get off the medication. That way individuals getting off antidepressants can avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Avoiding antidepressant withdrawal symptoms is useful because although antidepressant withdrawal isn’t life-threatening, it is uncomfortable.
It’s possible to get off of antidepressants with the help of a medical professional. It’s tempting to get off of antidepressants once a person begins to feel mentally stable. But the fact is that a person is feeling mentally stable because of the medication. Therefore, medical professionals typically recommend staying on antidepressants from 6 months to a minimum of 2 years depending upon if someone suffers from chronic depression or not.
It’s crucial to tell a medical professional when considering going off antidepressants. A doctor can show patients how to taper off their use of antidepressants with minimal risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms. For example, medical professionals may recommend slowly lowering the dose of one’s antidepressants over a period of six weeks or so. Failure to complete the tapering off process as recommended may still prompt antidepressant withdrawal symptoms.
Harvard’s Women’s Health Blog recommends attending psychotherapy when deciding to stop using antidepressants. Although studies show how therapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), can help with mental illnesses, fewer than 20% of people on antidepressants attend it. The combination of antidepressants and psychotherapy as a whole can help individuals overcome a mental illness and avoid relapse when they decide to discontinue their medical regimen.
One similarity between an addiction to antidepressants and a dependence on antidepressants is how they both can prompt withdrawal symptoms in the user. Another similarity between the two that we briefly discussed is that neglecting to taper off the use of antidepressants without medical supervision is likely to result in a relapse in both conditions.
The relapse is different from a typical addiction where an individual continues substance use after a period of abstinence. Instead, relapse refers to mental illness. In other words, those who do not get off of antidepressants in a proper manner will likely suffer from the same mental illnesses that they were trying to treat with the medications. In fact, a study by Harvard Medical School observed 400 individuals who were prescribed antidepressants for anxiety and mood disorders, respectively.
Researchers followed the participants for over a year, noting how the participants discontinued their use of antidepressants. Participants who discontinued their use of antidepressants after 1 to 7 days were more likely to have a mental illness relapse than those who tapered off of their antidepressants over the course of more than two weeks.
Another similarity between antidepressant dependence and addiction is the potential a person has to overdose under both conditions. This is because, like with many other substances, taking too many antidepressants under any condition can actually result in an overdose. Like with all substances, antidepressant overdose is uncomfortable and incredibly dangerous.
Most can deduce that antidepressants are a form of medication to help relieve the symptoms of depression. Yet, many may not understand the science behind antidepressants. Two of the most popular forms of antidepressant medications include serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Both of these medications treat depression but have different effects on a person’s brain chemistry.
For example, SSRIs increase the amount of serotonin available for the brain to use. Serotonin is a hormone that plays a large role in mood regulation, happiness, and overall well-being. Medical professionals believe that increasing the amount of this chemical available in the brain can elevate an individual’s moods who suffers from depression.
On the other hand, SNRIs increase the amount of norepinephrine and serotonin available for the brain to use. Norepinephrine works with adrenaline to help with sleep-cycle regulation, feeling energized, and increasing the ability to focus. For this reason, they may also be used to help with other mental illnesses, like obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders.
A note about Wellbutrin is that some individuals will attempt to abuse it. That begs the question, is Wellbutrin addictive? No, but people may try to abuse it because it’s an off-label treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
ADHD medications can be addictive because they are stimulants. However, Wellbutrin doesn’t have the same effect as ADHD medications, like Adderall. This may be the reason why Wellbutrin isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat ADHD, hence why it’s off-label.
At Harmony Ridge Recovery Center, we understand how any drug has the potential to be addictive. Thus, we know that the answer to the question, are antidepressants addictive, can be yes. That’s why we treat a variety of substance use disorders to help individuals take back their lives from addiction.
Additionally, we here at Harmony Ridge treat co-occurring disorders. This is because treating an addiction without being able to treat mental illness at the same time will likely lead to a relapse in both areas.
Here at Harmony Ridge, we offer a variety of addiction and mental illness treatments, ranging from holistic therapy to traditional forms of talk therapy. In fact, many Harmony Ridge patients that have suffered from co-occurring disorders have been healed with the power of CBT and DBT. Both of these therapies help individuals stop negative thought patterns and behaviors.
Our holistic therapies help individuals recover through the power of healthy and emotionally rewarding activities. Examples of holistic therapy include music and art therapy.
Our personalized, comprehensive plans ensure that when our patients complete treatment at Harmony Ridge Recovery Center and become alumni, they have the tools to commit to lifetime sobriety. If you or a loved one suffers from a co-occurring disorder or a substance addiction in general, reach out to us. With help from Harmony Ridge Recovery Center, you can live life to the fullest despite your addiction or co-occurring disorder.