Taking Antidepressants: Myths vs. Facts
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Antidepressant use is on the rise with an estimated 1 in 10 American’s taking them, and many have not been diagnosed with mental illness. A lot of doctors who aren’t psychiatrists are writing antidepressants prescriptions for reasons ranging from everyday stress to stage fright to difficulty kicking the smoking habit. Antidepressants such as Lexapro, Paxil, and Prozac are now the third most prescribed group of drugs in the United States and that statistic is only expected to increase. Despite the number of people using such drugs, a lot of myths still surround the use of antidepressants.
Myth: Antidepressants are addictive.** Fact:** Unlike alcohol, nicotine, and tranquillizers, antidepressants don’t require frequent dosage increases to maintain a certain effect, and they do not cause the user to crave them. While not addictive, those using antidepressants classified as SSRIs and SNRIs do experience withdrawal effects that sometimes can last for months. Some indicators of withdrawal include upset stomach, flu-like symptoms, anxiety, strange dreams, and dizziness.
Antidepressants also carry a long list of potential side effects, ranging from mild to severe, which should be discussed with a medical professional prior to beginning treatment. But rest assured that antidepressants aren’t addictive.
Myth: Antidepressants are the panacea for depressioact: Antidepressants aren’t magic “happy pills” and the mood-improving effects can take several weeks to develop. Antidepressants developed a reputation for being like “speed”, but unlike methamphetamines, antidepressants don’t result in euphoria. In fact, only about 2/3 of those with depression will respond to any given antidepressant, and the improvement in mood generally is limited.
Myth: Antidepressants are a quick fix and don’t solve the problem.** Fact:** We’ve already established that antidepressants can take weeks to go into effect, so that would hardly classify as a “quick fix.” While they can lift your mood a bit, they work most effectively when combined with therapy to address any underlying environmental issues contributing to depression. Other potentially helpful treatments to combine with antidepressants include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, herbal remedies (though these must be carefully planned with a doctor), and light therapy.
Myth: Antidepressants cause weight gain.** Fact:** This is only partially a myth; some people do experience weight gain as a result of taking antidepressants. Though some people gain weight after beginning antidepressants, the antidepressant isn’t necessarily the cause. For instance, the added medication could improve a person’s appetite, which may have diminished as a result of depression, and that causes them to gain weight. Some people may even lose weight, due to a drop off in emotional eating once they start taking the medication. Such a side effect depends on the person and the prescribed antidepressant, so if this is a concern, you should discuss it with your doctor beforehand.
Myth: Once on antidepressants – always on antidepressants.** Fact:** The length of treatment depends entirely on the type of depression a patient experiences. A majority of those on antidepressants stop treatment after six months, while those who have experienced several major depressive episodes are often candidates for longer-term treatment. If someone begins an antidepressant regimen and starts to experience a positive change in mood, it’s no surprise that they wonder if they can feel good after ceasing treatment. Normally, doctors recommend that people stay on their antidepressant for at least six months to a year. Beyond that, stopping treatment is a personal choice, and it’s important to take into account the other factors that were contributing to depression before continuing to rely on the newly medicated feelings of recovery. Because of potential side effects from withdrawal, it’s important to not abruptly stop taking antidepressants. Instead taper down with the help of a doctor. Remember that just because antidepressants may have helped you through a depressive episode, they aren’t always needed to feel normal.
Myth: Antidepressants decrease sex drive.** Fact:** We’ve established that some antidepressants carry possible sexual side effects. But that list doesn’t normally include lack of sexual drive. More common is the inability to achieve an orgasm. On the other hand, simply being depressed can demolish a person’s libido, and introducing an antidepressant when depressed can sometimes actually improve sex life
Myth: Antidepressants are dangerous to combine with other medications.** Fact:** It’s alwaysimportant to discuss other medications you may be taking with your doctor first. Any drug can interact with another drug. But the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, SSRIs, rarely interact or cause any problems with other medications. One exception is the potential for elevated blood pressure when SSRIs are taken with MAO inhibitors. Overall, SSRIs are safe to take with almost all medicines, but always be sure to consult a doctor or pharmacist to be certain.
Related Slideshow**:** ** Commonly Confused Mental Health Medications**
Holohan, Ellin. (August 5, 2011). Study: Americans’ use of antidepressants on the rise. Retrieved from usatoday.com
The Royal College of Psychiatrists. (n.d). Antidepressants. (N.D). Retrieved from http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mentalhealthinfoforall/problems/depression/antidepressants.aspx
JAMA (2012). Antidepressant drug effects and depression severity: A patient-level meta-analysis. Retrieved from: http://jama.amaassn.org/content/303/1/47.full.pdf
M.I.N.D. (n.d) Making sense of antidepressants. Retrieved from: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/medical_and_alternative_care/making_sense_of_antidepressants
Amanda is a former editor for HealthCentral.