Depression is a chronic mental health disorder that affects a considerable number of people throughout the world. Depression can be dangerous and even life-threatening when not properly addressed. While therapy programs can at times be enough to treat instances of depression, in more severe cases, medical intervention may be utilized to alleviate symptoms of depression. These medications are known as antidepressants. Antidepressants can be a great asset to those who are suffering from depression, helping to balance the chemicals within their brain. However, some are hesitant to take antidepressants because they fear the potential of becoming addicted to the medication. So is this worry warranted? Can you become addicted to antidepressants, and how does antidepressant dependence affect the body?
What are Antidepressants?
Antidepressants are medications prescribed by doctors in order to treat feelings of depression in patients. Antidepressants are designed to help chemical imbalances within the brain that cause feelings of depression. While many antidepressants can benefit those taking them, some have the potential to cause addiction, which can make them dangerous when prescribed to the wrong person.
Different antidepressants are chosen for an individual based on the symptoms of depression that most affect them. Any other medication being taken by the individual is also considered by the doctor, as well as any health conditions the individual may have. Sometimes more than one antidepressant medication must be tried before symptoms of depression are able to be reduced, and doctors should always closely monitor patients who are taking new types or increased doses of antidepressants. Finding the right type of antidepressant can be a challenge, but most people would rather try different medications than suffer from the symptoms of their depression without help. Antidepressants are typically prescribed in conjunction with a more traditional form of treatment for depression called talk therapy.
What is Depression?
Depression is a serious mental health disorder that affects people of all ages. When left untreated, depression can lead to self-harm, risk-taking behaviors, and suicidal thoughts or actions. Because of the danger of leaving depression untreated, antidepressants are often prescribed to those suffering from the condition.
Feelings of depression are different than just feeling sad, which is a common misconception about the disorder. Those who suffer from depression find themselves losing interest in activities they once enjoyed, have issues related to sleep, changes in appetite, a hard time thinking, and slowed movement. These symptoms must persist for over two weeks and show a change from previous levels of functioning.
What Are the Different Types of Antidepressants?
There are many different types of antidepressants that may be prescribed to a person with depression. Newer forms of antidepressants are more commonly prescribed than older types, as they have fewer side effects and tend to help more different types of depression and anxiety-related symptoms. The most common newer forms of antidepressants can be separated into three groups:
- SSRIs: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
- SNRIs: Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
- Atypical antidepressants: these antidepressants are newer but do not fit into the other groups listed.
Are Antidepressants Addictive?
The question of whether or not antidepressants are addictive is a complex one. There are multiple aspects to addiction that need to be kept in mind when considering whether or not antidepressants are addictive. The first question that must be answered is what an addiction is and how an addiction forms.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic medical disease in which sufferers feel a compulsive need to take certain substances, despite potential negative consequences. Addiction can cause dramatic negative life changes that take place once a person develops a dependency on an addictive substance. Once an addiction has formed, if the addicted person tries to stop consuming the addictive substance, withdrawal symptoms will begin to occur. Withdrawal symptoms may be both physical and mental in nature and can range in severity, from simply uncomfortable to life-threatening.
Withdrawal symptoms are typically addressed through detoxification programs during rehabilitation treatment. Detox programs are designed to allow those dealing with addiction to rid their bodies of any toxins left over from the consumption of the substance they are addicted to.
What is Physical Dependence?
Physical dependence takes place when the body becomes accustomed to the presence of certain chemicals. The chemicals within the brain and body change in order to allow for the presence of these introduced chemicals, allowing tolerance to the substance to form. When these introduced chemicals stop being received by the body, withdrawal symptoms may begin to take place. These withdrawal symptoms are completely physical in nature and do not include any psychological symptoms, such as cravings.
What is the Difference Between Physical Dependence and Addiction?
The main difference between physical dependence and addiction is that with physical dependence, no mental withdrawal symptoms are present. Those who go through physical dependence will not encounter symptoms such as intense cravings or obsessive thoughts about the addictive substance. Antidepressants are one type of substance that will cause physical withdrawal symptoms when consumption is stopped abruptly, but mental dependence does not occur. Symptoms of depression may reoccur after being off antidepressants for a time, but no psychological withdrawal symptoms will be encountered.
What Are the Signs of Antidepressant Withdrawal?
There is a multitude of different symptoms that one may experience when going through withdrawal from antidepressants. These symptoms typically occur within a day or two of the abrupt disuse of antidepressants. These symptoms are not an indication of addiction. Those who wish to stop taking antidepressants should consult a medical doctor before doing so in order to accurately understand and potentially avoid these symptoms of withdrawal. Doctors may prescribe other medications that can help reduce symptoms of withdrawal. A doctor should be kept aware of any symptoms that are encountered after stopping the use of antidepressants. The most common symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal include:
- Vivid dreams
- Flu-like symptoms
- Electric shock sensations
- Return of depression and anxiety symptoms
Treatment Programs for Antidepressant Addiction
While antidepressant dependence may not necessarily be the same as what is typically thought of as addiction, getting help for antidepressant withdrawal is possible. Treatment programs are available for stopping the use of antidepressants in the form of both inpatient and outpatient programs. The first step of an antidepressant treatment program will be attending detoxification. During detoxification, clients will either be tapered off their medication in a supervised setting or provided with additional medications that are designed to help reduce physical withdrawal symptoms.
After completing a detoxification program, clients will attend various types of therapy designed to help them address their depression without the use of medication. Both individual therapy and group therapy will teach clients how to properly address their depression and develop positive coping skills.
Getting Help for Antidepressant Addiction
Getting help when deciding to stop the use of antidepressants is important in order to avoid the symptoms of withdrawal that are associated with quitting antidepressants. While antidepressants do tend to cause a physical dependency among those who are taking the medication, this is not indicative of addiction, wherein users experience psychological symptoms of addiction in combination with physical withdrawal symptoms when stopping their consumption. While physical withdrawal is not the same as addiction, many people still wish to attend treatment when stopping the use of antidepressants, and mental health treatment centers are able to help clients who are newly off medications such as antidepressants.