SSRI drugs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are medications that are used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. Typically, they are employed against moderate to severe depression. This category of drugs is considered to be relatively safe to use, and they may cause fewer symptoms than other antidepressant medications. SSRI affect the brain by influencing a process called reuptake. Reuptake is a process by which your brain removes excess chemicals from an active role in your nervous system. Blocking reuptake of a specific chemical can cause a buildup of that chemical. Serotonin is an important chemical messenger in the brain that’s tied to a variety of functions, including the reduction of depression and anxiety. It also promotes physical healing and can stimulate nausea.
SSRIs cause a buildup of serotonin with the goal of correcting chemical imbalances. People with depression may not produce enough of the chemical naturally because of some psychological or biochemical problems. SSRIs can increase the overall levels of serotonin in your nervous system to correct any chemical imbalance.
Are SSRIs Addictive?
SSRI medications aren’t known to have a significant addiction liability. According to the DSM-5, addiction is diagnosed as a severe substance use disorder. It’s identified by compulsive use of a drug, which can mean continued use despite serious consequences.
Though SSRIs don’t come with a severe addiction liability, they can cause you to develop a tolerance. This could result in diminished effectiveness over time, which is a phenomenon called tachyphylaxis.
SSRIs can become less effective when your brain becomes less sensitive to the medication as it gets used to it. It’s especially common for people that take the drug for long periods of time. If you’re developing a tolerance, you can work with your doctor to increase your dose or switch medications. Increasing the dose may make you more dependent on the medication.
When you stop or cut back after a long period of use, you may feel uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms like a return of depression symptoms, irritability, nausea, flushing, sweating, insomnia, dizziness, paranoia, or suicidal thoughts.
Other SSRI Side Effects
SSRIs can come with several other side effects; it’s imperative to let your doctor know about any changing, persistent, or worsening symptoms. Serotonin is responsible for a variety of functions in the body, so a medication that interacts with it may cause a wide range of effects. Serotonin is found in blood platelets, and it’s linked to the constriction of blood vessels. Changes in serotonin levels may temporarily affect blood vessel constriction, which can cause symptoms like sweating and headaches. Other side-effects may include:
- Dry mouth
- Decreased libido
- Changes in appetite
Treating depression may take trial and error. Many people try several different doses and medications before finding a balance that works for them. Work with your doctor to find the right dose and medication and keep them informed about your experience. If you experience worsening depression, the inability to feel pleasure, or suicidal thoughts, speak to a professional immediately. Depression may be complex, but it’s treatable.