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Tianeptine Addiction & Abuse: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Tianeptine is a generic antidepressant sold in countries like France. It's not FDA approved, so your doctor can't prescribe it for any medical condition. But some retailers sell this drug as a brain-enhancing supplement meant to help you think clearly even while recovering from opioid use disorder.

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Many people abuse tianeptine, and it’s growing more popular all the time. In 2000, 11 total cases of tianeptine exposure were reported to American poison control centers. In 2020, 151 cases were reported. 

People use clever names for tianeptine (like gas station heroin). But make no mistake: This drug is dangerous. While it’s marketed as a cure for addiction, you could develop a serious attachment to this drug too. There is no cure for addiction, so any advertisement of a cure is false.

What Is Tianeptine?

For many people with depression, chemical imbalances deep within the brain are to blame. Tianeptine adjusts the release of common brain chemicals, and some people get relief while using it. 

In a 2001 study, researchers said tianeptine was as effective in treating depression as common drugs like these:

  • Fluoxetine
  • Sertraline
  • Amitriptyline
  • Clomipramine

Based on results like this, countries approved the drug for their physicians to prescribe. European and Latin American countries have approved the medication, and it’s sold there under brand names like Coaxil and Stablon.

Who Abuses Tianeptine?

Tianeptine is relatively easy to get throughout the United States. Companies bundle the drug into supplements promising clear thoughts, better mood, and less anxiety. Some products are even made for people who want to quit abusing opioids like heroin. 

Since tianeptine isn’t FDA approved, anyone who is using it is technically abusing it. But researchers say people with a history of opioid abuse or dependence may be at higher risk of addiction to this drug. It’s ironic that something sold to help people feel better makes them feel worse, but tianeptine seems to work this way.

People struggling with opioid abuse may buy tianeptine-laden supplements to help them deal with drug cravings. But since the drug works on opioid receptors, it can cause a brand-new addiction. 

Unlike FDA-approved therapies such as buprenorphine, tianeptine doesn’t seem to help people recover. Instead, it tends to make them feel worse in time. 

What Are the Causes of Tianeptine Addiction?

Researchers say tianeptine binds to opioid receptors deep within the brain. These same receptors are notorious for causing addictions to drugs like OxyContin and heroin. 

Triggered opioid receptors release neurotransmitters like dopamine, flooding the body with feelings of relaxation, safety, and comfort. While brain cells release these chemicals in very small amounts naturally, a flood causes very different sensations that are almost impossible to replicate without drugs. 

Some people develop a fascination with drug-related euphoria that begins the first time they take tianeptine. But the first high is usually the strongest, and users must take more of the drug to get that reaction. Eventually, they are taking higher and higher doses.

As addiction deepens, people no longer choose to take tianeptine. Instead, they use the drug to prevent uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. They’ve lost control over their ability to manage their use.

What Does Tianeptine Withdrawal Look Like?

People who have taken tianeptine for long periods experience an uncomfortable physical syndrome when they quit suddenly. 

Physical symptoms associated with tianeptine withdrawal include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fast heartbeat 
  • High blood pressure
  • Diarrhea 
  • Tremors

Mental symptoms include agitation, confusion, and a deep craving for drugs. 

People with a tianeptine addiction know taking the drug will make the symptoms stop. It’s very easy to relapse to make the discomfort fade, and this deepens a harmful cycle of abuse.

Can You Overdose on Tianeptine?

You can take too much tianeptine and experience an overdose. Many people do.

Experts say tianeptine overdose symptoms typically fall into the following categories:

  • Neurologic
  • Cardiovascular 
  • Gastrointestinal 

Doctors generally use fluids, benzodiazepines, and oxygen to help their patients feel better. But overdose treatment can’t address the underlying addiction. A different type of therapy is required. 

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Tianeptine Addiction?

Tianeptine addiction is relatively new, and it hasn’t been studied extensively. As a result, people don’t know a lot about what this particular type of addiction looks like. 

Typically, people with drug addictions struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle. They may skip work and social opportunities, as they must spend most of their time getting, using, or recovering from drugs. 

Physical issues, such as weight loss or sedation, are also common in people who abuse drugs. And as people take larger doses, they may experience multiple overdose episodes that require hospitalization or medical treatment. 

Treatment Options for Tianeptine Addiction 

Many people who enter treatment programs citing tianeptine have an underlying opioid use disorder (OUD). They need a tried-and-true treatment program to recover — not street drugs that don’t help.

A clinically proven OUD treatment program uses FDA-approved medications like buprenorphine combined with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and support group work. This three-pronged approach helps correct chemical imbalances, teach new habits, and offer ongoing support. 

This same approach could help people with tianeptine addiction. But some people don’t need the buprenorphine component. They might just engage in therapy. A personalized approach is best for any addiction issue, and your doctor can help you find the method that’s right for you.

Updated October 12, 2023
Resources
  1. Tianeptine Products Linked to Serious Harm, Overdoses, Death. (February 2022). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  2. Tianeptine: A Review of Its Use in Depressive Disorders. (2001). CNS Drugs.
  3. Tianeptine. (2023). U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  4. Tianeptine. (January 2023). U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
  5. Characteristics of Tianeptine Exposures Reported to the National Poison Data System, United States, 2000 to 2017. (August 2018). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  6. When an Obscurity Becomes a Trend: Social-Media Descriptions of Tianeptine Use and Associated Atypical Drug Use. (April 2021). American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
  7. The Neurobiological Properties of Tianeptine (Stablon): From Monoamine Hypothesis to Glutamatergic Modulation. (March 2010). Molecular Psychiatry.
  8. Tianeptine: A Potential Source of Misuse Among Those With Opioid Use Disorder. (October 2022). Journal of Addictions Nursing.
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