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Can You Overdose on Antidepressants?

Many people wonder if you can overdose on antidepressants. Antidepressants have enabled countless people to live happier and more satisfying lives. But every prescription medication can cause side effects. And if these medications are abused, the risk of significant harm only increases.

What Are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are a category of prescription medications that can alleviate symptoms of major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and other forms of depression.

To accurately answer the question, “Can you overdose on antidepressants?” it is important to first determine what types of medications we’re referring to.

Types of Antidepressants

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are usually the first type of antidepressant that a doctor will prescribe. These medications promote increased levels of a neurotransmitter called serotonin, which is associated with mood, memory, happiness, sexual desire, and other functions. 

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs function similar to the way that SSRIs do, except they also promote elevated levels of norepinephrine in the central nervous system. Norepinephrine influences arousal, focus, the sleep-wake cycle, and the body’s fight-or-flight response.

Atypical Antidepressants: This classification was created for antidepressants whose features and effects don’t make them good fits for any of the other categories. 

Tricyclic Antidepressants: Tricyclic antidepressants were prescribed more commonly before SSRIs, SNRIs, and atypical antidepressants were developed. They have harsher side effects than these newer antidepressants do, so they usually aren’t used unless a person has not experienced relief from other medications. 

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs): MAOIs are rarely prescribed, because they require patients to follow a strict diet and avoid certain other medications. Also, MAOIs can cause nausea, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, insomnia and several other distressing side effects.

Can You Overdose on Antidepressants?

An overdose happens when a person takes more of a drug than their body can process. Accidental overdoses are more common among people who are using drugs for recreational purposes than someone who is taking a prescription antidepressant.

However, if a person becomes addicted to an antidepressant, they can lose the ability to regulate how often they take the medication or how much they take. Antidepressant addiction can also cause people to use these medications in particularly hazardous ways, such as in combination with alcohol and other drugs.

Having said all that, let’s address the main point of this post: Can you overdose on antidepressants? 

The answer to this question is yes, you can overdose on antidepressants. Antidepressant overdoses are less common than overdoses than involve certain other substances, but they can and do occur. 

The risk and potential severity of an antidepressant overdose can increase if you are engaging in polysubstance abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), antidepressant overdoses were a factor in 5,597 deaths in the United States in 2020. The majority of these deaths involved people who had taken opioids or other substances in addition to antidepressants.

Signs of an Overdose on Antidepressants

Depending on which antidepressant a person has taken, possible signs of overdose can include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Confusion 
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Fever 
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Tics and twitches
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Seizure
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Loss of consciousness

Anyone who overdoses on an antidepressant needs immediate medical attention.

How Is Antidepressant Addiction Treated?

Man getting help after finding out you can overdose on antidepressants

Addictions to antidepressants and other prescription drugs can be treated with a variety of therapies at several levels of care

Levels of Care for Antidepressant Addiction

If someone has become addicted to antidepressants, their treatment may need to address both their substance use disorder and their struggles with depression.

Treatment for depression and co-occurring antidepressant addiction may occur at the inpatient, partial hospitalization, and/or intensive outpatient levels:

  • Residential Mental Health Treatment – At the inpatient level, patients live at the facility where they are receiving care. Features of inpatient treatment include structured daily schedules, multiple types of therapy, nutritious meals, and round-the-clock supervision. 
  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP) – Treatment at the PHP level is similar to inpatient care, but without the residential component. When the treatment day is done, patients can return to their homes or to a supportive residence.
  • Intensive outpatient program in Atlanta (IOP) – Our IOP offers partial days of treatment. Patients attend sessions a few days each week. An IOP can be an ideal source of step-down support after someone has completed inpatient treatment or a PHP, though patients can also enter treatment at this level.

Services to Treat Antidepressant Addiction

Depending on a variety of personal factors, a patient’s customized treatment plan for depression and co-occurring addiction may include services such as:

  • Psychiatric services
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Genetic testing
  • Biosound therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Yoga, meditation, and other holistic therapies
  • Red light therapy
  • Spravato treatment

Begin Treatment for Antidepressant Addiction in Atlanta, GA

If you have developed an addiction to antidepressants or any other prescription drugs, the Peachtree Wellness Solutions team is here for you. Our treatment center in Atlanta offers a safe and welcoming environment where you can receive customized services from a team of dedicated professionals. Untreated addiction can be devastating – but when you get the care you need, you can end your substance abuse and achieve successful, long-term recovery. Give us a call or visit our admissions page today to learn how we can help.