Is overdose possible?
Yes, it’s possible to overdose on any type of antidepressant, especially if it’s taken with other drugs or medications.
Antidepressants are prescription medications used to treat the symptoms of depression, chronic pain, and other mood disorders. They’re said to work by increasing the levels of certain chemicals — serotonin and dopamine — in the brain.
There are several types of antidepressants available, including:
tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), such as amitriptyline and imipramine (Tofranil)
monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), like isocarboxazid (Marplan) and phenelzine (Nardil)
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), and escitalopram (Lexapro)
serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
atypical antidepressants, including bupropion (Wellbutrin) and vortioxetine (Trintellix)
What are the typical prescribed and lethal doses?
The lethal dosage of an antidepressant depends on many factors, including:
the type of antidepressant
how your body metabolizes the medication
if you have any preexisting conditions, like a heart, kidney, or liver condition
if you took the antidepressant with alcohol or other drugs (including other antidepressants)
How antidepressants work
It’s not known exactly how antidepressants work.
It’s thought they work by increasing levels of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and noradrenaline, are linked to mood and emotion.
Neurotransmitters may also affect pain signals sent by nerves, which may explain why some antidepressants can help relieve long-term pain.
While antidepressants can treat the symptoms of depression, they don’t always address its causes. This is why they’re usually used in combination with therapy to treat more severe depression or other mental health conditions.
How effective are antidepressants?
Research suggests that antidepressants can be helpful for people with moderate or severe depression.
Studies have shown that they’re better than placebo (“dummy medicine”) for people with these conditions.
They’re not usually recommended for mild depression, unless other treatments like therapy haven’t helped.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimates that 50 to 65% of people treated with an antidepressant for depression will see an improvement, compared to 25 to 30% of those taking a placebo.
Doses and duration of treatment
Antidepressants are usually taken in tablet form. When they’re prescribed, you’ll start on the lowest possible dose thought necessary to improve your symptoms.
Antidepressants usually need to be taken for 1 or 2 weeks (without missing a dose) before the benefit starts to be felt. It’s important not to stop taking them if you get some mild side effects early on, as these effects usually wear off quickly.
If you take an antidepressant for 4 weeks without feeling any benefit, speak to your GP or mental health specialist. They may recommend increasing your dose or trying a different medicine.
A course of treatment usually lasts at least 6 months. Some people with recurrent depression may be advised to take them indefinitely.
If a person has overdosed on antidepressants, they require emergency treatment. Treatments that doctors may provide include:
activated charcoal to absorb the medication
stomach pump to remove the medication
benzodiazepines to reduce agitation
If a person has symptoms of serotonin syndrome, a doctor may give them serotonin-blocking medication. They may also receive intravenous fluids to counter dehydration and manage blood pressure.
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