use has soared in the last few decades. And while health professionals and
manufacturers maintain that antidepressants are not addictive, some people are
reporting problems when they stop taking these medications.
The US National
Centre for Health Statistics released a report in 2011, stating that
antidepressant use among US teenagers and adults increased by 400% in the years
between 1994 – 1998 and 2005 – 2008. The same government body revealed that 1
in every 10 people in the US was estimated to take antidepressants.There are
over 30 different kinds of antidepressants on the market today, according to
the Royal College of Psychiatry. These are prescribed for depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, chronic pain, eating
disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions.
Read: Are antidepressants overused?
When is something addictive?
Before something can be called addictive, it has to fulfil two criteria:
- You need
to keep increasing the dose to get the same effect.
- When you stop taking the medicine or substance, you experience cravings.
don’t fulfil these criteria and are not deemed to be chemically addictive,
according to Drug Addiction Family Recovery, but some people still experience
difficulties when stopping their medication.
Antidepressants vs. tranquilisers
Many people don’t correctly distinguish between antidepressants and tranquilisers.
treat anxiety by depressing the central nervous system. Antidepressants, on the
other hand, relieve the symptoms of depression by increasing the activity of
certain chemicals in the brain such as serotonin and noradrenaline.
are addictive, but antidepressants are not.
Read: Single antidepressant dose changes brain connection
Side effects and ‘withdrawal symptoms’
Known side effects of antidepressants include a slight tremor, nausea, a
dry mouth, sleepiness, weight gain, constipation, confusion and a drop in
libido. But many people experience no side effects at all.
antidepressants aren’t addictive, doctors advise that their use be tapered off,
rather than stopped abruptly, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
They mention that about 30% of people who stop taking antidepressants can
experience withdrawal symptoms that can last between two weeks and two months.
In only a
small percentage of cases are these withdrawal symptoms severe. These can
include digestive problems, flu-like symptoms, anxiety, dizziness, vivid dreams
and sensations in the body that feel like small electric shocks.
these medicines can take a few weeks to be become effective, and people who use
them are advised not to stop taking the drugs without consulting their doctor
or psychiatrist. If you feel
that the medication isn’t working, or that the side effects are too severe, a
doctor can advise on switching to a different antidepressant. If you stop
taking the medication of your own accord, the original condition may return.
College of Psychiatrists furthermore notes that many people think they’re
addicted, because they experience difficulties when they stop taking the
antidepressant. They confuse this with addiction. Doctors say that the greatest
likelihood is that the original condition, for which the antidepressants were
prescribed, has simply returned.
How antidepressants work
Gene predicts responsiveness to antidepressants
Combination of therapy and medication best for severe depression
Image: Pills in hand from Shutterstock