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Antidepressants make up a large group of medications that adjust the release and/or absorption of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
This helps stabilize and slightly elevate mood. When used in combination with psychotherapy to understand the roots of a person’s depression, antidepressants are very effective medications in the treatment of mood disorders, including depression.
As prescription of antidepressants has become more popular, therapists and physicians are finding other ways to use these medications, sometimes on an off-label basis. Antidepressants have been found to help in the treatment of substance use disorders. They can ease withdrawal symptoms, and in some cases, they can reduce cravings.
There are six types of antidepressant medications.
There are many potential applications for antidepressants in the treatment of substance abuse. Here are a few of the most effective uses:
There are many types of antidepressants, and even without concurrent or previous substance abuse, reactions to these medications can be very individual. It can take time for the medication to work, and it can take more time to switch medications if the first prescription is not effective. A study published on PubMed reviewed comprehensive studies on the efficacy of antidepressants for treatment in specific cases of substance abuse and found that the only clearly effective result came from nicotine addiction treatment involving bupropion. Alcohol dependence, even with comorbid depression, was not helped by antidepressants; the efficacy of cocaine and opioid dependence treatments was unclear. It is possible that antidepressants may not be an effective substance abuse treatment for many drugs, including for addictions to increasingly popular synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids.
Research indicates that only about 60 percent of people with antidepressant prescriptions experience necessary relief of symptoms. Side effects from antidepressants, including reduced sex drive, weight gain, and fatigue can become more frustrating than the underlying condition, or could, for some people, contribute to increased symptoms of depression due to changes in personal life and appearance.
For people who struggle with co-occurring substance abuse, the continuation of symptoms along with brain chemistry changes could lead to relapse.
If a person is taking antidepressants to moderate withdrawal symptoms during detox, it is important to know that antidepressants themselves, including SSRIs, can lead to physical dependence. Although these drugs are less likely to become the target of abuse or addiction, they can still cause withdrawal symptoms when the person stops taking them. These symptoms include:
If a person struggles with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health problems, these side effects could lead to relapse as they return to old self-medicating patterns to manage the antidepressant withdrawal symptoms.
Although there are potential negatives with use of antidepressants, the benefits most often outweigh the risks. Antidepressants should be used alongside other therapies to overcome both depression and substance abuse. Antidepressants do not cure psychological disorders, including depression or addiction; instead, they are a tool in a full treatment plan to help the person overcome their other conditions.
They can be very effective in the treatment of specific drug issues involving nicotine or methamphetamine. If a physician monitors the patient’s mental health state, to ensure there is improvement in mood and stability in functioning, then the patient can receive appropriate treatment with antidepressants.
As substance abuse can cause many long-term health issues, it is important to get appropriate help to overcome the abuse. Antidepressants are one aspect of a larger treatment plan to overcome substance abuse for some people; this larger plan involves rehabilitation programs and psychotherapy, not simply detox.
Antidepressants can ease withdrawal symptoms in some people, including cravings and drug-seeking behaviors in people overcoming nicotine or methamphetamine addiction. They can also help people whose underlying depression led to substance abuse or whose substance abuse has induced depression. Detox, rehabilitation, therapy, and social support from family and friends are all necessary parts of the overall treatment plan to overcome addiction.