Treating a depressive disorder involves a combination of therapy and medication to address the physical and emotional effects of depression. Therapy allows you to discuss your experiences with depression and aspects of your life that may be contributing to your low mood. It also empowers you to develop coping skills to manage your symptoms.
Adding medication to your treatment program can help with more severe or consistent feelings of depression by restoring the chemical balance in your brain. There are often concerns, though, about the effects different medications can have. Let’s look at the purpose of prescription medications for depression, the types often prescribed, and potential side effects you may experience.
Antidepressant Types and Purposes
Antidepressants are prescribed to aid in the management of depression. There are three main types of antidepressants: SSRIs, SNRIs, and atypical antidepressants.
SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, prevent the brain’s neurons from absorbing serotonin (a neurotransmitter). This increases the serotonin levels in the brain, which improves mood.
SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) work similarly to SSRIs but also prevent the absorption of norepinephrine, which can also affect a person’s mood.
Any other type of medication prescribed to treat depression would likely fall under the category of an atypical antidepressant. These include older medications like tricyclics and MAOIs that may occasionally be prescribed in certain cases, but those are becoming far less common.
Each of these medications helps the brain to increase the amount of freely available serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation. The method of action is fairly simple. Antidepressant drugs offer a way for the brain to avoid the process of reuptake: the reabsorption of chemical messengers like serotonin. This allows more chemical messengers to communicate with other neurons (instead of being immediately recycled). The result is an improved mood and a better-functioning brain.
Side Effects of Antidepressants
Most people who are on any type of antidepressant experience very few, if any, negative side effects. Such symptoms vary by the specific type of medication. You should consult with your prescribing physician about any potential side effects of the medication you are on, which can include:
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Weight gain
- Changes in appetite
- Sexual problems
These physical side effects can be alarming and warrant a conversation with your prescriber to determine if changes need to be made.
There have also been reports of mental health issues which are attributable to medication changes. One of the most common concerns is an increase in depressive symptoms, including suicidal ideation.
Suicidal Thoughts When Taking Antidepressants
Many people taking medication for depression have also experienced suicidal thoughts. While the frequency and intensity of these thoughts can vary, thoughts of death and dying rightfully raise alarm. Taking an antidepressant should improve your symptoms of depression, but if you continue to experience suicidal ideation or are experiencing it for the first time, does this mean the medication isn’t working?
The short answer: it depends. Sometimes your mind and body take time to adjust to the medication, and these could improve as you continue taking the antidepressant. Another possibility is that the medication simply isn’t working or is having the opposite of the intended effect. We all respond differently to doses and types of medication, so it’s important to work closely with your provider to determine the best combination of medication and dose for you.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts while on an antidepressant or other type of medication, you should discuss this with your doctor immediately. Suicidal thoughts can lead to dangerous choices, and you need to ensure you have the proper support in place while your body adjusts to any changes your doctor makes.
Help for Depression and Substance Use
Substance use disorders and diagnosed depression often coincide, and these conditions must be treated together. An integrated approach sets those in recovery up for long-term success.
At Recovery Without Walls, our holistic, patient-first treatment model can help you heal from your addiction while addressing other mental health concerns at the same time. Our medical providers will work closely with you to monitor and adjust medications as needed and ensure you have the support you need to maintain your sobriety. We can also help you to discontinue antidepressant medications that are causing suicidal thoughts.
If you’d like to learn more about our treatment model for co-occurring substance use disorders and mental health issues, contact our team of expert providers today.