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Zoloft Addiction

Zoloft is an effective mood-regulating medication. While it is generally considered safe to take for months or even years, dependence and addiction can occur. Withdrawing from Zoloft can be challenging, but finding the right treatment options helps to ensure a successful recovery.

Struggling with Antidepressant Addiction? Get Help Now

What Is Zoloft?

Zoloft, the brand-name version of sertraline, is an antidepressant medication that is approved to treat many mental health issues. It has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder 

Studies have found that most individuals who are prescribed antidepressants like Zoloft do not abuse their medications. 

Additional off-label uses of Zoloft include the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, binge eating disorder, and bulimia nervosa. Such uses are prescribed at the discretion of a doctor.

Zoloft is a prescription medication that typically ranges in dosages from 50 mg to 200 mg, and it is taken once per day with food. Healthcare providers are responsible for working with their patients to determine the lowest, most effective dose. 

Any use of Zoloft outside of as prescribed by a doctor, such as taking a higher dose or taking it more frequently than prescribed, constitutes misuse.

Who Abuses Zoloft?

Studies have found that most individuals who are prescribed antidepressants like Zoloft do not abuse their medications. 

People most likely to misuse use prescription antidepressants already have a history of substance abuse. They are likely struggling with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues. 

Under regular conditions, Zoloft does not create a euphoric effect or “high.”  However, when taken at high doses, antidepressants may create a psychostimulant effect.

Causes of Zoloft Addiction

Zoloft is considered safe to take for prolonged periods of time and is not generally known to have a high risk of addiction. Nonetheless, it alters chemicals in the brain, which can lead to dependence. Studies have found that people who use psychiatric medications, most commonly antidepressants, can have significant difficulty stopping their use. 

One study found that of 250 adults who took psychiatric medications for at least nine months, over half of participants found withdrawal symptoms to be severe when they stopped use. Discontinuing their medication was a complicated process. Concerns about the long-term effects of such medications was a driving factor for nearly two-thirds of participants in the study to stop their antidepressant use. 

An additional study of 180 participants who had been taking antidepressants for 3 to 15 years identified adverse effects of long-term use. About 43 percent of participants reported feeling addicted to their medication, and over 73 percent experienced withdrawal effects when they stopped use. 

Signs & Symptoms of Zoloft Addiction

The nonmedical use of prescription drugs is a growing health concern across the United States, explains a study in Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation. Warning signs of substance misuse include unusual behaviors and signs of prescription medication misuse. Such misuse includes the following:

  • Using a medication like Zoloft without a prescription 
  • Using the medication purely for a specific feeling the drug induces 
  • Taking the medication in larger amounts, more frequently, or for a longer period of time than as prescribed by a doctor

Individuals who are addicted to Zoloft may feel like they can no longer function on a daily basis without it. They may also need increasingly higher doses of the medication in order to achieve desirable effects. 

How Zoloft Affects the Body & Mind

Sertraline is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that works by increasing levels of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a chemical responsible for many functions, including regulating and enhancing mood. Many people who take sertraline experience a relief of depressive symptoms. 

Sertraline also typically has fewer side effects than other types of antidepressants, making it a more desirable option for mood enhancement.

Antidepressant Withdrawal Symptoms

Because Zoloft alters chemicals in your brain, withdrawal symptoms can occur when use is abruptly stopped. SSRIs are known to cause a variety of withdrawal symptoms, which is known as SSRI discontinuation syndrome. The symptoms are not typically dangerous, though they can be physically and psychologically uncomfortable. 

Common antidepressant withdrawal symptoms include the following:

Gradually tapering off SSRI antidepressants over a number of weeks can help to minimize or even prevent withdrawal symptoms. 

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cramping and diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive sweating
  • Flushed skin
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Unusual dreams or nightmares 
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, or difficulty balancing 
  • Tremors and restless legs
  • Difficulty with speech and chewing movements 
  • Pain or numbness
  • Sensitivity to sounds 
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Anxiety, depression, or manic feelings 
  • Paranoia or thoughts of suicide

For some people, SSRI withdrawal symptoms can look like a relapse of depression. Gradually tapering off SSRI antidepressants over a number of weeks can help to minimize or even prevent withdrawal symptoms. 

If symptoms like anxiety and depression persist for more than one month after medication use was stopped, depression may still be present. Consultation with a medical professional about treatment options is recommended at this point.

Zoloft Overdose

As a medication that alters the mind and body, it is possible to overdose on Zoloft. However, an overdose on sertraline is rarely life-threatening. 

Symptoms of a Zoloft overdose include the following:

  • Drowsiness and extreme tiredness
  • Agitation
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular, rapid or pounding heartbeat 
  • Hallucinations and confusion
  • Fever, sweating, or shivering 
  • Muscle stiffness or twitching 
  • Loss of coordination 
  • Difficulty breathing 

If someone exhibits any of the above symptoms after taking Zoloft, seek medical attention. 

Most often, if sertraline overdose occurs, it is in conjunction with overdose of other substances, like benzodiazepines, opioids, or alcohol.

Zoloft Addiction Treatment Options

If you have been misusing Zoloft or any substance, addiction treatment options might be the right choice for you. 

Whether you have been using the medication for medical purposes or recreationally, you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop taking the drug. Experts from Harvard Medical School recommend a gradual approach to getting off antidepressants that involves these steps:

  • Consult your physician to make a plan to taper down your Zoloft dose.
  • Begin psychotherapy to manage symptoms of depression without medication and to avoid future depressive episodes. 
  • Fuel yourself with good nutrition.
  • Engage in stress-reduction techniques.
  • Get regular sleep.
  • Get regular aerobic exercise, which is known to have antidepressant effects by increasing serotonin levels in the brain and compensating for decreasing serotonin levels as you taper off your SSRI.

For individuals with co-occurring substance use problems, further addiction treatment is necessary. Substance use disorders impact an individual’s brain and behavior, making them unable to control their own use of legal and illegal substances. 

Effective treatment often includes a combination of behavioral therapy, medications, and ongoing support. With the right care, people learn how to manage their substance misuse, so they can resist relapse triggers.To locate local addiction treatment options, visit the free online Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). For immediate help for someone having thoughts of suicide, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or at

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated March 7, 2024
  1. Abuse and Misuse of Antidepressants. (August 2014). Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation.
  2. About Sertraline. (February 2022). National Health Service UK.
  3. Discontinuing Psychiatric Medications: A Survey of Long-Term Users. (July 2017). Psychiatric Services.
  4. Going off Antidepressants. (May 2022). Harvard Health Publishing.
  5. Long-term Antidepressant Use: Patient Perspectives of Benefits and Adverse Effects. (July 2016). Patient Preference and Adherence.
  6. Sertraline. (January 2022). National Library of Medicine.
  7. Sertraline Overdose. (February 1996). Academic Emergency Medicine.
  8. Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders. (March 2021). National Institute of Mental Health.
  9. What Is Sertraline and What Does It Treat? (January 2023). National Alliance on Mental Illness.
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