Antidepressant Addiction

Antidepressants are a cornerstone in the treatment of various mood disorders and have significantly improved the quality of life for many. These medications, designed to correct chemical imbalances in the brain related to mood and emotions, have been instrumental in managing conditions like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. However, while antidepressants are generally considered non-addictive, there’s a growing recognition of their potential to cause physical dependence and even psychological dependence in some rare cases. With this in mind, it is crucial to recognise the potential risks associated with long-term or unsupervised use of antidepressants to ensure that both medical professionals and patients remain vigilant.

What are antidepressants?

Antidepressants are a class of drugs primarily used to treat major depressive disorders and other mood conditions. They work by altering the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, which are chemicals that affect mood and emotions.

The history of antidepressants dates back to the 1950s, with the development of monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). Over the years, newer classes like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) have been introduced, offering fewer side effects and greater safety.

Today, commonly prescribed antidepressants include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa) and venlafaxine (Effexor). While beneficial for many, these medications can sometimes be misused or abused, which can, on occasion, lead to antidepressant addiction and other health issues.

Antidepressants…Did you know?

  • Antidepressants are among the most prescribed medications worldwide.
  • Antidepressants don’t actually cure depression but help to alleviate its symptoms.
  • It can take several weeks for antidepressants to take full effect.
  • Man taking pills

    What is antidepressants addiction?

    Antidepressant addiction, while less common compared to other substances, can occur, particularly with long-term use. To understand antidepressants addiction, it is crucial to differentiate between physical dependence, characterised by withdrawal symptoms upon stopping the medication, and psychological addiction, which involves a compulsive need to use the medication. Antidepressant addiction primarily involves physical dependence, however, there may also be a psychological element due to fear of withdrawal or experiencing a depression relapse. Antidepressant addiction usually develops over time, with the person becoming increasingly reliant on the medication to manage mood and daily functioning.


    How to spot antidepressant addiction symptoms

    Identifying an addiction to antidepressants can be challenging, particularly as most people are prescribed the drugs for a legitimate reason and because so few realise they can even be addictive. Key questions to consider which may point to antidepressant addiction symptoms include:

  • Have you felt a need to increase your antidepressant dose over time?
  • Have you experienced withdrawal symptoms when missing a dose?
  • Do you use antidepressants for reasons other than prescribed?
  • Have you tried and failed to stop using antidepressants?
  • Do you feel anxious or depressed at the thought of stopping your medication?
  • Has your doctor expressed concern about your antidepressant use?
  • Do you feel unable to cope without your antidepressants?
  • Are you visiting multiple doctors to obtain more antidepressants?
  • Have you neglected responsibilities due to your antidepressant use?
  • Do you hide or lie about your antidepressant consumption?
  • If you recognise any of the antidepressant addiction symptoms in yourself or someone else, seeking professional advice and treatment is highly recommended.

    What are the root causes of antidepressants addiction?

    Various underlying root causes can contribute to the development of antidepressant addiction. These include:

    Long-term prescription use
    Extended use of antidepressants can sometimes lead to a form of dependence. This risk is particularly heightened when these medications are used without regular reviews and adjustments by a healthcare provider. Over time, some individuals may find that they need higher doses to achieve the same therapeutic effect, a phenomenon known as tolerance. Without proper medical guidance, this scenario can evolve into a reliance on the medication beyond its intended use.
    History of substance abuse
    A personal or family history of substance abuse is a significant risk factor for the misuse of any medication, including antidepressants and may suggest a predisposition to addictive behaviours. People with this background may start to use antidepressants in ways not medically intended, especially if they are not just trying to alleviate symptoms of depression but also to escape from personal issues or stressors.
    Underlying mental health issues
    In cases where mental health conditions are not adequately managed or treated, there may be a tendency to over-rely on antidepressants. For instance, people with undiagnosed or untreated conditions like bipolar disorder or complex trauma may use antidepressants inappropriately to self-medicate, leading to misuse and potential addiction.
    Inadequate supervision or support
    The absence of proper medical supervision during antidepressant use can increase the risk of addiction. This lack of oversight may result in inappropriate dosing, extended duration of use without review or missed opportunities to address side effects or the need for different treatment approaches. Relying solely on antidepressants without simultaneously undergoing therapy can also increase the risk of dependence.

    What are the effects of antidepressant addiction?

    The abuse of antidepressants can lead to a range of adverse effects, impacting various aspects of life:

    Physical health risks

    The misuse of antidepressants can cause several physical health problems, including an increased risk of falls, particularly in the elderly, due to medication-induced dizziness or balance issues. Insomnia or sleep disturbances can also arise as a result of improper use or withdrawal. Sexual dysfunction, a well-documented side effect of many antidepressants, can be exacerbated by misuse, as can weight gain, another common side effect, which leads to additional health complications like diabetes or heart disease.

    Mental health effects

    Dependence on antidepressants, especially when they are used inappropriately, can mask underlying mental health issues. This masking effect can delay proper diagnosis and treatment, potentially worsening the original condition. The psychological reliance on medication can also lead to heightened anxiety or depression if access to the medication is threatened or if the person tries to stop using it.

    Social and relationship issues

    Addiction to antidepressants can strain personal relationships and social interactions. Behavioural changes, mood swings or withdrawal from social activities can damage relationships with family, friends and colleagues. Dependence on medication can also lead to secretive behaviour or social isolation, which further aggravates the issues.

    Work and academic problems

    The misuse of antidepressants can significantly impact a person’s ability to concentrate, stay motivated and perform effectively in work or school. This can lead to several knock-on problems, such as exam failure, job loss and financial woes.

    Group therapy

    How is antidepressant addiction treated?

    The treatment of antidepressant addiction is a multi-step process tailored to address both the physical and psychological aspects of the condition. At UKAT, treatment usually involves:

    Detox: The detox process involves gradually tapering off the medication to minimise withdrawal symptoms, which can range from mild to severe. At UKAT, medical professionals can provide medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and ensure safety during this process.

    Rehab: Once detox is completed, the next phase often involves various forms of therapy. At UKAT, these include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), individual counselling, group therapy sessions and many more. We also include holistic approaches such as mindfulness, yoga and meditation to heal the mind, body and soul.

    Aftercare: Long-term recovery from antidepressant addiction often requires ongoing support even after the completion of a rehab programme. Aftercare at UKAT involves regular group therapy sessions to ensure the person continues to apply the skills learned during treatment in their daily life.

    Overcome antidepressant addiction today?

    If you are struggling with addiction to antidepressants, remember that help is available. UKAT offers comprehensive detox and rehab programmes to guide you through recovery to a new life. Contact UKAT today to find out more or to apply for one of our UK rehab centres.

    Call us now for help


    Are all antidepressants addictive?
    Not all antidepressants are addictive; commonly prescribed ones like SSRIs and SNRIs have a low risk of addiction. However, proper guidance is essential for starting or discontinuing any antidepressant, as abrupt changes may lead to withdrawal symptoms. Older antidepressant classes, such as TCAs and MAOIs, are used less frequently due to potential side effects. Consult your healthcare provider for personalised advice on antidepressant medications.
    Can recovering addicts take antidepressants?
    Recovering addicts may use antidepressants, but it requires close medical monitoring. Antidepressants can play a vital role in treating co-occurring disorders, like depression or anxiety, in recovering addicts, but careful consideration and management are essential for maintaining recovery and overall health. The treating physician must be informed of the patient’s addiction history to manage antidepressant therapy appropriately.