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Antidepressants are prescription drugs that are used to treat major depressive disorder symptoms. There are different types of antidepressants, each of which works differently to mitigate depression symptoms. For many people, finding the right antidepressant can be a trial-and-error process. An antidepressant may work wonders for one person and not at all for another, and unfortunately, there isn’t a way to figure it out ahead of time. If you’re currently in this situation, the experts of our mental health treatment share some common signs your antidepressant dose is too low and when to speak to your doctor.
How Long for Antidepressants to Work?
It can take 1 to 2 weeks for antidepressants to kick in or take effect (without missing a dose). During this time, it’s important to take the medication exactly as prescribed and to never miss a dose. You must also keep in mind that the beginning stages of taking a new antidepressant can be slightly uncomfortable.
While adjusting to antidepressants, you may experience some undesirable side effects like dry mouth, sedation, headache, and trouble sleeping as your body adapts to the new drug. If the antidepressant you’re taking is right for you, you’ll begin to feel the benefits within a week or 2. These may include improved mood, concentration, and sociability.
Signs Your Antidepressant Isn’t Working Due to Low Doses
You Feel Better Immediately, But It Doesn’t Last
The effects of antidepressants are thought to be related to neurotransmitters or chemical messengers in the brain, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. As we mentioned, it can take 1 to 2 weeks for these changes to take effect, with a peak around the 6 to 8-week mark. So, if you feel immediately different after starting an antidepressant, it could simply be a placebo effect.
Sometimes, this placebo effect wears off, and the actual effects of the medication kick in. Other times, the placebo effects wear off, but the medication never takes effect. This can be confusing to patients, as they may believe that the medication suddenly stopped working. However, the more likely problem is that the medication just didn’t work for them in the first place.
You Skipped a Dose or Two
We’re human, so it’s normal to miss a dose here and there or to take medications at irregular intervals, but this can be a problem for someone who’s taking antidepressants. Not taking antidepressant medication consistently or at irregular intervals can inhibit its ability to treat your symptoms – or prevent it from working at all.
Many people who take their depression medications irregularly often find that their symptoms haven’t improved. This may lead them to skip their doses entirely or attempt to take higher doses after days when they forget to take their medication.
The best way to avoid this is to set alarms daily to remind yourself to take your antidepressant so you don’t miss any doses. Furthermore, do not take double the dose after a day where you missed a dose, as this can produce a negative reaction.
You’re Struggling to Sleep
Antidepressants can affect your ability to sleep, as well as your sexual drive or libido, which can also make sleep difficult. In some cases, antidepressants can also cause nightmares, vivid dreams, and myoclonus (a condition marked by a sudden jerking of limbs.) As you can imagine, these side effects can easily keep someone from getting their full eight hours.
However, changing your nighttime routine should be enough to fix this issue. Some tips that you can follow include practicing deep breathing before bed or listening to calming sounds or music in bed.
Your Mood Still Hasn’t Improved After Several Months
Generally, people see improvement after taking their antidepressants for three months. If you’ve been on antidepressants for three months and don’t see any improvements in your symptoms or mood, then it’s possible your antidepressant dose is too low.
You Feel Energetic, But Still Down
If you feel energetic after starting an antidepressant but haven’t shown any improvements in mood, it means that the medication is working, just not in the way it’s supposed to. Increased energy combined with depression can lead to risky behaviors, impulsivity, and an increased risk of suicide. If you experience these reactions, report them to your doctor right away.
You’re Experiencing Unwanted Side Effects
As we said, sometimes finding the right antidepressant for you is trial and error, and switching and trying new medications comes with some unwanted side effects. For instance, if you experience weight gain or decreased sexual drive or performance, you might need to switch medications altogether. Again, you must report any adverse reactions to your doctor as soon as possible.
You’re Showing Signs of Serotonin Syndrome
Serotonin syndrome occurs when serotonin levels in the body are too high. If you’re taking low-dose antidepressants, serotonin syndrome may occur if your medication combines with others that you’re taking or foods that you’re eating. Although dangerous, serotonin syndrome is not usually fatal, and it’s avoidable.
As a side note, serotonin syndrome is also a common sign of high antidepressant doses. If you’re showing any signs, regardless of your doses, be sure to tell your doctor about any other medications you take and ask about the foods or drinks you should avoid consuming while taking antidepressants.
Your Dose Isn’t as Effective as It Used to Be
It’s normal for people to develop a tolerance to a drug after using it for a long time. As a result, the medication that once worked wonders for your mood and energy suddenly doesn’t pack the same punch. Sometimes, a doctor might increase your dose to alleviate symptoms, and other times, they might just change the medication altogether.
However, if you’re experiencing this issue, do not increase your dose without the guidance and direction of the prescribing doctor, as this can lead to serotonin syndrome and possibly an antidepressant overdose. It’s equally important that you continue taking your regular dose of antidepressants until you meet with your doctor and they devise a game plan.
Your Depression Symptoms Worsen
If your depression symptoms immediately worsen or improve and then suddenly get worse, it’s a sign that the antidepressant isn’t working properly. Whether you need a higher dose or a different medication is up to the doctor, so be sure to speak to your physician the moment you experience any of these side effects.
Your Mood or Energy Improves….Too Much
Antidepressants can sometimes cause mood swings, especially in people with a tendency or family history of bipolar disorder. If you feel unusually euphoric or very tense with others, feel noticeably irritable, or have an uncharacteristic attack of road rage, then that antidepressant might not be the one for you.
You Feel Better, But You’re Still Don’t Feel Like Yourself
If you experience relief from symptoms on an antidepressant but not to the extent you were expecting, then you should try something new. Many people benefit from receiving combination treatments for depression. In addition to taking medication for your symptoms, mood disorder treatment that involves therapy and counseling can address any psychological issues that contribute to your symptoms that aren’t mitigated by medication.
For instance, trauma and grief tend to be major underlying factors of depression, and therapy is a great way to address the problems so you can tackle depression symptoms from the inside out. The combination of medication and mood-boosting mental illness treatment can speed your recovery and prepare you to manage any challenges that may threaten your progress along the way.
When to Increase Antidepressant Dosage
Antidepressants not working? Don’t wait to speak to your doctor. If you’ve been taking an antidepressant for four weeks and either continue to feel side effects or haven’t shown any improvement, then it’s time to discuss your options with your physician.
You must not increase the doses of your antidepressant without consulting your doctor first. Taking higher doses than your body is used to can lead to an overdose, serotonin syndrome, and other possible complications. Additionally, if you forgot to take your antidepressant one day, do not double your dose the following day - just continue with your schedule as normal.
It’s also important to avoid alcohol or taking other medications with your antidepressant unless you get the okay from your doctor. Many possible drug interactions could occur, so make sure to take your depression medication as directed.
What to Expect When Increasing Antidepressant Dosage
Are you wondering, “Should I increase my antidepressant dose?” There are a few things you should know before jumping into this change. It’s essential to do this under the guidance of a healthcare professional, usually a psychiatrist or a prescribing physician. Below is what you can generally expect when increasing your antidepressant dose:
- Consultation with a professional: Consultation with a healthcare professional to assess current symptoms, treatment progress, and side effects to determine whether dosage adjustments are necessary.
- Gradual changes in doses: Gradual adjustments in doses help minimize the risk of side effects and help the body adjust.
- Symptom Monitoring: Monitoring symptoms to identify any changes in mood, energy levels, sleep patterns, or any other relevant symptoms.
- Monitoring for side effects: Monitoring for effects that can occur when increasing doses, such as nausea, dizziness, headache, increased anxiety, or changes in sleep patterns. These side effects are usually temporary and tend to improve as the body adjusts to the new dose. If they do not, then the prescribing doctor may lower doses again.
- Improved effectiveness: Increasing doses of an antidepressant is normally done to improve the effectiveness of the medication. The healthcare provider will evaluate whether a higher dose is needed for symptom control and improvement.
- Duration of adjustment: How long it will take to find the right dosage may vary from person to person.
- Follow-up appointments: Individuals who are working with their healthcare providers to increase their antidepressant doses may have to schedule multiple follow-up appointments.
- Psychological support: In addition to medication adjustments, it’s also important for the individual to continue any psychotherapy or counseling that’s part of their treatment plan.
- Patient transparency: Throughout this entire process, patients need to be open with their healthcare providers to ensure their safety and medication effectiveness.
Not all individuals require an increase in antidepressant dosage, and the decision to do so should be made under the guidance of a healthcare provider to avoid complications such as dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and overdose. We must also note that taking antidepressants without depression can lead to adverse side effects and increase the risk of complications such as serotonin syndrome and overdose. Many individuals abuse these medications to experience a high, but psychological and physical complications are more likely to occur.
Finding a Mental Health Rehab Near Me
As we mentioned, antidepressants alone aren’t always the solution for treating depression. Some people benefit either from a combination of medication and therapy or from psychotherapy alone. The important thing is to be open about your symptoms with your doctor to determine what works best for you.
With that said, if your antidepressants aren’t cutting it and you want to add a layer of support to your treatment, we offer PHP and residential programs across the nation for people with all kinds of mental health disorders, including depression, OCD, PTSD, schizophrenia, and others.