10 Drugs That Can Cause Depression

Senior woman holding pills in hand
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Many people are not aware that there are certain prescription drugs that can cause depression symptoms as a side effect, even in people who might not ordinarily be prone to depression. In addition, people with a history of depression may want to either avoid these medications or use them with caution, since they can exacerbate their existing illness.

A 2018 study published in JAMA found that more than a third of U.S. adults are currently taking a prescription medication that could potentially cause depression or increase suicide risk.

Types of Drugs That Can Cause Depression

While not a comprehensive list, the following are 10 common types of drugs that may cause depression symptoms. You should consult with a doctor or pharmacist for information about your own specific medication regimen.

Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers are generally prescribed in the treatment of high blood pressure, although they may also be used to treat migraines, angina, irregular heartbeat, and tremors. They may also be given as eye drops in the treatment of glaucoma.

There is some debate about the degree to which these medications may cause depression, but they are commonly associated with depression symptoms such as sexual problems and fatigue.

Examples of this type of drug include Toprol XL (metoprolol) and Inderal (propranolol).

Corticosteroids

These medications are used to treat inflammatory conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and Sjögren's syndrome.

Corticosteroids can cause a variety of psychiatric symptoms. It is thought that among other effects, corticosteroids affect serotonin, a substance produced by the brain which is believed to be involved in mood regulation.

Examples of this type of medication include cortisone, prednisone, methylprednisolone, and triamcinolone.

Benzodiazepines

These drugs are usually used in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia or when it is necessary to cause the muscles to relax.

In certain circumstances, the drug can build up in the body, leading to depression symptoms.

Common examples of benzodiazepines include Xanax (alprazolam), Restoril (temazepam), and Valium (diazepam).

Parkinson's Drugs

These are drugs used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.

These drugs affect a substance in the brain called dopamine, which is also one of the basic chemicals which are associated with depression. Scientists believe that when these drugs cause dopamine to become elevated for long periods of time, it may also affect a person's mood.

The most commonly used medication in treating Parkinson's disease is levodopa. Other common medications that may be used include Atamet and Sinemet (carbidopa/levodopa); and Sinemet (carbidopa); Mirapex (pramipexole); and Requip (ropinirole).

Drugs That Affect Hormones

These drugs include hormonal forms of birth control as well as estrogen replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms.

Variations in hormone levels in women are often associated with depression symptoms, although it is not completely understood how this interaction occurs.

Research suggests that progestin-only birth control is unlikely to cause symptoms of depression.

Stimulants

Stimulant medications may be prescribed to treat daytime sleepiness associated with conditions like narcolepsy, and they may also be used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

These medications are known to influence the amount of dopamine in the brain in a way that may contribute to depression in certain individuals.

Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Provigil (modafinil) are some examples of this type of medication.

Anticonvulsants

These drugs used in the treatment of seizures, although they may also be used in treating other conditions, such as bipolar disorder and neuropathic pain.

Because they affect the chemicals in the brain that are also believed to be responsible for regulating mood, they can sometimes cause depression.

Some examples of this type of medication include Tegretol (carbamazepine), Topamax (topiramate), and Neurontin (gabapentin).

Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 Blockers

These medications are most commonly prescribed to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and have occasionally been associated with depression for reasons that aren't clear.

Statins and Other Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs

While statins are the most commonly prescribed drugs for lowering cholesterol, other drugs, such as fibrates, colesevelam, ezetimibe, and nicotinic acid can also be used for this purpose.

There have been some reports linking these drugs with depression. It is thought that these drugs may cause depression by lowering the levels of cholesterol in the brain, where it serves many important functions.

Anticholinergic Drugs

Anticholinergic drugs influence a variety of functions in the body, including slowing down the action of the intestines. They are often used in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with medications like Bentyl (dicyclomine).

The way that they work is by blocking acetylcholine, a substance that causes muscles—such as those in the intestinal tract—to contract and create movement. However, because they affect the central nervous system, they can also cause depressive symptoms.

Other Drugs That Can Cause Depression

Some other medications that may be linked to depressive side effects include:

  • Acne medications
  • Pain relievers
  • Antiseizure medications
  • Anxiety medications
  • Allergy medications
  • Acid reflux medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Thyroid medications
  • Antibiotics

How to Know If a Medication Is Making​ You Depressed

The most noticeable symptom of depression is, of course, a feeling of sadness and low mood. Other than a depressed mood, however, there are other possible symptoms of depression that you might experience, like the following:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Problems with sleep
  • Problems with appetite or weight
  • Problems with thinking, memory, and concentration
  • Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

It can be helpful to write down details like when your symptoms first started and when they are the most severe. With many medications, you may begin to start noticing such symptoms within the first few weeks after you begin a new drug.

Because many medications that can cause depression are not prescribed to treat mental health conditions, people may not be adequately warned of this possible risk.

It is also difficult to know what your individual reaction to a drug may be, or how it may interact with other medications that you are currently taking. For this reason, it is important to always fully inform your doctor about anything else you are taking, including any over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements. Always talk to your doctor if you experience any unusual side effects after taking a medication.

What to Do Next

If you believe that you may be experiencing symptoms of depression, whether they are related to a drug that you are taking or not, you should consult with your personal physician.

Do not stop taking your medication without your doctor's permission. If you are experiencing severe depression or having thoughts of suicide, do not hesitate to seek immediate medical attention.

Every situation is different, so your doctor will look at your health history and symptoms in order to determine what steps to take next. In some cases, it may involve switching to a different medication or adjusting your dosage.

Your doctor will also try to determine if your depressive symptoms are linked to the new medication or some other cause. If there is an underlying depressive disorder that is unrelated to prescription medication, your doctor may recommend other treatments such as antidepressants and psychotherapy.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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