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Antidepressants are among the most commonly prescribed medications.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2015 and 2018, 13.2% of adults used antidepressants in the previous month and antidepressant use was higher among women (17.7%) than men (8.4%).1 Despite how commonly prescribed they are, there are dangers of antidepressants that the general public isn’t aware of. Our mental health care center in Boca Raton is sharing the long-term risks of antidepressants.
What Are Antidepressants?
Antidepressants are prescription medications used to treat symptoms of major depressive disorder, certain anxiety disorders, seasonal affective disorder, dysthymia, and a variety of other conditions linked to mental illness. Common antidepressants like Celexa, Lexapro, and Prozac work by realigning chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which control mood and emotions. These medications help to reset the post and presynaptic concentration between these three neurotransmitters to regulate mood.
The most common types of antidepressants are:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants and are most effective in treating depression. They work by blocking the brain’s ability to absorb serotonin. This makes it easier for brain cells to relay messages to one another, stabilizing mood.
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs are used to treat major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, symptoms of menopause, fibromyalgia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and sometimes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). SNRIs work by increasing levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, which are neurotransmitters that regulate mood.
- Tricyclics antidepressants (TCAs): TCAs are commonly used to treat depression, fibromyalgia, and certain types of anxiety disorders
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): MAOIs are usually used as introductory medications for patients before taking SNRIs or SSRIs. They work by preventing a brain enzyme called monoamine oxidase from breaking down serotonin. The theory is that if less serotonin is broken down, then the person’s mood will improve.
Antidepressants don’t work for everyone. Fortunately, there are safer ways to treat depression that are just as beneficial. At Banyan Mental Health, we offer depression treatment that addresses every aspect of this disorder and helps patients learn healthy coping techniques.
Risks of Antidepressants
Because major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders can’t be magically cured in a day, antidepressants are often prescribed for long-term use. Unfortunately, the dangers of antidepressants are more likely to affect people who take these medications for a long period of time. Each neurotransmitter plays a different role and tweaking how these neurotransmitters are absorbed or released may cause some unwanted side effects.
Some long-term risks of antidepressants include:
- Decreased libido
- Problems with sexual performance
- Blood clots
- Increased risk of internal bleeding
- Weight gain
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
- Inability to feel emotions
- High blood sugar levels
- Tachyphylaxis (sudden decrease in response to a drug)
Another common problem in people who develop a tolerance to the effects of antidepressants is withdrawal, also known as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. Similar to other drugs, when a person suddenly stops taking their antidepressant medication, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include blurred vision, insomnia, loss of coordination, flu-like symptoms, and random fits of crying.
Can Antidepressants Make You Depressed?
Not necessarily. Some people struggle with a type of depression called treatment-resistant depression. As the name suggests, this form of depression isn’t affected or improved by medication. Depression relapse is also one of the dangers of taking antidepressants. When a person takes these medications for a long period of time, they become dependent on them in order to block their depression symptoms. Once this person stops taking antidepressants, they may “relapse” and experience depression again.