Top 10 Things to Know About Antidepressants

Learning the facts about depression can help you make informed decisions about your treatment.

Depression is a serious medical condition just like high blood pressure and diabetes. With the right treatment, most people can recover from this disease. Medication and talk therapy are the cornerstones of treatment for depression.

Here’s essential information on antidepressants and depression.

1. What Antidepressants Are

Antidepressants are prescription drugs used to treat depression and other conditions, such as anxiety and bipolar disorder. Antidepressants are the most widely prescribed medications and have been used safely by millions of people for more than 20 years.

There are five classes of antidepressants, including monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and atypical antidepressants. The antidepressants in each class affect different neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) in particular ways.

2. How Antidepressants Work

There is no single known cause of depression. Evidence suggests that depression involves chemical changes in the brain and may be the result of low levels of neurotransmitters. Antidepressants help increase the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain and ultimately relieve symptoms.

3. Trial and Error

Antidepressants have different effects in every individual. You may need to try more than one antidepressant before finding one that works best. Your doctor will select the most appropriate antidepressant based on your symptoms, potential side effects, and any medications you are taking.

4. Antidepressants Are Generally Safe, but May Have Side Effects

There are risks associated with all medications. The vast majority of people who take antidepressants experience at least one side effect. Many of these side effects are minor and go away once your body adjusts to the medication. Particularly bothersome side effects can be treated with medication or by dose reduction, changing the administration time, or switching to a different antidepressant.

5. Antidepressants May Increase Suicide Risk

Antidepressant medicines may increase suicidal thoughts or actions in some children, teenagers, and young adults. All patients should be closely monitored when beginning antidepressants or changing dosage. Depression and other mental illnesses are the most important causes of suicidal thoughts and actions.

6. Antidepressants Can Interact With Other Drugs

Antidepressants have the potential for numerous drug interactions. It is important to keep your health care team informed about all prescription and over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements you take or intend to take.

7. Avoid Alcohol While Taking Antidepressants

Alcohol is known to cause or worsen depression and should generally be avoided while on antidepressants. The recurrent use of even small amounts of alcohol (e.g. one drink per day) has been shown to reduce the potential for full benefits of antidepressants.

8. Be Patient With Antidepressants

Antidepressants take time to work. Full results often take several weeks or even months.. The effects of antidepressants are gradual and the benefits are subtle. As time passes, your energy level should go up, and your sense of enjoyment should improve.

9. Stopping Abruptly May Cause Withdrawal

Always take your antidepressants exactly as prescribed. Do not change the dose or stop taking them without talking to your doctor first. If you stop antidepressants abruptly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, chills, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, vomiting, and dizziness.

10. Psychotherapy Can Help, Too

Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is an important part of the treatment of depression. Psychotherapy can help patients identify and change thinking and behavior patterns that are harmful or ineffective, to help ease symptoms. Studies show that a combination of medication and psychotherapy may be the most effective approach to treating moderate to severe depression.

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