We all have seasons of sadness every once in a while. Perhaps it’s brought on by a sudden tragedy or a series of stressful life events. But after a certain point, a persistent sense of sadness, melancholy, or numbness is more than just a season. It may be depression.
Although some cases pass with time, others will become a disruptive daily obstacle. When these feelings get to be too much, many individuals turn to their doctor for a diagnosis and antidepressants for relief if depression is the culprit.
If you’re currently in communication with your therapist or doctor about how to tackle your diagnosed depression, antidepressants might already be on your radar. But if it’s your first time taking them or you’re thinking about taking them, you may like to know about their side effects and other expectations.
Whether you’re currently on them or not, this information will be valuable knowledge for you.
What is an Antidepressant?
… antidepressants are a medication meant to correct a chemical imbalance in the brain to alleviate symptoms associated with mild to chronic depression, anxiety, and a host of other mood disorders.
There are five different categories of antidepressants.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
- Atypical antidepressants
How do antidepressants work?
Dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin are three neurotransmitters that work together to regulate the mood. Collectively, they’re referred to as the monoamines. People with depression and other mood disorders typically have low levels of these neurotransmitters. Antidepressants work to increase the availability of these monoamine molecules. Each of the five antidepressant categories above tackle this in a different way.
SSRIs work by preventing the reuptake (or absorption rate) of serotonin so it’s more active and available in the brain. Lexapro, Celexa, and Zoloft fall under this category.
SNRIs work in a similar fashion to SSRIs but they prevent the absorption of both serotonin and norepinephrine. Some examples of this type of medication include Cymbalta and Fetzima.
MAOIs is a medication that blocks an enzyme called monoamine oxidase which is tasked with breaking down monoamines. Emsam and Parnate are considered MAOIs.
TCAs block the absorption of serotonin, norepinephrine and another neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Asendin, Norpramin, and Tofranil are all classified as TCAs.
Atypical antidepressants are more of an overflow category than a cohesive group of medications. Each works to affect serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in a different way. For example, Wellbutrin is a dopamine reuptake inhibitor while Remeron is a stress hormone receptor medication.
Are Antidepressants Safe?
Yes, antidepressants are widely acknowledged to be safe and effective medication. It is, in fact, one of the most widely prescribed medications both domestically and internationally. But just about any medical treatment will have some associated risks to account for.
For some, the trade-off is worthwhile. It’s important to have a complete understanding of the common side effects of antidepressants before making any decisions. It’s also important to consult your doctor as they’ll understand what type of medications conflict with one another (that is, if you are currently on any).
Potential side effects of antidepressants
- Loss of appetite
- Intestinal issues (i.e. upset stomach, constipation)
- Trembling or shaking
- Low sex drive
- Sexual dysfunction
- Weight gain or loss
These side effects are unique to the patient. You may experience some, many, or none.
What are the Long-Term Effects of Antidepressants?
There are naturally a lot of questions about the long-term consequences of introducing any medication into your everyday life. This is especially true for one that affects one of the most important organs in your body. Let’s look over a couple of common questions about the long-term effects of antidepressants.
Will antidepressants change my personality?
No, when taken correctly there’s little risk that an antidepressant will change your personality. Some people may experience apathy or numbness on certain antidepressants but this is a rare side effect. If this does occur, lowering the prescribed dose or trying a different medication will usually solve the problem.
What are the long-term risks?
Antidepressants are by and large safe to take long-term. But some studies suggest that there can be an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in people who use antidepressants.
Do I need to take antidepressants forever once I start?
There’s a common misconception that an antidepressant prescription is a lifetime commitment. This is not true for many individuals. Antidepressants are meant to address depression issues and get them under control. The patient will typically take the medication for about six to nine months before reevaluating treatment options with their doctor. That can absolutely involve weaning off of the medication.
What Are Some Alternatives or Supplementary Care Options?
Whether you’re in the process of transitioning into a new treatment regimen or you simply want to try an alternative to antidepressants to address your mood disorder, there are plenty of options available for you. It might also be beneficial to incorporate supplementary care options with your current antidepressant. Be sure to consult your doctor to make sure the following suggestions will be compatible with your care plan.