Long-Term Side Effects of Antidepressants: What You Should Know
Antidepressants are frequently given drugs that are essential in treating mental health issues. The symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other associated disorders are routinely treated with them.1 Even though they frequently offer comfort and improve the quality of life for many people, antidepressants do have potential long-term harmful consequences that should be taken seriously.
11% of Americans 12 years of age and older take antidepressants.2 Given their wide use, it’s critical to understand the potential long-term side effects associated with antidepressants.
This guide will provide you with the knowledge needed to make wise choices concerning your mental health, promote your own well-being, and seek antidepressant treatment, when required.
How Antidepressants Affect the Brain
Antidepressants significantly alter the delicate processes of the brain, particularly those involved in emotion control and mental health. These drugs mostly target neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that help brain cells communicate.
Keeping emotional balance depends on neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters’ availability and activity in the brain are affected by antidepressants.3
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
To help with serotonin regulation, patients are often prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin, allowing it to remain in the synapses between neurons for a longer duration. This increased presence of serotonin enhances its overall impact, improving mood and reducing depressive symptoms.4
Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) & Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)
Other types of antidepressants that target serotonin and norepinephrine include serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).
These medications help to elevate the levels of both neurotransmitters, leading to improved mood regulation and increased energy levels.5
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)
MAOIs work by inhibiting the activity of enzymes responsible for breaking down neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine. This inhibition results in increased availability of these neurotransmitters, contributing to improved mood and emotional stability.6
By adjusting these neurotransmitters and their interaction within the brain, antidepressants work to restore balance and alleviate depression symptoms. It’s crucial to remember that the precise methods of action can differ based on the antidepressant class and the person’s particular brain chemistry.
Potential Long-Term Side Effects of Antidepressants
As we’ve discussed, while antidepressants can surely be beneficial in managing mental health conditions, it is crucial to be aware of the potential long-term side effects associated with their use. Understanding these effects can help you make informed decisions about your treatment and take necessary precautions.
By recognizing and addressing these considerations, you can work closely with your healthcare providers to effectively manage your mental health condition while taking antidepressant medication.
One of the notable long-term side effects of antidepressant use is weight gain. Certain antidepressants, such as tricyclic antidepressants and perhaps monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), have been linked to an increased risk of weight gain. With this in mind, it is important to monitor changes in weight and discuss any concerns with a healthcare provider to manage this side effect effectively.7
Recent research has raised the possibility of a link between long-term antidepressant usage and an elevated risk of diabetes. While more research is needed to establish a definitive link, individuals taking antidepressants should be aware of this possible risk and undergo regular monitoring for diabetes-related symptoms.8
Sexual side effects are commonly reported among individuals taking antidepressants. These may include decreased libido, difficulty achieving orgasm, or erectile dysfunction in males. It is essential to discuss any sexual concerns with a healthcare provider to explore potential strategies for managing this side effect.9
There is a slight risk of developing suicidal thoughts or acts when using antidepressants, especially in young adults, despite the fact that they are typically recommended to treat the symptoms of depression and lower the risk of suicide. As a result, anyone taking antidepressants should closely monitor changes in their mood or the emergence of suicidal thoughts during the early stages of treatment and immediately communicate any concerns to a healthcare provider.10
Risks and Benefits of Antidepressant Use
As discussed, antidepressant medications have proven to be valuable tools in managing mental health conditions, providing relief from symptoms, and improving quality of life. However, like any medication, they come with both risks and benefits that need to be carefully considered.
Benefits of Antidepressant Use
- Symptom Relief: Antidepressants are designed to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. They can help improve mood, reduce feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and enhance overall emotional well-being.
- Improved Quality of Life: By effectively managing symptoms, antidepressants can significantly enhance an individual’s daily functioning, allowing them to engage in daily activities, maintain relationships, and pursue their goals and aspirations.
- Suicide Reduction: Especially in people with severe depression, antidepressants have been found to lower the likelihood of suicidal thoughts and actions. They can provide a crucial safety net during periods of acute distress and support individuals in navigating challenging times.11
Risks and Considerations
In addition to the potential long-term side effects of antidepressants previously discussed, the following risks and considerations should also be taken into account:
- Side Effects: Antidepressants may cause various side effects, which can vary depending on the specific medication and individual response. Drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, and changes in appetite are typical adverse effects. It’s essential to discuss any persistent or concerning side effects with a healthcare provider.
- Adjustment Period: It may take time to find the right antidepressant and dosage that works best. During this adjustment period, some individuals may experience a temporary worsening of symptoms or initial side effects. Close monitoring and open communication with a healthcare provider are especially crucial during this time.
- Withdrawal and Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome: Abruptly stopping or reducing the dosage of antidepressant medication can lead to withdrawal symptoms, also known as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. Symptoms may include flu-like sensations, dizziness, irritability, and mood swings. Gradual tapering of medication under medical supervision can help minimize the risk of antidepressant withdrawal symptoms.12
- Individual Variability: The effectiveness and tolerability of antidepressants can vary from person to person. What works well for one individual may not be as effective for another. It may require some trial and error to find the most suitable medication and dosage for an individual’s specific needs.
- Monitoring and Follow-Up: Regular monitoring by a healthcare provider is important during antidepressant treatment. This allows for ongoing evaluation of the medication’s effectiveness, assessment of side effects, and adjustments as needed. Open communication with a healthcare provider is key to managing potential risks and ensuring optimal treatment outcomes.
It’s crucial to remember that choosing to take antidepressants is a decision that should always be done in conjunction with a licensed healthcare professional. They will consider your unique circumstances, symptoms, and medical history to determine the most appropriate treatment approach.
How to Manage Long-Term Antidepressant Use
Managing long-term antidepressant use involves close collaboration with a healthcare provider. Here are some additional tips for effectively managing this treatment:
- Regular Check-Ins: Schedule regular follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider to monitor the effectiveness of the medication and discuss any concerns or changes in symptoms.
- Open Communication: Maintain open and honest communication with your healthcare provider regarding any side effects you may be experiencing. This will help them determine the best course of action and potentially adjust the medication or explore alternative treatment options.
- Lifestyle Factors: Adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep. These factors can positively impact your overall well-being and complement the effects of antidepressant medication.
Seek Support for Antidepressant Use and Addiction
Although antidepressants can be valuable tools helping manage mental health conditions, we must be aware of their potential long-term side effects. Specifically, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, increased risk for medical conditions like diabetes, and the possibility of suicidal thoughts are important considerations.
By staying informed, communicating openly with healthcare providers, and implementing a holistic approach to wellness, individuals can effectively manage the long-term use of antidepressants. If you’re struggling with addiction or have concerns about antidepressant use, Elevate Rehab is here to provide support and guidance tailored to your needs. Reach out today to learn more about our California detox centers.
- Mayo Clinic. (2019, December 31). Antidepressants: Selecting one that’s right for you. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/antidepressants/art-20046273
- Pratt, L. A., Brody, D. J., & Gu, Q. (2011). Antidepressant Use in Persons Aged 12 and Over: United States, 2005–2008. NCHS Data Brief ■, 76. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db76.pdf
- Harmer, C. J., Duman, R. S., & Cowen, P. J. (2017). How do antidepressants work? New perspectives for refining future treatment approaches. The Lancet. Psychiatry, 4(5), 409–418. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(17)30015-9
- Chu A, Wadhwa R. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. [Updated 2023 Feb 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554406/
- Sheffler ZM, Patel P, Abdijadid S. Antidepressants. [Updated 2023 Mar 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538182/
- Sub Laban T, Saadabadi A. Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI) [Updated 2022 Jul 19]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539848/
- Fava M. (2000). Weight gain and antidepressants. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 61 Suppl 11, 37–41.
- Barnard, K., Peveler, R. C., & Holt, R. I. (2013). Antidepressant medication as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose regulation: systematic review. Diabetes care, 36(10), 3337–3345. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc13-0560
- Higgins, A., Nash, M., & Lynch, A. M. (2010). Antidepressant-associated sexual dysfunction: impact, effects, and treatment. Drug, healthcare and patient safety, 2, 141–150. https://doi.org/10.2147/DHPS.S7634
- Nischal, A., Tripathi, A., Nischal, A., & Trivedi, J. K. (2012). Suicide and antidepressants: what current evidence indicates. Mens sana monographs, 10(1), 33–44. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-1229.87287
- Pompili, M., Serafini, G., Innamorati, M., Ambrosi, E., Giordano, G., Girardi, P., Tatarelli, R., & Lester, D. (2010). Antidepressants and Suicide Risk: A Comprehensive Overview. Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland), 3(9), 2861–2883. https://doi.org/10.3390/ph3092861
- Gabriel, M., & Sharma, V. (2017). Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 189(21), E747–E747. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.160991
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