What to Do If Your Antidepressant Stops Working

Common Reasons Your Meds May Not Be Helping Your Mood

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An antidepressant can work wonders for some people dealing with symptoms like low mood, loss of interest in things they once enjoyed, ennui, and lack of energy. According to the National Institutes of Health, this is especially true of folks who have moderate, severe, or chronic depression; mild depression isn't as responsive to medication.

Regardless of statistics, an antidepressant is not a miracle cure, nor is it a permanent fix. Some studies suggest that the rate of relapse while using an antidepressant is about 30 percent during a one-year period. Depression relapse means a person who previously was responding well to an antidepressant begins have symptoms of depression again, everything from feeling sad, irritable, or anxious to having thoughts of self-harm or physical pain. If this has happened to you, here are some possible reasons why. Understanding them may help you and your doctor figure out why your medication has stopped working for you and what to do about it.

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Why Antidepressants Lose Effectiveness

As it turns out, there are lots of potential reasons your antidepressant seems to be fizzling out. If any of these apply to you,

  • You've started taking a new medication. Drug interactions are notorious for interfering with how well a medication works. In the case of antidepressants, possible culprits are antibiotics and steroids. Both can simply make an antidepressant less effective. What's more, steroids can have a direct effect on mood.
  • You've started smoking or drinking. Both tobacco smoke and alcohol can interfere with antidepressants. If either of these habits is getting in the way of your antidepressant, kick the cigarette habit or cut out (or cut down) on your drinking.
  • You've developed a medical condition that's making your depression worse. A common example of this is hypothyroidism.
  • You're under extra stress. Work pressure? Family issues? Big changes in your daily life, such as a move or new job? Any type of added stress can alter your brain chemistry enough to counteract the effectiveness of your antidepressant.
  • You're getting older. Aging leads to changes in the way the body processes medications.
  • You have undiagnosed bipolar disorder. If this is the case, you probably should be taking a mood stabilizer or antipsychotic medication in addition to your antidepressant.
  • You've developed a tolerance to your medication. It's possible the receptors in your brain that are affected by your medication have become less sensitive to the drug.

Getting Back to Feeling Good

Once you and your doctor have homed in on the reason (or reasons) you're no longer getting relief from your antidepressant, the next step is to work around the situation. This may mean making changes to your prescription (increasing the dose, for example), adding another medication, or switching you to a different drug altogether.

If you've developed a separate health problem, once you begin treatment for it your antidepressant may become helpful again. And if stress is an issue, psychotherapy or counseling can be a useful addition to your depression treatment.

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