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Effects of Taking Antidepressants When Not Depressed

Antidepressants are medications prescribed to treat depressive disorders by altering brain chemistry to improve mood and alleviate symptoms of depression, seasonal-affective disorder (SAD), and dysthymia. Antidepressants alleviate symptoms of depression by modifying neurotransmitter levels in the brain to enhance mood stability and emotional well-being.

While these can be effective in treating depression, there can be side effects when someone takes antidepressants when not depressed. At Arbor Wellness, our experts explain what happens when you take these medications recreationally or without a proper diagnosis.

How Do Antidepressants Work for Depression?

Most antidepressants work by influencing how the central nervous system produces, transmits, and reabsorbs chemicals known as neurotransmitters. The exact mechanisms can vary depending on the type of antidepressant.

The following are three common types of antidepressants:

    • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – This category includes medications that are marketed under the brand names Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, and Lexapro.

    • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) – Examples of SNRIs include Effexor, Pristiq, and Cymbalta.

    • Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs) – Currently, the sole antidepressant in this category is Wellbutrin.

As their category names indicate, these antidepressants affect the following neurotransmitters, which are associated with mood, motivation, the sleep/wake cycle, pleasure, the body’s “fight or flight” response, and related characteristics:

    • Serotonin

    • Norepinephrine

    • Dopamine

Neurotransmitters convey messages throughout the central nervous system. Typically, when a neuron interacts with a neurotransmitter, it absorbs a bit of the neurotransmitter. The medications listed above prevent neurons from absorbing the neurotransmitters. This increases the level of neurotransmitters in a person’s system, which can lead to an easing of depression symptoms.

Now that we’ve established how many common antidepressants work, we can turn our focus to the potential effects of taking antidepressants when not depressed.

More: Most Common Medications for Mental Health

The Effects of Taking Antidepressants Without Depression

If you take an antidepressant without having depression, it can alter your brain structure and functioning, particularly with the drug Zoloft. While these drugs are designed to restore a chemical imbalance, there can be certain adverse effects, including the following:

Changes in Brain Volume

Taking antidepressants when not depressed reduces the volume of two important regions of the brain. The first, being the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that controls and regulates mood. The other is the hippocampus where the registration and consolidation of memory takes place.

Serotonin Syndrome

Serotonin Syndrome is a potentially life-threatening condition due to excessive serotonin accumulation in the brain. Because most antidepressants boost mood, they also boost levels of serotonin in the brain. If someone takes an antidepressant when they’re not depressed, serotonin levels can build up in the body and cause a number of symptoms.

Initial symptoms of serotonin syndrome can begin to occur within 24 hours. This occurs after a person has begun to take a dangerous amount of an SSRI, an SNRI, or other antidepressants.

Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:

    • Agitation

    • Confusion

    • Rapid heart rate

    • Dilated pupils

    • Muscle rigidity

More severe cases can cause:

    • Seizures

    • Irregular heartbeat

    • Unconsciousness.

      Prompt medical attention is crucial as severe serotonin syndrome can lead to complications such as high fever, seizures, and can be fatal if not treated promptly.

Risk of Addiction

Antidepressant addiction, though less common than addiction to other substances, can occur particularly with certain types of antidepressants like those with stimulating effects. Symptoms of addiction may include cravings, withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, and flu-like symptoms when the medication is reduced or stopped abruptly. Managing potential addiction involves careful monitoring by a treatment provider that provide detox with gradual dose reduction, and supportive therapies to address withdrawal symptoms and underlying issues.

At Arbor Wellness, if you or a love one are struggling with a substance use disorder to antidepressants, we can help. Our detox and residential treatment programs can assist you in navigating mental health disorders and substance use disorder simultaneously.

About Antidepressant Abuse & Addiction

As is the case with most prescription medications, antidepressants can be abused for one of two reasons:

– To self-medicate

– To achieve a recreational high

Many people mistakenly believe that, since prescription medications are used by doctors to treat legitimate medical concerns, they are safer than other commonly abused substances. While it’s true that antidepressants and other prescription medications can be used with minimal risk when the person who is taking them follows their doctor’s instructions, every drug can cause unpleasant side effects. And when a person exceeds the recommended frequency and dosage levels of any medication, they can expose themselves to considerable harm. 

According to a 2014 article in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, most people who abuse antidepressants have a substance use disorder (addiction) and a co-occurring mood disorder or dual diagnosis disorder. The typical reason people abuse antidepressants, this article reports, is because they are attempting to experience “a psychostimulant-like effect.”

Treatment Options for Antidepressant Abuse 

Even if a person hasn’t experienced lasting physical damage due to antidepressant abuse, they may still need professional care. Proper treatment can help individuals overcome the urge to misuse these or other prescription drugs. 

Depending on the nature and severity of a person’s struggles with antidepressant abuse, their treatment may include residential care, partial hospitalization, and/or intensive outpatient programming. 

Within these programs, treatment for antidepressant abuse and prescription drug addiction often includes several types of therapy. Therapy sessions can help people understand the issues and influences that may have contributed to their substance abuse in the first place. These sessions can also help participants develop the skills and strategies that will allow them to respond to conflicts and other stressors without abusing antidepressants or any other substances. 

In addition to individual and group therapy, people who are receiving care for antidepressant abuse may also benefit from services such as the following:

If the person has been abusing antidepressants in a misguided attempt to self-medicate the symptoms of anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or another mental health concern, it is important to find a treatment provider such as Arbor Wellness that offers dual diagnosis services. Dual diagnosis is the clinical term that refers to the simultaneous presence of a substance use disorder (addiction) and a co-occurring mental health concern.

Find Mental Health Treatment Today in Nashville, TN

If you or someone that you care about has been struggling with depression, antidepressant abuse, prescription drug addiction, or other mental and behavioral health concerns, the Arbor Wellness team is here to help.

Our treatment center in Nashville, Tennessee, offers personalized services and comprehensive support within a safe and welcoming environment. The dedicated professionals who provide care at our facility can help you or your loved one find the path toward improved health and long-term recovery. Give us a call or visit our admissions page today to learn more.

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