Are antidepressants addictive?

Samir Kadri
Author: Samir Kadri Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Antidepressants are not considered addictive in the same way, say, opioids or amphetamines are. Antidepressants do not produce the euphoric feeling that users of these other drugs compulsively chase after. They do not produce cravings typically associated with addiction.

However, if you take antidepressants for long enough, your body may become so accustomed to them that you experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop.

What is addiction?

The distinction between ‘addiction’ and ‘physical dependence’ is central to understanding whether antidepressants are addictive.

Addiction refers to an inability to control the intense urges to take a drug regardless of any adverse consequences that might be suffered. [2]

This is distinct from physical dependence which is characterized by the experience of withdrawal symptoms when drugs, or medications such as antidepressants, are discontinued. [2]

Can antidepressants cause dependence?

Most medical authorities do not recognize antidepressants as addictive, with recommendations in place to inform patients as such upon recommending courses of treatment. [1]

Doctors are encouraged to be as explicit as necessary to avoid confusion about the difference between addiction and physical dependence. A Cambridge University study suggests informing anyone starting a course of antidepressants of the following: [3]

  • For most people the dose that improves your symptoms is enough to maintain a healthier state. Patients typically don’t need to escalate dosage to manage symptoms.
  • Patients do not crave antidepressants either when taking them or after they have finished their course.
  • Patients do not lose control over their antidepressant use so these drugs begin dominating their lives.

For these reasons, antidepressants ought not be considered addictive in the way alcohol or other illicit drugs, such as heroin and amphetamines, are. [3]

Can antidepressants cause withdrawal symptoms?

Many people who stop taking antidepressants abruptly will experience withdrawal symptoms. These usually occur within one or two days with common symptoms including dizziness, nausea, headache, and lethargy. [3]

These may persist for weeks and be extremely uncomfortable to endure. Withdrawal symptoms, also known as discontinuation symptoms, can be avoided by taking your antidepressants as prescribed by your healthcare provider and being sure to never skip a dose. Missing doses can cause withdrawal symptoms. [3]

When it comes to stopping antidepressant treatment, dosage should be tapered off gradually over several weeks to minimize the effect of withdrawal symptoms. [3] If recommended, this process will be overseen by your healthcare provider.

Can antidepressants be used to treat addiction?

Substance use disorders commonly co-occur with mental health conditions. Roughly a third of people with major depressive disorder also have a substance use disorder. [4]

People can benefit from receiving simultaneous treatment, therapeutic and pharmacological, for both conditions. A 2019 study claimed that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) should be the front-line treatment for treating patients with both addiction and depression. [5]

Antidepressants may aid in mood regulation and reducing cravings, making it easier for a person to focus on their substance abuse disorder treatment plan.

So, while it is important to note that antidepressants definitively cannot cure addiction, they can be effective in the treatment of patients with both depression and a substance abuse disorder.

  1. Haddad, P. M. (1999). Do antidepressants have any potential to cause addiction? Journal of Psychopharmacology, 13(3), 300–307.
  2. Szalavitz, M., Rigg, K. K., & Wakeman, S. E. (2021). Drug dependence is not addiction—and it matters. Annals of Medicine, 53(1), 1989–1992.
  4. Carey, T. (2018). Use of Antidepressants in Patients with Co-occurring Depression and Substance Use Disorders. In Handbook of experimental pharmacology(pp. 359–370).
  5. Iqbal, M. N., Levin, C. J., & Levin, F. R. (2019). Treatment for substance use disorder with Co-Occurring Mental Illness. Focus, 17(2), 88–97.
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Samir Kadri
Author Samir Kadri Writer

Samir Kadri is a medical writer with a non-profit sector background, committed to raising awareness about mental health.

Published: Sep 29th 2023, Last edited: Oct 13th 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Sep 29th 2023