Antidepressants addiction

Modified: 22nd Jul 2019

Antidepressant prescriptions have risen sharply. There are concerns now that antidepressants addiction is becoming a very real problem in America and worldwide. What was meant to help people may actually be hurting them.

If you or someone you know is struggling with antidepressant use, you may be concerned about addiction. To learn more about possible addiction and antidepressant withdrawal, read on.

Antidepressants Addiction Statistics

An alarming 1 in 6 Americans use psychiatric drugs regularly. This is a little over 16 percent of the country’s population. Most of these are antidepressant prescriptions. A little over twelve percent of Americans over the age of 12 take antidepressant medication.

The rising number of people regularly using these medications for long periods of time opens the risk for addiction.

General Stats on Addiction to Antidepressants

Antidepressant prescriptions are on the rise and have been for the past 15 years. Between 1999 and 2014, antidepressant use steeply increased by 64%. This trend still continues.

Almost 16 million Americans have been taking antidepressant medications for at least five years. This number is twice what it was in 2010 and three times higher than in 2000. Most of these drugs were approved for short-term use and long-term effects were not considered.

Demographics

White adults are more likely to use antidepressants than black, Hispanic, or Asian people of any age. In any ethnic group, females are more likely than males to use these drugs. In fact, women are 2.5% more likely to take antidepressants than men.

It does not appear that antidepressant use is influenced by income status. 

Signs of Antidepressant Abuse

Some people who take an antidepressant medication may eventually abuse the drug. Those who abuse antidepressants use the drug to achieve an altered state of mind or find that they must have a certain amount of the drug in order to avoid antidepressant withdrawal.

Some signs of antidepressant abuse may seem obvious, while others may go unnoticed. Here are some common signs that someone may have an antidepressant drug abuse problem:

  • The antidepressant drug is taken for a longer period of time or in larger doses than originally prescribed
  • A person may find their thoughts preoccupied with the drug
  • There may be a craving for the drug
  • A person’s normal social life is hindered because of drug use
  • Drug use becomes a problem with school, family, or work obligations
  • A person develops a tolerance to the antidepressant drug
  • Attempts to stop using the drug have been unsuccessful
  • Relationships may suffer because of the continued drug abuse
  • Use of the drug is continued even if there are negative consequences
  • A person experiences unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped

These signs may be indicative of an antidepressant addiction. As with any addiction, cessation without support may be difficult and is often unsuccessful.

Am I Addicted?

So can you get addicted to antidepressants? While it previously wasn’t considered an issue, many people show signs of dependency on these drugs. This is causing researchers and physicians to reconsider their previous assumption. 

If you’ve used antidepressants for a long period of time or find yourself using more of the drug than you’re supposed to, you may be at risk. Side effects of antidepressant addiction and abuse can include:

  • A general lack of emotional response (emotional numbing)
  • Frequent confusion
  • Shakiness 
  • A low sex drive and other physical sexual dysfunction
  • Paranoid thoughts or hallucinating
  • Headaches
  • Seizures

A strong indicator of addiction is the presence of withdrawal symptoms when the drug has been removed. For antidepressants, these symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Insomnia or other irregular sleep patterns
  • Confusion or mental fog
  • Lack of coordination and balance problems
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme irritability
  • Headache 
  • Nausea
  • Sensations similar to electric shock in the brain (brain zaps)

These withdrawal symptoms can be severe when the antidepressant is suddenly stopped. Only slowly tapering a dose over a long span can minimize withdrawal.

Dangers of Antidepressant Abuse

Antidepressants addiction can result in a dependency on the drug and risk of withdrawal upon cessation. Most antidepressants alter brain chemistry to some extent. Removing the medication causes real and unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms.

Antidepressant abuse often accompanies the abuse of another substance. Unfortunately, this is often a vicious cycle. When the antidepressants don’t seem to be working as they should, a person may use other substances for relief. These additional substances often worsen depression, making the antidepressants even less effective.

In some users, antidepressants abuse can cause marked personality changes. Sometimes these changes are positive, but sometimes they are unpredictable or destructive. These changes negatively impact the user’s life and relationships with others.

Antidepressant abuse can quickly lead to a very serious situation for at-risk users. Research suggests that antidepressants used in high doses can increase suicide risk. Teenagers and young adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five are especially vulnerable to suicidal preoccupation and suicide.

Those who are at risk of committing suicide may show some general signs. Many of these signs are indicative of severe depression that may not have been alleviated by the antidepressants. These signs of suicidal behavior may include:

  • Mood changes
  • An increase in the abuse of alcohol
  • Abuse of other drugs
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, including sleeplessness or excessive sleeping
  • Overwhelming and unfounded feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities and hobbies
  • Frequent mentioning of the meaninglessness of life
  • Getting things like life insurance and a will in order
  • Getting rid of belongings that are meaningful or still necessary
  • Being unable to envision the future

These signs may indicate persistent suicidal thoughts. When antidepressants don’t provide the anticipated relief from depression, higher doses may be taken. This may be at a physician’s prompting or by the person’s own choice. 

There are psychological and physiological dangers to this approach. Increased doses may alter brain chemistry in ways that negatively influence behavior. Psychologically, if the higher doses still don’t work, users may feel hopeless and want to escape their depression.

Overcoming Antidepressant Addiction

There is hope for antidepressants addiction. With professional support, the medication can be gradually reduced over the course of many months. This allows the brain and body to adjust so you can transition back into a normal life.

For more information or to get started on your recovery journey, please contact us today. 

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.