What Causes Antidepressant Side Effects and What Can I Do About Them?

Find out what causes antidepressant side effects and what you can do about the side effects from antidepressants.

Find out what causes antidepressant side effects and what you can do about the side effects from antidepressants.

Gold Standard for Treating Depression (part 8)

When a person has cancer, we are used to hearing that the person has been nauseous or has lost their hair due to medication side effects, and yet, when a person is on psychiatric medications, similar side effects are often unexpected and scary; simply because they are not explained ahead of time. The reality is that drugs for depression have side-effects. That is part of the territory when you put something into your body to change your brain chemistry.

Medications for depression work by regulating brain chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. The problem with medications for depression is that they cannot be sent directly to your brain; they have to go through your body first and this can lead to many physical complications.

Some side-effects are tolerable; such as a dry mouth or a mild restlessness. Others are impossible to live with, such as extreme fatigue, irritation and anger, suicidal thoughts, erectile dysfunction or not being able to have an orgasm.

It can be extremely difficult to stick to a treatment plan when a drug has strong side-effects with seemingly very little results. It gets even more frustrating when your healthcare professional says, "Let's just give this time." But the reality is that it sometimes does take much longer for the medications to work than you want them to.

It's always a trade off when you take an antidepressant and it's up to you to decide what side effects you can and can't tolerate. When you're depressed, having to deal with medication side-effects often feels intolerable, but you do have some options.

1. Start with a small dose and then increase the dose to an optimum level over time. This is called microdosing and can work well for some people.

2. Give your body time to deal with the side effects. If the antidepressants are helping, there is a chance that the side effects can considerably lessen over time as your body acclimates to the dose.

3. Change medications with the help of a prescribing medications healthcare practitioner before deciding that antidepressants are not for you. There are many classes of antidepressants and one of them may work for you with no significant problems.

4. Change the times you take the antidepressant. If it causes drowsiness, take the drug before bed. If it is agitating or increases your energy, take it upon waking up in the morning.

5. Side effects that lower sex drive, cause impotence or make a person unable to have an orgasm can often be eliminated by adding another drug like Viagra, Levitra or Cialis or changing the antidepressant. For some, depression itself lowers sex drive and antidepressants can help restore it.

6. Find a therapist to help you manage depression more successfully while you explore your different medication options. The role of therapy in depression treatment is covered in more detail in the next section.

7. Make lifestyle, behavior and thought changes that decrease depression so that you may need less medications. This can include removing yourself as best as possible from situations (triggers) that are contributing to your depression. This topic is covered in detail in a later section.

Side effects are the main reason people stop taking their medications. By trying a variety of medications and treatment techniques, you can reduce side-effects so that you can find the right medications for you. If the side-effects of your medication are simply too strong to tolerate, it cannot be emphasized enough how important it is that you don't just decide to stop the medications yourself. Even if you feel you can't take another day of the side effects, decisions regarding medications need to be discussed with your healthcare professional.

video: Depression Treatment Interviews w/Julie Fast


APA Reference
Fast, J. (2009, January 1). What Causes Antidepressant Side Effects and What Can I Do About Them?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Last Updated: May 17, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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