Antidepressants are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, and data show more Americans are using them to help manage their mental health care needs, which include severe mood disorders. Antidepressant use in the U.S. increased by 65 percent between 1999 and 2014, according to a government report highlighted by CBS News.

An estimated 322 million people the world over have been diagnosed with depression, a condition described as persistent sadness that is accompanied by a loss of interest in activities that were once found pleasurable. Such widespread use raises the possibility of these drugs being misused or abused by people who have depression and those who don’t.

Antidepressants are prescribed to help treat the symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders, including:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD)
  • Manic-depressive disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social anxiety disorder

They help balance natural chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters that are tied to a person’s mood, emotions, and behavior. The medications are also used to treat other conditions, including eating disorders (bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder), fibromyalgia, hot flashes, and Tourette syndrome.

Antidepressants are categorized by types and the brain chemicals they affect. There are five classes of antidepressants, but the two most common are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which affect serotonin and norepinephrine chemicals in the brain:

Some SSRI medications are:

  • Citalopram (Celexa)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved these medications to treat depression, as the Mayo Clinic notes.

Many health care professionals consider these medications safe to use because they work slowly over time. They also are not habit-forming or addictive. Those reasons, however, do not stop people from misusing or abusing them.

Are Antidepressants Addictive?

According to the Mayo Clinic, antidepressants aren’t addictive, and users typically don’t crave them. That doesn’t mean, however, that people who take them won’t experience symptoms that mirror those of drug withdrawal if they miss a few doses after several weeks of use.

According to research, about 20 percent of people who abruptly stop taking antidepressants after six weeks, experience withdrawal symptoms. The Mayo Clinic writes that antidepressant withdrawal symptoms are sometimes called “antidepressant discontinuation syndrome,” which lasts for several weeks. Not all antidepressants are the same. Some are more likely to bring on withdrawal symptoms than others, the clinic says.

Routine Antidepressant Use Can Lead to Tolerance

If physical and psychological changes come about after a break in antidepressant use, then that indicates that a person has developed a tolerance of the drug they are taking. This commonly happens when the drug is repeatedly used. It should be noted that drug tolerance does not mean that a person is dependent on a drug or addicted to it.

Still, one can develop a tolerance for a substance when exposed to a drug in a short time. A person also can become tolerant to a drug if they frequently or regularly use it for prolonged periods. Misusing the medication, such as taking more than prescribed or taking it for longer periods than prescribed, can build up a tolerance.

As with other drugs that one becomes accustomed to using, antidepressant use should be gradually reduced before stopped entirely.

How Do You Know if You’re Abusing Antidepressants?

According to Monthly Prescribing Reference’s report, few cases of abuse have been reported that involve SSRIs. It goes on to say, though, that, “Patients most often report abusing antidepressants to achieve a psychostimulant-like effect.”

It recommends that physicians use clinical tools to assess risks in patients who may misuse or abuse antidepressants before starting antidepressant therapy, particularly those who exhibit depressive symptoms

So, how do you know if you are misusing antidepressants? Do you:

  • Use the medication compulsively or frequently?
  • Use them in ways that aren’t consistent with their prescribed purpose?
  • Take higher doses of antidepressants than prescribed without consulting with your doctor?
  • Use them with other substances, such as alcohol, benzos, or other drugs?
  • Seek out various sources to get more of the medications?
  • Can’t seem to stop thinking about antidepressants no matter what you do?

If any of these apply to your situation or that of your loved one, then you may want to consider entering a treatment program at a substance rehabilitation facility that can help end your misuse or dependence on antidepressants. A physician can start a tapering process during medical detox to aid in gradually ending SSRI use.

Various therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can be used in addition to detox to help people dependent on SSRIs to address the psychological aspects of their use. Understanding these, in addition to receiving medical treatment, can help one avoid abuse of SSRI drugs.

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