Cymbalta is the brand name for duloxetine, an antidepressant medication that also treats anxiety and pain-related conditions. While Cymbalta doesn’t carry addiction risks in the same way drugs as cocaine and heroine do, it does interfere with the brain’s chemical processes. For this reason, Cymbalta addiction and abuse are possible, especially in cases of long-term use. Here is a brief overview of how Cymbalta works and how addiction and abuse problems can develop.

depressive disorder

What Is Cymbalta Used For?

Cymbalta is one of several antidepressant drugs on the market. First approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004, Cymbalta offers a range of treatment uses. Cymbalta not only treats the emotional aspects of depression but also the physical symptoms, such as headaches, aches and pains, fatigue, and sleep problems. Along with its ability to treat a major depressive disorder, Cymbalta can be used to treat anxiety, long-term muscle and bone pain, diabetic nerve damage, and even suffering from fibromyalgia.  

Understanding Cymbalta – How Does It Work?

With almost all forms of depression, chemical imbalances in the brain account for the feelings brought on by this condition. Brain neurotransmitter chemicals play central roles in regulating the body’s systems, including the brain. In effect, these chemicals impact the body’s entire central nervous system. Cymbalta works by altering neurotransmitter levels in the brain. The risk of developing Cymbalta addiction and abuse stems from the drug’s ability to modify the brain’s chemical system.

Cymbalta belongs to a class of drugs known as serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or SNRIs. Serotonin and norepinephrine are chemicals that help regulate emotions, thinking, and, ultimately, behavior. Researchers have found people with depression have low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. These two chemicals also play essential roles in blocking pain signals sent from the body to the brain. 

As a reuptake inhibitor, Cymbalta promotes higher levels of serotonin and norepinephrine by preventing the brain from reabsorbing these chemicals. In turn, higher levels of these chemicals promote improved mood and reduce the brain’s ability to perceive pain. These chemical processes account for Cymbalta’s ability to relieve depression, anxiety, and pain symptoms.

Cymbalta Abuse

Increased Tolerance Levels

Tolerance levels have to do with the body and the brain’s ability to respond to Cymbalta’s effects. The longer you take Cymbalta, the more efficient the body becomes at metabolizing the drug. As the body becomes more efficient at metabolizing Cymbalta, larger doses must be ingested to produce its desired effects. Where the brain is concerned, other mechanisms come into play.

The brain functions as its chemical system and maintains a certain ongoing equilibrium. This means when too much of any one chemical is present; the brain takes steps to restore an acceptable balance. When Cymbalta’s effects create a surplus of serotonin and norepinephrine, the brain decreases the number of cell sites affected by Cymbalta. Also, the brain cells sites that interact with Cymbalta become less sensitive to its effects. 

Increased tolerance levels mark the first step in the Cymbalta addiction and abuse cycle. In effect, the longer you take the drug, the larger the dose needed to ward off depression and pain symptoms. Over time, this becomes a vicious cycle that starts to influence your thinking and behavior. 

Withdrawal Effects

In spite of Cymbalta’s antidepressant classification as non-addictive, ongoing use of this drug can cause physical dependence. Physical dependence means precisely what it implies: the body becomes increasingly dependent on the drug to function normally. Not surprisingly, physical dependence and increased tolerance levels go hand in hand. 

Withdrawal effects develop when serotonin and norepinephrine levels are out of balance in the brain and body. As the brain and body require larger doses of Cymbalta to reap its desired effects, a person starts to experience withdrawal effects when needed amounts of the drug are lacking. These effects can create cravings for the drug, driving you to take Cymbalta, even if you want to quit. 

These withdrawal effects (also known as Cymbalta Discontinuation Syndrome) play a pivotal role in the Cymbalta addiction and abuse cycle. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Feeling anxious
  • Feelings of panic
  • Muddled thinking
  • Crying fits
  • Problems falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Excess sweating
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

Cymbalta Addiction

Cymbalta Addiction – How It Works

Cymbalta addiction works much like any other form of drug addiction in that a person’s mind starts to “need” the drug’s effects to cope with daily life. Whereas physical dependence leaves the body unable to function normally, addiction does the same thing to the mind. This happens over time as imbalances start to take shape in the brain’s chemical system. 

Before long, Cymbalta’s effects start to influence the parts of the brain that regulate thinking patterns, happiness, expectations, and, eventually, behavior. The brain’s reward system, in particular, undergoes dramatic changes that start to drive drug-seeking behaviors. The reward system creates your belief systems in terms of how you perceive yourself, your circumstances, and your ongoing needs. Once the brain’s reward system starts to change, Cymbalta addiction and abuse patterns have taken root.

Since addiction affects your thinking and behavior patterns, signs of Cymbalta addiction will likely show up in how you conduct your daily life. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Making mistakes on the job
  • Missing work
  • Communication breakdowns in your relationships
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Confused thinking
  • Problems managing your money

Most any drug capable of altering the brain’s chemical system carries a risk for abuse and addiction. Cymbalta’s classification as an antidepressant does not negate this risk. In effect, once the body and the mind become dependent on Cymbalta, your ability to reduce or stop taking the drug all but disappears. 

Long-Term Effects of Cymbalta Addiction

Long-term Cymbalta addiction and abuse can put the brain’s chemical system in a state of total disarray, which brings even more dire effects. In some cases, even short-term use of this drug can cause results to occur depending on how your brain and body respond to Cymbalta. The FDA has placed a black-box warning on Cymbalta’s product labeling concerning the risk of experiencing severe emotional reactions to Cymbalta. 

Panic attacks, mania, severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal behaviors are possible when using this drug. Again, these effects develop out of Cymbalta’s ability to alter the brain’s chemical processes. As a general rule, the longer you use the drug, the more significant the risks.

Cymbalta Addiction Treatment Considerations

While it’s possible to go “cold turkey” and stop taking Cymbalta on your own, temptations to use can be overwhelming once Cymbalta addiction and abuse have taken root in your daily life. Addiction treatment supports can go a long way towards helping you take back your life from drug use. The length of time you’ve been on the drug and the effects it has on your daily life ultimately determine what kind of treatment will best meet your needs.

For people starting to experience withdrawal effects, a detox program may be all that’s needed to stop Cymbalta’s use. If you’ve started to experience extreme emotional swings, such as panic attacks, crying spells, mania, or thoughts of suicide, an inpatient treatment program can provide the type of intensive structure, support, and medical care needed to help stabilize your emotions and behaviors. Once you complete inpatient programming, the need for ongoing support will depend on your condition. This may entail entering a short-term residential program, weekly individual therapy, or attending 12-Step meetings regularly. 

What’s most important is to take signs of Cymbalta addiction and abuse seriously. These problems don’t just go away but get worse with time. The sooner you take steps to get help for an addiction or drug abuse problem, the easier it will be to overcome.