Antidepressants are prescription drugs used to relieve symptoms of depression, social anxiety disorder, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and dysthymia. These medications aim to correct the chemical imbalance that’s believed to contribute to changes in mood and behavior. First developed in the 1950s, anti-depression medications have become more popular within the last few decades. But while these medications are effective in treating people with depression, today we’re going to look at the effects of taking antidepressants when not depressed.
Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a common and serious medical illness characterized by persistently depressed mood and loss of interest in activities significant enough to cause substantial impairment in day-to-day life. Because of their symptoms, people with depression may struggle to get out of bed in the mornings, and simple tasks like brushing their hair or changing their clothes can be draining.
Antidepressants reduce symptoms of depression by balancing chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters, which affect mood and emotions, particularly dopamine and serotonin. These depression medications can improve your mood, concentration, sleep, and increase your appetite.
For people with depression, antidepressants can help jump-start their moods and give them the boost they need to manage their symptoms and complete their daily tasks and responsibilities. Depression medication can also encourage these individuals to do the things they enjoy again, and make better choices for themselves, contributing to an overall improved sense of being.
Research shows that taking antidepressants if you’re not depressed can alter brain function and structure, particularly the medication Zoloft. While the effects of depression medications – such as improved mood and emotion – are advantageous for people with depression, these drugs are designed to regulate a chemical imbalance.
So, what happens when someone without a chemical imbalance takes these medications? According to a 2015 study, taking antidepressants when not depressed can reduce the volume of two important brain regions.
The first is the anterior cingulate cortex, which is the area of the brain that controls and regulates mood. The other is the hippocampus, which is where the registration and consolidation of memory occur. The researchers noted that people with depression had previously been shown to have smaller volumes in these brain regions compared to people who did not have depression.1
Additionally, both brain regions are interconnected with other areas of the brain and play critical roles in functions like memory, learning, spatial navigation, will, motivation, and emotion, all of which can be compromised by major depressive disorder.1
Another possible adverse effect of taking an antidepressant when not depressed is serotonin syndrome. Most antidepressants boost mood and reduce depression symptoms by elevating serotonin levels in the brain. Although this is beneficial for someone who’s depressed, for someone who does not have depression, taking antidepressant medication can cause serotonin to build up in the body, resulting in serotonin syndrome.
When serotonin levels are too high, the person may experience symptoms like:
In serious cases, this condition can be life-threatening, producing symptoms such as seizures and loss of consciousness. If you recognize any of these signs in yourself or someone else, seek medical attention immediately.
Another possible risk of using antidepressants without depression is dependence. Drug dependence occurs when someone is unable to function normally without a particular drug or alcohol. Antidepressant dependence can occur in patients who take high doses for long periods, as well as in people who take these medications without prescriptions or to get high.
Although antidepressants don’t necessarily produce a high as heroin or cocaine do, people may still abuse them by taking them in higher doses than prescribed, or with other sedatives like alcohol, opioids, or benzos to exacerbate their effects. A person who’s physically dependent on depression medication may also experience a variety of uncomfortable symptoms called withdrawals when they reduce or cease their use.
If you’ve been taking antidepressants for more than four months or have abused them for long periods, do not attempt to quit using them without professional help. Our residential mental health program in Boca offers dual diagnosis treatment, during which patients with co-occurring addictions and mental disorders will receive care to address both conditions. Our specialists at Banyan Treatment Centers can assist you with the detox and recovery process.
Depression is a serious mental health disorder that can significantly impact a person’s life and even lead to suicide if left untreated. Fortunately, Banyan offers depression treatment among a variety of other programs at our Boca Raton facility to teach patients how to manage their symptoms.
Whether it’s depression, anxiety, OCD, or any other mental health disorder, we can help. Call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763 to learn how to get started in our PHP mental health program.
Science Daily - Common antidepressant may change brain differently in depressed and non-depressed people