Antidepressants have been a game-changer in the management of mental illnesses, offering relief for a number of mental health conditions. While they are a helpful tool, however, taking antidepressants, particularly in large doses or for an extended period of time, can be potentially very dangerous. Much like a shark that seems calm and serene before it strikes, antidepressant addiction can creep up on you before you know it and when it gets its teeth into you, it can be incredibly difficult to break free. Fortunately, there is effective help available and Recovery Lighthouse can help you overcome antidepressant addiction and live a long and happy life.
What are antidepressants?
Antidepressants are widely used medications that are used to treat depression, anxiety and other mental health and mood disorders. They work by changing the chemical balance of the brain by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters. Antidepressants were first introduced in the 1950s and since then, they have become one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the world with 7.3 million people in the UK now taking them.
There are several different families of antidepressants and each one works differently. Some of the most common types of antidepressants include:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – The most commonly prescribed antidepressants and are used to treat depression anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Some of the most common SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft) and escitalopram (Lexapro).
- Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) – Used to treat depression and anxiety and include medications like venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).
- Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) – Less frequently used these days due to the potential for severe side effects and drug interactions.
- Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs) – Used to treat depression, anxiety, and chronic pain and include medications like amitriptyline (Elavil) and nortriptyline (Pamelor).
What is antidepressant addiction?
Antidepressant addiction is a form of substance use disorder that develops when a person becomes dependent on antidepressant medication. The condition is characterised as a compulsive need to keep taking antidepressants even though it is causing harm in your life.
Like any other addiction, antidepressant addiction can start with a legitimate need for the medication but then can quickly spiral out of control, taking over every aspect of your life.
To better understand how antidepressant addiction can develop, let us introduce Jane, a fictional character with an all-too-real story:
Jane was a secondary school teacher who was feeling down and anxious. She visited her doctor who diagnosed her with depression and prescribed her an SSRI antidepressant. At first, the medication seemed to help and Jane was able to manage her symptoms.
Over time, however, Jane began to notice that the medication wasn’t working as well as it used to. She went back to her doctor, who increased her dosage. This continued for several years, with Jane needing higher and higher doses of the medication to feel any relief.
Eventually, Jane found that she couldn’t function without the medication and she began to experience withdrawal symptoms when she tried to stop taking it. She was caught in a cycle of antidepressant addiction and it began taking a serious toll on her health, relationships and well-being.
Jane’s story is typical of the clients we meet every day at Recovery Lighthouse and we are dedicated to helping all of them overcome antidepressant addiction and restart their lives.
Am I addicted to antidepressants?
Recognising the signs of antidepressant addiction early is essential to getting help and starting the recovery process. However, antidepressant addiction can be tricky to spot as the medication is usually prescribed by a doctor and so many people don’t realise they are addicted until it is too late.
To help you identify common antidepressant addiction signs, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I feel like I need to take more antidepressants than prescribed to feel their effects?
- Do I experience withdrawal symptoms when I try to stop taking antidepressants?
- Do I spend a significant amount of time thinking about antidepressants or planning how to obtain more of them?
- Have I tried to quit taking antidepressants but have been unsuccessful?
- Have I experienced negative consequences as a result of taking antidepressants such as relationship problems, job loss or financial difficulties?
- Do I continue to take antidepressants despite these negative consequences?
- Have I engaged in risky or illegal behaviour to obtain antidepressants?
- Do I feel like I cannot function without antidepressants?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing symptoms of antidepressant addiction and should seek help immediately.
Common risk factors for developing antidepressant addiction
Antidepressant addiction can happen to anyone, but there are certain risk factors that increase a person’s likelihood of developing it. Some of the most common risk factors for developing antidepressant addiction include:
- A history of substance abuse: People who have a history of substance abuse are at an increased risk of developing antidepressant addiction because they may be more likely to abuse medications or become dependent on them.
- A history of mental health issues: People with a history of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, are also at an increased risk of developing antidepressant addiction as they can become completely dependent on medications to manage their symptoms.
- Long-term use of antidepressants: People who use antidepressants for an extended period of time are at an increased risk of developing tolerance and dependence which can lead to antidepressant addiction.
- Using antidepressants for non-medical reasons: People who use antidepressants for reasons other than to treat a diagnosed mental health condition, such as to get high or to cope with stress, are also at an increased risk of developing antidepressant addiction.
- Easy access to antidepressants: Being able to obtain antidepressants easily either through legal or legal means increases the chances of antidepressant abuse and addiction.
The health effects of antidepressant addiction
Antidepressant addiction can have a range of negative health effects on your body and mind. Some of the most common health effects of antidepressant addiction include:
- Mental health issues: Antidepressant addiction can worsen mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and may lead to the development of new mental health problems.
- Cognitive issues: Antidepressant addiction can affect a person’s cognitive functioning, leading to issues with memory, attention, and decision-making.
- Cardiovascular problems: Long-term use of certain antidepressants, such as TCAs, can increase a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular problems, such as hypertension and arrhythmias.
- Digestive issues: Antidepressant addiction can lead to digestive issues, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
- Sleep problems: Antidepressant addiction can disrupt a person’s sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or excessive sleepiness.
It is also possible to overdose on antidepressants, especially if they are taken in large quantities or combined with other substances. Symptoms of an antidepressant overdose may include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Loss of consciousness
In severe cases, an antidepressant overdose can be life-threatening so if you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone else, seek immediate medical attention.
Effects of antidepressant addiction on your life
Antidepressant addiction can also have a significant impact on every aspect of your life including:
- elationship issues: Antidepressant addiction can strain relationships with friends and family, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- Job and education problems: Antidepressant addiction can lead to poor job performance and attendance, which can lead to job loss or academic difficulties.
- Legal issues: People who abuse antidepressants may engage in risky or illegal behaviour such as stealing medication which can lead to legal issues.
- Financial difficulties: Antidepressant addiction can be expensive and people who abuse medication may spend a significant amount of money on their addiction leading to financial difficulties.
How is antidepressant addiction treated?
Antidepressant addiction is a complex condition which requires a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to recovery. This usually includes a combination of:
- Antidepressant detox – This involves safely removing the medication from the body and managing withdrawal symptoms. This process should be overseen by a medical professional to ensure safety and comfort.
- Antidepressant rehab – This involves addressing the underlying causes of addiction and developing strategies to prevent relapse through therapy, support groups and aftercare.
Both of these processes are most safely undergone at an inpatient clinic like Recovery Lighthouse where you will have no access to antidepressants, no exposure to your usual addictive triggers and will be able to focus solely on recovery.
How to get help for antidepressant addiction
If you or someone you know is struggling with antidepressant addiction, getting help as soon as possible is essential for recovery. Recovery Lighthouse offers a comprehensive recovery programme for antidepressant addiction that can help you make the necessary changes for a better future. Contact us today to find out how our experienced team of medical professionals and therapists can help you develop the skills and strategies you need to achieve lasting recovery.
Can you become addicted to antidepressants after just one use?
It is unlikely that a person would become addicted to antidepressants after just one use but prolonged use or misuse of the medication can and does lead to addiction. However, some may be more prone to misuse or abuse the medication and should be monitored closely to prevent the development of amphetamine addiction.
Can antidepressant addiction be fatal?
In rare cases, antidepressant abuse and addiction can be fatal, especially if the medication is taken in large quantities or combined with other substances. This is why it is essential to take antidepressants only as prescribed and to never mix them with other substances without consulting a medical professional.
What are the most effective alternatives to antidepressants?
If you are worried about antidepressant addiction or you are in recovery, alternatives to antidepressants include therapy, lifestyle changes and support groups. Alternative remedies like acupuncture, massage, or herbal remedies may also provide relief but should be used with caution and under the guidance of a medical professional who can determine the best plan for your specific needs and circumstances.