woman standing with her back to the camera looking at the ocean to symbolize antidepressant abuse and addiction

The Dangers of Antidepressant Abuse and Addiction

For prescription medications used to treat depression and anxiety disorders, black box warnings are the most stringent. The misuse of antidepressants or their initial prescription can lead to suicidal thoughts in children and adolescents.

Table of Contents

The United States has the highest rate of antidepressant drug users in the world. This has increased the potential for antidepressant abuse.

The amount of people with depression has seemingly skyrocketed in modern times. While there has been a push to de-stigmatize mental illness, it’s uncertain if lessening the taboo of mental illness has caused more people to come forward as depressed or if more people than ever are depressed.

Depression is abundant in today’s society. Unfortunately, instead of encouraging holistic recovery, pharmaceuticals are pushed to mask depression symptoms while ignoring the root causes. With the prevalence of antidepressant medication so widespread, the potential to abuse it has increased by people who self-medicate.

As this is a growing concern, it’s important to keep reading to understand what antidepressant abuse entails.

Symptoms of Depression

Signs of depression can look different depending on the type of person you are. Some people go through life depressed without anyone suspecting a thing. Others have a harder time covering up the way they feel.

There are common signs to look out for in depressed individuals, or people you suspect may be depressed or suicidal. 

These signs include the following:

  • Inability to plan for the future
  • Hopelessness
  • Feelings of meaningless
  • Abnormal moods and irritability
  • Increased drug and alcohol abuse
  • Insomnia
  • Oversleeping
  • Lethargy
  • Guilt and feelings of worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in desires and passions

How Depression and Drug Abuse Overlap

People who are depressed are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. This can lead to abusing antidepressants. While antidepressants are not the most common drug to abuse, there has been an increase in their misuse.

Someone who has been prescribed antidepressants may also experience enhanced or adverse side effects from other drug abuse.

These signs include the following:

  • Lethargy
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Motor control problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Migraines
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Confusion
  • Poor judgment

What Are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants make up a classification of drugs that seek to reduce symptoms in clinically depressed patients. Depression, anxiety, and OCD are the most common mental conditions targeted by antidepressants.

There are other types of drugs and treatments used for this purpose as well that do not qualify as antidepressants. Certain drugs like ketamine are currently being researched for their usage in treating depression.

Typical antidepressants interact strongly with other drugs. It’s important to always refer to a doctor before mixing any substance with antidepressants, as the results could be quite dangerous.

Classes of Antidepressants

The different classes of antidepressants include SSRIs, SNRIs, SARIs, and SMSs. The most common types of antidepressants are SSRIs and SNRIs.


SSRI stands for serotonin reuptake inhibitor. 

Common SSRIs include the following:

  • Prozac
  • Celexa
  • Zoloft
  • Lexapro
  • Paxil
  • Fluvoxamine

SSRIs work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin by neurons in the brain. This allows serotonin to be released for longer periods of time in the brain. Serotonin is a hormone that is responsible for mood stabilization, helping in sleep function, and aiding digestion.

The relationship between serotonin and depression is complicated. Many depressed people are low on serotonin; hence antidepressants mainly targeting the serotonin receptors in the brain.


SNRIs are serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors.

Common SNRIs include the following:

  • Effexor
  • Cymbalta
  • Pristiq
  • Levomilnacipran
  • Milnacipran

SNRIs affect neurotransmitters used for communication between cells in the brain. SNRIs both block the reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a stress hormone that is responsible for how the brain and body react to events.

It also is involved in mood stabilization and the ability to focus. This makes it a common prescription to treat depression, ADHD, and anxiety.


SARIs are serotonin antagonists and reuptake inhibitors. They can be used off-label for anxiety and insomnia. Some SARIs such as trazodone are even more commonly prescribed as sedatives than antidepressants.

They work by inhibiting serotonin reuptake. They are also antagonists. This means they inhibit the 5HT2a serotonin receptor.

SARIs include the following:

  • Trazodone
  • Nefazodone

SMSs are serotonin modulators and stimulators. Basically, they modulate and inhibit the reuptake of serotonin.

They include the following:

  • Vortioxetine
  • Vilazodone

There are also MAO inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, and atypical antidepressants, which include some SNRIs like Cymbalta.

Side Effects of Antidepressants

As antidepressants produce a pretty serious chemical alteration in the brain, they have side effects. There are side effects to both normal usage and abuse. Since serotonin influences hormone secretion from the pituitary gland, antidepressant abuse and usage have an influence on the circadian rhythm.

Norepinephrine helps regulate the heart’s natural contractions. Abusing antidepressants could lead to serious risks of heart conditions.

Long-Term Side Effects

The long-term side effects of antidepressants are different for everyone. Some people would have an increased risk of long-term side effects if they had pre-existing conditions

Here are some long-term effects associated with antidepressants.

  • Sudden cardiac arrest
  • Changes in heart rhythm
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Inability to orgasm
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Change in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations

Withdrawal Side Effects

The symptoms of withdrawal can also be quite severe and dangerous. If you are abusing antidepressants, it is wise to slowly taper off their usage to avoid such negative side effects.

These effects include the following:

  • Intense dreams
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Worsening depression
  • Dizziness

How Are Antidepressants Risky?

Antidepressants are probably not the first drug one would think to abuse. However, it’s true that people with depression are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol in general. Someone who has been prescribed antidepressants might take more than their typical dosage to feel high or enhanced effects from the drug.

Antidepressants work differently than a lot of other drugs on the market. They work in the brain and body after repeated use to see the desirable effects. They are unlike other typical drugs which uses are short-term and immediate.

Antidepressants take weeks to alter the chemical synapses in your brain. Many of the effects are not felt until two weeks to a month later. It can be frustrating for a patient suffering from depression to have to wait to get better. It can also take a lot of trial and error to find the right type of antidepressant for each person.

Because of this delayed effect, it could potentially lead to the overuse of antidepressants.

It is advised to wean off of most antidepressants and to not stop their use abruptly. Because of this, someone with an antidepressant addiction can suffer dire consequences from stopping usage suddenly.

People at Higher Risk

People over the age of 65 might be more at risk for injuries, falls, and bone loss with antidepressant use.

Pregnant women need approval from their doctor before starting or stopping antidepressant use during pregnancy. Newborns may experience withdrawal symptoms if exposed to antidepressants throughout late pregnancy.

Teenagers and young adults may have an increased risk of worsened depression and suicide. Teenagers taking antidepressants may be more at risk for sexual dysfunction later in life.

People with bipolar disorder might react poorly to antidepressants. They could potentially interact with other medications or cause manic episodes.

Warning Signs of Antidepressant Abuse

The warning signs of antidepressant abuse can be hard to know unless you know what to look for. It’s important to always observe a depressed person’s behavior so that you are looking out for addiction signs and suicidal behavior.

Warning signs of antidepressant abuse coincide with the side effects of antidepressants and abuse. Always monitor mood swings or atypical behavior. Impulsiveness can be a side effect of antidepressant abuse.

An inability to make rational decisions is another sign of antidepressant abuse to look for. While signs can overlap with common side effects of normal antidepressant use, carefully react to the situation and treat the depressed person with kindness.

Withdrawal from close friends and family can mean there is another problem at hand. Ignoring responsibilities is another one. Continuing to use other drugs or alcohol despite consequences from antidepressant reactions is a concern.

Again, these signs may not necessarily mean that the person is abusing antidepressants. Antidepressant abuse is uncommon.

Antidepressants Common Usage Facts

The United States and countries in Europe have the highest antidepressant usage numbers. Africa, Asia, and South America have fairly low antidepressant rates compared to North America and European countries.

Korea has the lowest-ranked use of antidepressants, with only 13 in 1,000 people taking a daily dose. This is significantly low compared to the higher rates of over 100 daily doses in every thousandth person.

There might be an increase in depression in countries like the United States and in Europe due to economic hardship, inflation, harder access to health care, trauma, and low-income levels.

Adolescents have been commonly prescribed antidepressants. States like Utah, Maine, and Oregon have high antidepressant prescription rates.

The market for antidepressants is expected to decrease by over $10 billion from 2021 compared to 2020. This is supposed because of the increase in demand after the pandemic.

The global percentage of people with depression is from two to six percent, while in the United States, it is an estimated seven percent.

The Rehabilitation Process

The rehabilitation process for antidepressant addiction starts with consultation and orientation. Usually, the patient will tour the facility while going over medical, addiction, and trauma history with a staff member.

After the initial orientation, a plan to come up with tapering off antidepressants will be put into effect. The goal is to completely detox from antidepressants with as much support as possible.

Cognitive and behavioral therapy is offered in rehab. Therapy helps to discover the causes of addiction while treating co-existing conditions such as depression, anxiety, and so on.

Supportive relationships through group therapy are encouraged. Having a strong support system decreases the chances of relapse.
After rehabilitation, steps will be taken to integrate newfound sobriety into life. This transitory phase can make or break relapses.

To summarize, the four steps in rehabilitation include the following:

  • Assessment
  • Detox
  • Therapy
  • Aftercare

Rehabilitation for antidepressant addicts can be difficult since antidepressants are not classified as controlled substances. Since they alter brain chemistry, the increase in certain neurotransmitters can cause addiction.

Because of the drugs’ reaction to brain chemistry, the withdrawal period is also more complicated than other drug withdrawals. Individuals who abuse antidepressants also rely on them for other conditions.

Stopping their use could make depression, suicidal tendencies, anxiety, and OCD worse. People who use antidepressants to cope with their daily lives or stressful situations also may have a harder time quitting.

Antidepressants are also commonly used for long periods at a time. Someone who has been using them for years will likely have a hard time transitioning from using or abusing them to not depend on them.

They also work on the reward center in the brain, leading to a cycle of dependence in function with their use.

Treatment for Antidepressant Abuse

People typically decide they want to quit antidepressants when it’s taking over their life and they can no longer function without them.

Unfortunately, it can be very dangerous to try and quit on your own. If you stop taking antidepressants incorrectly, you may experience adverse withdrawal symptoms. That’s why it’s important to have medical supervision for people who want to get off antidepressants.

There are times where it can be as easy as consulting your doctor to put together a taper-down schedule.

Other times people might need a constructive substance abuse treatment plan where they can deal with addiction and mental health disorders. Individuals in treatment will go through a detox, engage in therapy, and participate in support groups.

Inpatient rehab treatment centers are centers where one lives for an extended period of time. This can be short, from only two weeks to a month. Or it could be long-term, from three to 12 months.

Short-Term Residence

Short-term residence is an intensive treatment. It can be a hospital-like setting but doesn’t have to be. Some people may qualify for medication-assisted treatment, while others only receive therapeutic treatment.

Long-Term Residence

Long-term residence is an intensive addiction treatment program in a non-hospital setting. These are usually community-based therapy settings.

Partial Hospitalization

Partial hospitalization is receiving care in a hospitalized setting. Under this care, patients do not stay overnight, but it is considered inpatient because of the hospital setting. This type of care requires a full-time commitment to receiving treatment services.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs include intensive day treatments, counseling, and support groups. Intensive day treatments allow patients to get care daily while returning home in the evening.

Counseling services can be individualized or in a group setting. These include behavioral goals to help users cope with quitting substances.

Support groups are usually a part of aftercare treatment. They focus on providing a community for those recovering from addictions to help keep each other accountable.


To get an addict to be open to rehabilitation, you might have to stage an intervention. Interventions can cause poor reactions in users who are unwilling to change. There are general tips and guidelines to abide by to increase the likelihood that the addict will listen to your concerns.

The first step in planning an intervention is to do research beforehand. Going into an intervention blindly can potentially cause problems. You’ll want to gather research on local rehabilitation centers and addiction treatment options.

Even if the addict is unwilling to go to rehab, they might be willing to participate in holistic recovery programs.

Alternate treatments include any of the following:

  • Individualized counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Holistic therapy
  • Short-term residential programs

Have options on hand, but do not lead with them right away. This could potentially be overwhelming for an addict to hear.

Research how addiction affects someone as well. If you do not have personal addiction experience, it could be difficult to empathize. Understanding how they may be feeling is important in the entire process. Be open to listening to them and having an open dialogue.

You could also write out the key points you want to say. Interventions can be emotionally driven conversations. Making sure to hit your key points without sacrificing your concern is important to lay everything out on the table.

Don’t personally attack the addict. They are struggling and in need of help. Be sensitive to their emotions, too.

It’s important to offer your support and help throughout the process. Be open to reassure them or offer encouragement in whatever area in life they need it.

One of the most important things you can do is set boundaries to establish accountability. Boundaries help give the addict a sense of stability in their recovery, so they know exactly what others expect of them.

Lastly, do not stage an intervention alone. While a large intervention could be overwhelming, a small one with supportive friends and family helps show the addict they’re not alone.

Having Compassion and Finding Help

While antidepressant addiction is complicated, one should have compassion towards themselves or their loved ones undergoing these circumstances. Everyone has been through emotional situations that have led to undesired behaviors or reactions.

Addiction and mental illnesses being on the rise show that everyone is struggling together. Coming together under empathy, compassion, and understanding brings about a greater likelihood of getting better.

Finding help does not have to be hard. There are many services out there to assist in finding a rehabilitation center near you so that you can get the kind of treatment you need.

Rehab centers, counseling options, and addiction treatments accept forms of insurance or financial aid. Do not let finances hold you back from seeking help. There are more important things than money to consider when seeking help.

The reality of our current times is hard to cope with. Luckily, having the opportunity to get addiction treatment gives you the chance to find healthy coping mechanisms.

Developing a more holistic lifestyle will lead to an increase in overall quality of life. Finding purpose in your life can be done even when you’re at the lowest of lows. Giving up hope is not necessary.

Personalized Treatment with SoCal Sunrise

Seek out personalized treatment for addiction abuse today. There are plans out there for any person’s needs. Whether you are looking for inpatient or outpatient treatment, Socal Sunrise has options.

They offer multiple comprehensive programs that are unique to your individual needs. Most addicts need to be heard, and through these programs, that is a possibility. You can get an addiction treatment plan, addiction treatment services, and aftercare recovery treatment by choosing rehabilitation now.

Visit their program page to find which service best suits your needs, and contact them now.

References & Resources

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  9. Global Antidepressants Market Report 2021: COVID-19 Causes a Surge in Demand for Antidepressant Drugs as Mental Health Problems Rise – ResearchAndMarkets.com. (2021, April 26). Retrieved from https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210426005303/en/Global-Antidepressants-Market-Report-2021-COVID-19-Causes-a-Surge-in-Demand-for-Antidepressant-Drugs-as-Mental-Health-Problems-Rise—ResearchAndMarkets.com
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