04 February 2015

Are antidepressants addictive?

Antidepressants are said not to be addictive. Why then do some people experience withdrawal symptoms?

Antidepressant 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.

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.

Antidepressants 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.

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. Tranquilisers 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.

While 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.

Read More:
How antidepressants work
Gene predicts responsiveness to antidepressants

Combination of therapy and medication best for severe depression

Image: Pills in hand from Shutterstock


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