Our understanding of mental health is constantly growing, which means that more people are seeking treatment for mental health issues. Antidepressants are a first-line treatment for many mental health disorders, but there are risks that come with their use.

With prescription drug addiction currently one of the biggest health concerns in the country, it is certainly logical to question whether antidepressants can lead to addiction. Understanding what antidepressants are and how they work can help answer this question.

What Are Antidepressants?

Medical News Today defines antidepressants as medications given to patients with depressive disorders to help reduce symptoms. They work by correcting chemical imbalances in the brain that cause changes in a patient’s behavior and mood. Antidepressants are used for a number of different mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.1

Antidepressants also treat a number of other medical conditions, such as:
  • Chronic pain
  • Headaches
  • Smoking cessation
  • Premenstrual Dysphonic Disorder
  • Sleep issues2

In 1996, 13.3 million Americans took antidepressants; in 2010, the number rose to 23.3 million. Researchers and those in the mental health profession attribute the increased use of antidepressants to a better understanding of mental health disorders overall, and the lessening of the negative stigma previously associated with mental health treatment. The Chicago Tribune recently reported that the number of Americans who say they’ve taken an antidepressant in the past month increased by 65 percent between 1999 and 2014.3

There are several categories of antidepressants, including:
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NASSAs)
  • Tricyclics
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors

SSRIs are among the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. They work by selectively preventing the brain from reabsorbing serotonin, a neurotransmitter (chemical) that helps the brain cells send and receive signals.4

Can You Become Addicted to Antidepressants?

Answering the question of whether antidepressants can lead to addiction is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ proposition. The concept of tolerance is a big factor in determining whether or not a substance is addictive. Tolerance happens when a patient no longer responds to the presence of a drug in their system and needs more of the substance to produce the same results.

Young woman taking antidepressantFor example, according to PsychCentral, one of the symptoms of alcoholism is an increased tolerance. An alcoholic not only needs to consume more alcohol to get intoxicated, but even regular, moderate amounts of alcohol do not cause any feelings of inebriation. Therefore, their tolerance for alcohol is dangerously high.5

When it comes to antidepressants, the risk of tolerance is lower because, unlike other substances, more of the drug doesn’t produce a better or different experience.

This means addiction to antidepressants are extremely rare. There are exceptions, of course, like when patients have a history (or family history) of substance abuse or other risk factors.

Another factor in the differentiation of antidepressants from most of the other mood-altering drugs is that when a patient is weaned off the antidepressant, they will not have the painful and dangerous withdrawal symptoms that occur when a patient detoxes from more addictive substances. PsychCentral also reports that only around 20 percent of patients experience what is known as SSRI discontinuation or withdrawal syndrome; of that number, only five percent experience symptoms that can be described as “severe.”5

As with other prescription drugs, it’s important to talk to your doctor before reducing or stopping your medication. A gradual weaning from the medication is necessary to reduce the chances of negative side effects.

Comprehensive Treatment

The jury may still be out on the final answer as to whether or not antidepressants are addictive. What is clear from the debate is that if you are dealing with issues of depression, anxiety, trauma, panic attacks or obsessive-compulsive disorder, antidepressants are an important part of treatment.

Along with medication, proper management of your condition also requires therapy and counseling. That’s why Black Bear Lodge is here for you. Call us today, and our admissions coordinators can help answer your questions about how you can take control of your mental health.

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1 Nordqvist, Christian. “What Are Antidepressants? How Do Antidepressants Work?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 15 Dec. 2015. Accessed 27 Oct. 2017.

2“5 Surprising Uses for Antidepressants.” EverydayHealth.com. Accessed 27 Oct. 2017.

3 Mundell, E.J. “Antidepressant use jumps 65 percent in 15 years.” Chicagotribune.com, 17 Aug. 2017. Accessed 27 Oct. 2017.

4“Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 24 June 2016. Accessed 27 Oct. 2017.

5“Symptoms of Alcoholism.” Psych Central, 17 July 2016. Accessed 27 Oct. 2017.