Antidepressants Symptoms and Warning Signs

Antidepressants are a group of drugs that are commonly used to treat conditions such as major depressive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. They work by increasing levels of those neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for improving mood and relieving feelings of stress and anxiety.

Although antidepressants are for improving mood, they are designed to work slowly, over time, so the potential for abuse is fairly low. It can take several weeks of continued use before seeing any improvement in symptoms.

It is unlikely, therefore, that you will experience cravings for the medication in the same way you might with other types of prescription medication. However, if you are using them in a different way to how they were intended to be used, or are combining them with other substances, they can then start to have a negative impact on your life.

Although not considered addictive substances, antidepressants can result in withdrawal symptoms if suddenly stopped. It is this that has led some people to believe that the medication can cause a physical dependence.

Some individuals will also develop psychological symptoms, believing that they are unable to function without their medication. As such, they may become anxious or panicky at the thought of not having their pills available.

Brand Names for Antidepressants

  • Amitriptyline
  • Citalopram
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Doxepin
  • Nardil
  • Mirtazapine
  • Valdoxan
  • Sinepin
  • Seroxat
  • Lustral
  • Cipramil

Recognising the Common Warning Signs of Antidepressant Abuse

It can be very hard to tell when antidepressant use has crossed a line of abuse. As mentioned above, this type of medication does not have a high potential for abuse, so it does not induce a ‘high’ or cause cravings.

Nevertheless, there is a risk of problems when mixing the antidepressant drugs with other harmful substances such as alcohol or drugs. Using antidepressants with other mood-altering substances makes you guilty of prescription medication abuse.

You need to be aware though that not all antidepressants are the same. Certain medications are more likely to cause problems than others and some should never be mixed with substances like alcohol.

When antidepressants are taken in a manner different to how and why they were prescribed, it is classed as abuse. So, for example, if you are crushing your pills and snorting or injecting them to achieve a high, this is a definite warning sign of abuse and probably a point at which you need some professional help.

Another sign of antidepressant abuse is taking more of the medication than advised to by your doctor. If you feel as though you cannot function properly without the medication, you might then be tempted to increase the dose to improve the effects, but this could potentially harm your health.

The Dangers of Antidepressant Abuse

The biggest danger of antidepressant drug abuse is the above-mentioned harm to health. So if you combine your medication with alcohol or other drug use, the very symptoms of which you are taking the medication will be exacerbated.

Some antidepressants are known to cause suicidal feelings in those under the age of twenty-five, so when they are abused by individuals in this age group, the risk of suicide is much greater than in other demographics. Abusing antidepressants with other substances increases this risk even further.

Extremely high doses of antidepressants can be toxic and can cause issues with internal organs, particularly the kidneys and liver. There is also the potential for irregular heart patterns when antidepressants are taken in high doses.

If certain antidepressants are crushed down and then injected, this can cause severe problems with tissue at the injection site. There is potentially a very high chance of infection and necrosis of tissue.

Abusing antidepressants means that your behaviour and actions will potentially change. You may begin performing poorly at work or at school, or you may post long or frequent absences. As you might imagine, this will then impact on your ability to earn an income or your future prospects.

Combining antidepressants with other substances such as alcohol, cannabis or other illegal drugs can also lead to overdose, possibly resulting in cardiac arrest and subsequent death.

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Recognising an Antidepressant Addiction

If your antidepressant use is beginning to interfere with daily life yet you continue taking them anyway, you might have to consider the possibility that you have already become addicted.

Perhaps you have tried to cut down on your use but found you couldn’t because of the withdrawal symptoms you experienced. You are now caught in a cycle of abuse and withdrawal from which you are struggling to break free.

Maybe you feel happier after taking your antidepressants? If so then there is a high likelihood that you have developed a psychological need for the drug. You might believe that the only way to relax or feel happy is with your medication, and you could now be at the point where you feel panicky or anxious when unable to get hold of it. This might then encourage drug-seeking behaviour, with you possibly visiting different doctors to get the medication you need or even searching online to purchase it that way.

Addiction to any substance, including antidepressants, can cause you to become isolated and withdrawn. You might be trying to hide your substance use from those you love, and you may be lying about the medication you are taking because you believe they will just not understand.

If you are finding it hard to take pleasure in people or activities that you once enjoyed and become defensive at the suggestion that you could have an addiction, you might very well be on the cusp of a problem.

Each of the above-mentioned could all point to an antidepressant addiction. There are plenty of other signs too, but we think you get the point. Needless to say, if addiction is at play then you are going to need professional help to get better.

Antidepressant Addiction and the Brain

Although scientists and researchers do not know the exact causes of depression, or indeed how anti-depressants work to combat the depression, they do believe that a chemical imbalance in the brain is responsible for feelings of anxiety and depression. It is also thought that antidepressants work by affecting neurotransmitters within the brain.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that pass messages across synapses in the brain. Chemicals affected by antidepressants include serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. By stabilising the way in which these neurotransmitters work, antidepressants can help improve mood and reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Lean the Immediate Side Effects of Antidepressant Abuse

The following are some of the immediate side effects associated with antidepressant abuse:

  • Slurred speech
  • Change in appetite
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Mental confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Tremors
  • Sore throat
  • Lack of emotion
  • Hallucinations
  • Headache
  • Sexual dysfunction

Learn the Long-Term Antidepressant Abuse Side Effects

Long-term abuse of antidepressants can lead to some of the following side effects:

  • Loss of libido
  • Inability to achieve orgasm
  • Migraine headaches
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Weight gain
  • A return of the symptoms that the antidepressants were used to treat.
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Intervention for an Antidepressant Addiction

Since antidepressants are not generally associated with addiction in the same way that other prescription drugs might be, it is not uncommon for people to completely miss the signs of abuse. If someone you care about is using antidepressants, you need to be alert to the signs of abuse.

If you notice that this person is losing interest in activities he or she once enjoyed and is neglecting responsibilities at home or work, it could be that he or she is struggling with an antidepressant problem. If this is the case, then intervening as soon as possible is important.

Addiction is a treatable illness and there is plenty of help available, but do not be surprised if the affected person is reluctant to admit that the problem actually exists. Most addicts are not willing to accept a diagnosis of addiction, especially in the early days. However, if you can explain how his or her behaviour has changed and that you believe the antidepressants are to blame, you might be able to encourage him or her into treatment.

Detox and Withdrawal from Antidepressants

Having antidepressant addiction but being keen to get life back on track will mean quitting your medication, but it is not advisable to do this alone. The reason is that antidepressant withdrawal can lead to quite a few unpleasant side effects.

You could experience, for example, flu-like symptoms coupled with anxiety and a return of the depression. Your doctor might recommend that you taper off your antidepressant medication over the course of a few weeks to reduce the effect of any withdrawal symptoms.

Alternatively, you can detox from your medication in a supervised facility where symptoms can be effectively managed by dedicated and professional staff.

Treatment and Next Steps

Regaining control of your life after addiction usually requires a programme of rehabilitation. If you have developed an addiction to your medication, it is important that you learn all you can about it and why you became addicted in the first place. You can do this in rehab at either an inpatient or outpatient facility.

Whatever type of rehab programme you choose to go with for your treatment, the aim will always be to help you learn to live without any mood-altering chemicals when you get back to normal life.

If you have been abusing your medication with other substances such as alcohol or other drugs, you might benefit from a residential programme where you will stay in a secure and distraction-free environment with around-the-clock care and support from a team of multi-disciplined professionals.

Nevertheless, if your addiction is not severe, you might find that an outpatient programme is sufficient for your needs.

Questions about Treatment

What if I don’t think I need treatment?

Your family members might believe you need treatment for addiction, but you think they are exaggerating. This is not uncommon. Most addicts are not ready to accept that they have allowed their use of a particular substance to get out of control.

The fact that you are here reading this right now would indicate that you may have at least a tiny inkling that there is a problem that requires treatment. If you are struggling to control your use of your medication and have allowed it to affect your everyday life, you probably need help.

What does treatment involve?

Overcoming addiction usually means getting to the heart of the problem and finding ways of avoiding a return to addictive behaviour in the future. It is likely that your treatment programme will include a detox, programme of rehabilitation, and aftercare. Detox is the process that will break the physical cycle of abuse while rehab is designed to tackle the psychological and emotional element of the addiction.

You can expect your treatment to include talking therapies and holistic treatments. You may also take part in workshops and seminars aimed at giving you the essential skills you will need to avoid a relapse and to become a productive member of society once more.

Is it worth paying for a private programme?

Private treatment has many benefits, but there is a cost involved. In the UK, you can choose a private programme or one that is provided free-of-charge by the NHS or a local charity. While all these programmes will help you to overcome your addiction, there are differences in terms of benefits and how they are run.

For example, private clinics offer residential programmes that give you the opportunity to recover in a short amount of time. They offer immediate access and a distraction- and temptation-free environment where you can focus on nothing but recovery.

In contrast, an outpatient programme provided by charities or the NHS will be free but are outpatient-based, meaning they run for longer and there is usually a long waiting list for treatment.

Whether it is worth paying for a private programme is a matter for you to decide and will depend on how quickly you want to overcome your illness as well as your personal preferences in terms of inpatient and outpatient programmes.

What is the cost of private treatment?

Private clinics vary in terms of how much they charge. The more luxurious clinics will obviously charge more but on average, a 28-day programme can cost anywhere from £4,000 to £6,000.

Where does treatment take place?

Where your treatment takes place will depend on the type of programme you have chosen. If you have opted for a private residential clinic, you will have your treatments within the clinic. If you have gone for an outpatient programme provided by the NHS, your treatments might take place at your local hospital or treatment centre.

Other options include treatment with a local counsellor or a charity organisation. Individual counselling sessions take place on a one-to-one basis with your counsellor or therapist. Group therapy sessions include a few patients with one or more counsellors or therapists.

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