I. The Basics of Antidepressant Rehabilitation

This guide was written to provide an overview of the antidepressant rehabilitation process as well as to offer helpful resources for persons recovering from antidepressant addiction.

Antidepressant rehabilitation typically begins with a short orientation session. During this session, the individual takes a tour of the facility and meets with treatment professionals to discuss their medical history, addiction history, and personal life, which can help staff members develop an appropriate treatment plan. Once this assessment is complete, the individual goes through an initial detoxification period, which allows antidepressants to be eliminated from the body safely and as comfortably as possible.

Following this initial detoxification process, the user participates in behavioral therapy, which can be useful for uncovering addiction triggers or treating co-occurring disorders. The individual also has a chance to develop supportive relationships, which can reduce the risk of relapse once treatment is complete.

II. What Makes Antidepressant Rehabilitation Difficult?

Antidepressants are not considered controlled substances under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act due to their low potential for addiction. This does not mean they have no potential for addiction, however. Antidepressants alter an individual’s brain chemistry by changing the amounts of certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, help the cells in the nervous system communicate with each other. For some people, increased levels of neurotransmitters can lead to addiction.

Once an individual is addicted to antidepressants, it’s difficult to stop taking them due to the severe withdrawal effects that sometimes occur. Withdrawing from antidepressants is also difficult because some individuals rely on these medications to relieve symptoms of depression and cope with stressful circumstances. Recovery is especially difficult for individuals who have used antidepressants for many years.

The Unique Struggle of Antidepressant Addicts
Antidepressants…
  • can change an individual’s brain chemistry, leading to tolerance or dependence.
  • help users cope with stressful life circumstances, making it difficult to stop taking them.
  • affect the brain’s reward center, which can create a cycle in which the user can’t function without them.
  • help control the symptoms of depression, making it difficult for an individual with a depressive disorder to stop using them.

Antidepressant Rehabilitation Statistics

  • As of 2018, more than 25 million Americans had used antidepressants for at least two years, according to the American Pharmacists Association. This means that nearly 8% of the U.S. population was using antidepressants in 2018.
  • In 2015, 6.365 million individuals aged 12 and older reported that they had misused psychotherapeutic medications within the past month, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that 9,259 individuals aged 12 and older in need of treatment enrolled in a rehabilitation program for other drugs not reported individually to SAMHSA. This includes individuals treated for antidepressant misuse.

Psychotherapeutic Substance Treatment Admissions by Gender

62.1% Male
37.9% Female

Demographics of Individuals Seeking Treatment for Antidepressant Addiction

According to a 2017 SAMHSA report that charts admissions to and discharges from publicly funded substance use treatment facilities, men are considerably more likely to seek treatment for the abuse of psychotherapeutic substances not reported individually, which includes antidepressants. The gender breakdown of treatment admissions for psychotherapeutic substances was 62.1% male and 37.9% female. While psychotherapeutic substance addiction occurs in all age groups, the most common age group admitted to a treatment facility for misuse of antidepressants and other psychotherapeutics was individuals aged 25 to 34, with 34 being the average age of all individuals from all age groups who are seeking rehabilitation.

Psychotherapeutic Substance Treatment Admissions by Age Group, 2017
Age at the Time of Treatment AdmissionPercentage of Psychotherapeutic Substance Treatment Admissions
12-176.3%
18-2418.5%
25-3434.2%
35-4419.4%
45-5414.9%
55-645.9%
65+0.8%

III. Antidepressant Detoxification and Withdrawal Process

The rehabilitation process usually starts with an initial detoxification period in which the individual is given time to eliminate antidepressants from his or her body. Antidepressants have half-lives ranging from five hours (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) to six days (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which means about half of the substance is eliminated from the user’s body during this timeframe. For an individual in need of treatment for SSRI addiction, the initial detoxification period may last as long as 12 days. Individuals addicted to SNRIs or tricyclic antidepressants can expect the initial detoxification period to last for anywhere from 10 hours to two days, although it may last longer in chronic users.

Any withdrawal symptoms that last for more than two weeks are known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms. How long these symptoms last depends on several factors, such as the individual’s medical history and how long the individual has been using antidepressants. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms might last longer if the individual was using antidepressants along with alcohol or another substance.

Withdrawal Symptoms

BodyMind
Short-Term SymptomsLoss of coordination
Dizziness
Vertigo
Fatigue
Aches and other flu-like symptoms
Headache
Muscle spasms
Nausea
Vomiting
Tremors
Nightmares
Mood swings
Depression
Anxiety
Long-Term SymptomsHeadaches
Trouble sleeping
Worsening depression symptoms

Stopping antidepressant use suddenly can cause an individual to develop antidepressant discontinuation syndrome

Approximately 20% of antidepressant users develop a condition known as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome when they stop taking antidepressants. This syndrome can cause sensory disturbances, including electric shock sensations, loss of coordination, difficulty maintaining normal balance, and insomnia.

The risk of suicide increases when a user stops taking antidepressants suddenly

Stopping antidepressants can cause depressive symptoms to return, causing an individual to experience unwanted feelings. These feelings may include anxiety, confusion, and irritability. In some users, these feelings are so severe that suicidal thoughts may occur, increasing the risk of suicide.

Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome can cause serious psychological symptoms

When an individual stops taking antidepressants, their depression symptoms may get worse. In severe cases, antidepressant discontinuation causes agitation, hallucinations, and paranoia.

Antidepressant Detoxification Medications

No medications have been approved specifically for the treatment of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome; however, several medications can be used to control withdrawal symptoms and make the detoxification process easier for the user. Acetaminophen or aspirin may be used to relieve headaches and body aches. In some cases, promethazine is used to control nausea. For individuals with depression or another mood disorder, a different psychotherapeutic agent may be prescribed to control depression symptoms while also allowing the individual to withdraw from antidepressants.

For more information about withdrawal, read our guide on Antidepressant Addiction.

IV. Treatment for Antidepressant Addiction

Because no medications have been approved specifically to treat antidepressant addiction, behavioral therapies are the gold standard for helping individuals develop healthy coping habits and learn how to handle stress without misusing prescription medications. These therapies help individuals change their behavior and create their own support networks, which can reduce the risk of relapse in the future.

Rehabilitation Settings

Within either an inpatient or outpatient setting, treatments such as detoxification services, behavioral therapies, and medication-assisted treatments are offered for varying lengths of time.

Inpatient treatment involves living full time (including overnight) at a treatment facility for a set period of time. Outpatient treatment involves scheduled appointments at a facility in which you are free to come and go. Within each category, there are several distinctions.

Antidepressant Treatment Programs
SettingType of TreatmentDescriptionDurationTime Commitment
InpatientShort-Term ResidentialIntensive treatment, sometimes in a hospital setting. Therapies offered are extensive. Medication-assisted treatment is available to those who qualify.14-30 daysHours Per Day:

24

Days Per Week:

7

Long-Term ResidentialIntensive treatment in a non-hospital setting, most often a therapeutic community with other patients. Therapies offered are extensive. Medication-assisted treatment is available to those who qualify.3-12 monthsHours Per Day:

24

Days Per Week:

7

Partial HospitalizationIntensive treatment in a hospital setting. Patients do not stay overnight. Considered inpatient due to the hospital setting. Extensive services are provided and require a near full-time commitment every week. Medication-assisted treatment is available to those who qualify.14-30 daysHours Per Day:

6-8

Days Per Week:

5

OutpatientIntensive Day TreatmentExtensive services of an inpatient program but patients return home each day following treatment. After completion, patients often transition to less intensive counseling. Therapies offered are extensive. Medication-assisted treatment is available to those who qualify.3-4 monthsHours Per Day:

2-4

Days Per Week:

3

CounselingBoth individual counseling and group counseling focus on short-term behavioral goals to develop coping strategies. Therapies offered are moderate. Medication-assisted treatment is not available.As long as desiredHours Per Day:

1-2

Days Per Week:

1-3

Support GroupsSelf-help groups center on maintaining abstinence after another form of treatment. Typically meet one day a week for 1-2 hours.As long as desiredHours Per Day:

1-2

Days Per Week:

1

Behavioral and Medication-Assisted Therapies

Behavioral therapy for substance addiction seeks to identify and manage addictive behaviors that lead to use and prevent relapse. Behavioral therapy is based on the concept that all behavior is learned, and, thus, unhealthy behavior can be changed through learning coping skills and increasing awareness of negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to substance abuse.

Behavioral Therapies for Antidepressant Addiction
Type of TherapyDefinition
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Further reading:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps individuals develop healthy coping mechanisms, which can reduce the risk of relapse and make it easier to stay sober.

For individuals with depression, researchers have found CBT to be the most effective form of therapy. The effects of CBT have also been shown to last long after the individual completes treatment and returns to everyday activities such as going to work or attending school. This is because CBT helps individuals understand how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected, making it easier to unlearn bad habits and replace those habits with positive behaviors.

Exposure Therapy

Further reading:

Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that helps people with depression learn how to face their fears or overcome their sources of anxiety.

For individuals addicted to antidepressants, exposure therapy can be helpful for confronting past traumas, allowing the individual to develop better coping skills and eliminating the need to use antidepressants as a coping mechanism.

V. How to Find Help

Finding a Rehabilitation Center for Antidepressant Addiction

When looking for a treatment facility for antidepressant addiction, it’s important to look for a program that offers supervised medical detoxification. Choosing a facility with supervised detoxification can help make the withdrawal process more comfortable for the user, increasing the likelihood that he or she will complete treatment.

Although no medications have been approved specifically for the treatment of antidepressant addiction, choosing a facility staffed by licensed professionals may also give the user access to supportive medications to control nausea, headaches, and other symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal.

For many users, inpatient rehabilitation is the best option, as it provides the social support and structure needed to overcome cravings and uncover the underlying causes of an individual’s addiction. Look for a facility that offers exposure therapy or another type of cognitive-behavioral therapy, both of which have been shown to help individuals with depression control their symptoms and learn healthy coping mechanisms.

Our Directory

Our directory of rehab programs includes a comprehensive list of available treatment centers and programs as provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In the directory, you will find tools to filter the programs by setting, price, and location.