Antidepressants FAQ

It’s medicine for your brain, so it’s not surprising everyone has questions about antidepressants. We asked psychiatrist Dr Lars Davidsson to answer the most common ones.

Bottle of antidepressants

We have the answers to your most common questions.

Deciding whether to take antidepressants is a personal decision, and this article shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for talking to your GP.

Will antidepressants affect my sex life?

Possibly. A common side-effect is losing your ability to reach orgasm if you’re a girl, and ejaculate if you’re a boy. This doesn’t happen to everyone though, and you don’t have to put up with it.

“Not every type of antidepressant is the same,” says Dr Lars Davidsson, psychiatrist and medical director of the Anglo European Clinic. “If they’re affecting your sex life you can always ask your doctor to swap to a different one. And, remember that depression itself is a massive libido killer. Give your drugs a month or so to start working before you declare they’re putting you off sex.”

Can I drink alcohol on antidepressants?

Officially, medically, no. But according to Dr Lars there’s room for a tiny bit of give.

“You absolutely can’t get drunk on them,” he says, “but you should be able to have a pint or two, a glass of wine here and there, but it has to be a very modest amount. Whatever you do though, don’t mix them with drugs like cocaine or cannabis.”

Will being on antidepressants make me less creative?

Your brain is intrinsically linked to creativity, so it’s natural to worry medicine that targets your brain could impact that. Dr Lars says there’s no evidence that antidepressants affect this, though.

“One common side-effect is tiredness,” he says, “and being really drowsy could impact your creativity. But if you take them in the evening, before bed, then you can counter this.”

He also points out that depression itself can stifle creativity. “It’s hard to create things when you think everything is useless and hopeless,” he adds.

Will they make me fat?

You may gain some weight, but it’s not usually more than a stone, and that’s not just because of the drugs.

“Depressed people tend to eat less as nothing tastes any good and you don’t get hungry,” says Dr Lars. “So some people gain weight just because they’re eating more and feeling better.”

Some types of antidepressants do, however, make you hungrier. If this is the case, try and eat more healthily, or up your exercise. If it’s really a problem, go back to your GP and ask about changing your prescription.

Won’t antidepressants just make me numb?

“This is one of the most common misconceptions about antidepressants,” says Dr Lars. “But they work by lifting your mood, not my numbing you down and taking away all your feelings.”

It can take up to six weeks before you notice the drugs working, in which time you’ll still have depressive symptoms, such as feeling withdrawn and numb. But this is the depression, not the drugs, which need time to kick in.

If you’re taking antidepressants to treat anxiety, you may feel ‘number’ when actually you’re just feeling less anxious and wound up.

Why do they stop working?

In some cases, antidepressants work great in the beginning but stop working so well down the line. Why though?

“The truth is we don’t know,” says Dr Lars. “There are some theories that the brain adapts to the change, but we don’t know for sure.”

If this happens to you, go back and tell your doctor and you can talk about swapping medication.

“The important thing to remember is you shouldn’t stay on them for a long time,” adds Dr Lars. “The first time you take them, it should only be for six months, and if it’s the second time, then only for a year.”

Read our article about coming off antidepressants for more information.

What do I do if the side-effects are really bad? Do I carry on taking them?

Here’s the crap thing about antidepressants. They take a while to start making you feel better, but the side-effects come on pretty quickly. So you have to deal with feeling really sick or sleepy, when you’re already low and/or anxious to begin with.

“Ideally your doctor should sit down with you, talk through the possible side-effects, how long they may last, and how long it takes for the drugs to work,” says Dr Lars. “It’s horrible if you’re having all these things happen to you and you don’t know why.”

A way to potentially stem side-effects is to start on a lower dosage, so your body can get accustomed to them. Again, this is something your doctor should really be discussing with you. Feel free to ask for a second opinion if you feel they’re being blase.

Are antidepressants addictive?

In order for a drug to be considered addictive, you need to take more and more to get the same effect and feel compelled to keep upping the dose – regardless of the impact that may have on your life. Antidepressants don’t do this, so, technically speaking at least, they’re not considered addictive. “That doesn’t mean they’re not sometimes hard to come off,” says Dr Lars, “but that’s not for addictive reasons.”

Coming off them can be tough and needs to be done gradually with support from your GP.

Next Steps

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Updated on 23-Dec-2015