Effexor (venlafaxine) is the brand name of an antidepressant medication that is classified as a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor.
Antidepressants have a very low risk for abuse, although long-term use may produce mild withdrawal syndromes.
Effexor is not a controlled substance, but it does require a prescription from a physician.
What Does Effexor Treat?
Effexor was developed to treat clinical depression and other depressive disorders. The extended-release version of Effexor may also be used to treat anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
How Does the Drug Work?
The nerves in the brain, the neurons, communicate with one another via chemicals that are known as neurotransmitters. When neurons send signals to one another, they do so through the use of these neurotransmitters.
The neurotransmitter is released into the space between the neurons, and it attaches to adjoining neurons that are specialized for it. The neuron receives the message, and it can then send its message to other neurons by releasing its neurotransmitters. This process continues until a specific behavior, or other function is performed. This process is known as neurotransmission.
During neurotransmission, much of the neurotransmitters that have been released in the space between neurons (the synaptic cleft) are eventually reabsorbed back into the neurons that released them, a process that is known as reuptake.
Venlafaxine, the active substance in Effexor, blocks the reuptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, leaving them free to continue to work. One of the hypotheses regarding the cause of depression is that people with clinical depression lack adequate levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain. It is believed that this process assists in the treatment of depression and other issues.
Is Effexor a Significant Drug of Abuse?
Antidepressant medications like Effexor are mistakenly believed by some people to induce “happy” states that resemble the types of giddiness that occurs with alcohol or other drug use. This is simply not true.
Antidepressant medications like venlafaxine do not produce significant psychoactive effects that are sought by those who abuse drugs. Antidepressant medications are not drugs of abuse, except with a very few restricted populations.
Individuals with severe psychiatric disorders may abuse their medications, including Effexor. People with strong substance use disorders are sometimes desperate to achieve a new type of high, and they may mix antidepressants with other drugs of abuse.
If you mix Effexor with a substance like alcohol, you will most likely experience an increase of the unpleasant side effects that are associated with the drug and a decrease in the medicinal benefits of the medication. However, Effexor will not make you high.
What are the Side Effects of Venlafaxine?
The Common Side Effects that Occur With Venlafaxine Include:
- Gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea, diarrhea, and other types of flu-like symptoms
- Weight gain or changes in appetite
- Autonomic nervous system effects, such as increased blood pressure, increased sweating, feeling jittery, and increased or irregular heartbeat
- Headaches, dizziness, dry mouth, fatigue, and/or restlessness
- Sleepiness or insomnia
- Issues with sexual functioning
Most of these above side effects will dissipate over time as your body adjusts to Effexor. In some cases, physicians may need to use a different antidepressant if the side effects are disturbing and do not resolve. They may also need to prescribe other medications to address the side effects.
Other Potentially Dangerous Side Effects
A long-term side effect of Effexor use is angle-closure glaucoma.
Some individuals may develop allergic reactions, which can be potentially dangerous. These may be signified by hives, swelling, and even seizures. If you believe you have an allergic reaction to any drug, stop taking it and immediately contact your physician.
A small percentage of teenagers and younger adults who take antidepressant medications like Effexor may experience an increase in suicidal thinking. If this happens, immediately stop using the medication and contact your physician.
There are hundreds of other medications that may produce untoward interactions with Effexor. If you are prescribed Effexor, provide your prescribing physician with a list of all your medicines to avoid any serious drug interactions.
Any medication that increases levels of serotonin in the brain should only be taken under the supervision of a physician. This includes antidepressant medications like Effexor.
A potentially life-threatening condition known as serotonin syndrome (sometimes referred to as serotonin toxicity) may occur with antidepressant use. The risk to develop serotonin syndrome increases substantially if a person is taking two or more medications that increase serotonin levels in the brain. This includes different types of antidepressants and certain drugs of abuse like LSD, MDMA (ecstasy), mescaline, and the dextromethorphan found in cough syrups.
Serotonin syndrome is characterized by confusion, hallucinations, muscle rigidity, extreme hypertension, and an unconscious state. If you take Effexor and begin to experience overheating, sweating, increased heart rate, or confusion, call 911.
Does Effexor Lead to Withdrawal Symptoms?
People who use antidepressant medications regularly for more than a few weeks are at risk to develop mild withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly stop taking the medication. The withdrawal syndrome from antidepressant medications has been labeled antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.
The Symptoms are Not Potentially Dangerous in Most Cases. They Often Consist of the Following:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Dizziness and problems with balance
- Increased levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms
The syndrome can occur from discontinuing any antidepressant medication, but it is more likely to occur if you are using an antidepressant that affects serotonin and you abruptly stop using it. Symptoms will typically last for one to two weeks. In sporadic cases, they may last longer.
Many people who abruptly discontinue antidepressants believe they have contracted the flu or their depression is returning. They do not recognize their symptoms as withdrawal symptoms.
To avoid this discontinuation syndrome, a physician will slowly taper down the antidepressant dose at specific intervals over a couple of weeks. This strategy is very successful.
Can You Overdose on Effexor?
Most people who overdose on Effexor only display mild symptoms like headache, nausea, dry mouth, sleepiness or insomnia, sweating, and nervousness.
It is possible to have serious symptoms, such as seizures or heartbeat changes if a substantial amount of Effexor was taken. In this case, immediately call 911.
There is no specific antidote for overdose on Effexor. Symptoms are typically addressed individually.
Is Effexor Habit-Forming?
If you are prescribed Effexor, you are typically using it to treat depression or some other mental health condition. This means that you will usually take Effexor on a regular basis, most often once per day.
Abruptly discontinuing the medication may result in some mild withdrawal effects, but the drug is not habit-forming and not considered to be addictive.
The biggest concern that most people have with taking drugs like Effexor is the side effects they sometimes experience. In most cases, the side effects dissipate with time or can be controlled by the prescribing physician.
Ultimately, abuse of Effexor is not likely. If the drug is combined with other substances of abuse, it’s often done because the person is taking Effexor on a daily basis and then using recreational drugs.
While it does happen rarely, people don’t generally seek out antidepressants for recreational drug abuse.