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Antidepressant Abuse Symptoms: Signs & Dangers to Watch For

Medication abuse involves the consumption of a drug in a way that is not medically prescribed by a doctor, such as consuming higher amounts of a drug, consuming the drug more often than prescribed, or consuming it in conjunction with other substances of abuse like alcohol or opioids.

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The most common symptoms of antidepressant abuse include confusion, difficulty maintaining balance, impaired coordination, dizziness, fainting, and convulsions, in rare cases.

Antidepressant medications work by modifying the reuptake of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, which can have effects on mood and affect. These medications are not typically considered to be habit-forming, but they can create physical dependence and lead to abuse. 

What Are the Most Common Signs & Symptoms of Antidepressant Abuse?

A sign of a health issue refers to the objective evidence that the health issue is present, whereas a symptom is a subjective experience of a health issue to a patient. 

Common signs of antidepressant abuse to watch for in others include the following:

  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Financial difficulties
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Changes in appetite
  • Reduced self-care and maintenance of physical health

Common symptoms of antidepressant abuse include the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Nervousness

What Are the Dangers of Antidepressants?

Antidepressants, when taken according to a doctor’s prescription, are not associated with any significant long-term physical health conditions. However, they may produce some adverse side effects and can be associated with health risks if they are abused. 

Physical Effects

Physical side effects associated with antidepressant abuse include the following:

  • Shakiness
  • Insomnia
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Blurred vision

Mental & Emotional Effects

The abuse of antidepressants can also lead to mental and emotional effects, such as these:

  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Reduced sex drive

How to Recognize Antidepressant Addiction

Antidepressants are not considered by doctors to be habit-forming in the same way as many other drugs because they do not produce euphoria and they generally take an extended period of time to produce an effect on symptoms of depression. However, they can produce a state of physical dependence, which can make them addictive and susceptible to abuse. 

There is increasing evidence that some forms of antidepressants are abused for psychostimulant effects. Also, some people abuse antidepressants in an effort to achieve euphoric or sedative effects, even if they are unsuccessful in achieving that goal.

You may be able to recognize an addiction to antidepressants in someone you know if they display a combination of the above signs of abuse or any of the side effects listed above. Additionally, the following behaviors may be indicative of an addiction to antidepressants:

  • Excessive preoccupation with obtaining antidepressants
  • Stealing antidepressants from others
  • Offering to buy antidepressants from another individual
  • Seeking out different health professionals to obtain new antidepressant prescriptions
  • Financial difficulties associated with obtaining antidepressants illegally
  • Problems at home, school, or work due to a preoccupation with antidepressants

Antidepressant Withdrawal Symptoms

Someone who has abused antidepressants, overdosed on them, or recently discontinued use of antidepressants after an extended period of time is likely to experience withdrawal. Withdrawal is the physical reaction the body has as it seeks to achieve balance after a substance it has acclimated to is suddenly removed. 

Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms following the discontinuation of an antidepressant include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Shakiness and hand tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation

Doctors typically recommend that you taper off antidepressants in order to minimize these withdrawal symptoms. A taper is a scheduled and progressive reduction in the amount and frequency of the dose of a medication to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Tapers can make the discontinuation process much more manageable.  

A taper from antidepressants lasts approximately two to four weeks in the case of shorter tapering schedules. Usually, after that point, a minimal therapeutic dose is taken, followed by a half-minimum dose and then complete discontinuation. 

However, there is more evidence to support the effectiveness of longer tapering schedules, lasting up to three months. Longer tapers tend to be more tolerable for those who have consumed antidepressants for long periods of time or in high doses.  

What to Do if Someone Overdoses on Antidepressants

The best thing to do if someone you know may have overdosed on any drug is call 911, and antidepressants are no different. Some of the symptoms to look for in someone who may be overdosing on antidepressants include the following:

  • Extreme drowsiness or sedation
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Convulsions
  • Reports of headaches
  • Dilated pupils
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion

Antidepressant overdoses are more common when other substances have also been consumed, particularly alcohol. If you know someone who takes antidepressants abusing alcohol, this may be an indicator of a potential overdose. 

An overdose of antidepressants and alcohol can create a heavy state of sedation, placing an individual at risk of entering a coma. It is critical to seek medical help immediately if you observe someone who has entered such a state. 

Getting Help for Antidepressant Abuse

Misuse of any medication, including antidepressants, is a sign of a problem. While it’s possible to stop substance misuse on your own, treatment is often needed. If you aren’t able to cut down on your misuse of antidepressants, it’s a clear sign that you need professional help.

In addiction treatment programs, you’ll participate in therapy to identify why you started misusing antidepressants and other substances. Therapy is effective for teaching you skills and strategies that can help you cope with triggers for substance abuse. You’ll learn what to do, so you don’t return to antidepressant abuse when you encounter certain situations, such as stressful times. You’ll build a support network and gain tools you can use, so you leave treatment stronger than when you entered.

In treatment, you’ll build the foundation of a life in recovery. While addiction isn’t curable, it can be successfully managed. You just need the right care to get you there.

Updated June 8, 2023
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  5. Discontinuing Antidepressants: Pearls and Pitfalls. (January 2022). Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine.
  6. Alcohol-Medication Interactions: Potentially Dangerous Mixes. (May 2022). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  7. Antidepressants Abuse in Subjects With Opioid Use Disorders: A 10-Year Study in the French OPPIDUM Program. (November 2021). Fundamental & Clinical Pharmacology.
  8. Adverse Effects of Antidepressants Reported by a Large International Cohort: Emotional Blunting, Suicidality, and Withdrawal Effects. (September 2018). Current Drug Safety.
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