Most people can relate to having a bad day or the occasional case of the blues, but depression—which can be caused by numerous factors, including the medication you take—is something else entirely. A mood disorder characterized by "constant sadness or lack of interest in life" that lasts "for many days to weeks and keeps you from living your life," according to WebMD, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression.
Fortunately, there are various and effective treatments that can help address depression. "Although antidepressants may not cure depression, they can reduce symptoms," says WebMD. "Many kinds of antidepressants are available, and chances are you'll be able to find one that works well for you."
However, as with any drug, antidepressants carry the potential for risks, side effects, and other problems. Kashmira Govind, PharmD, a pharmacist for the Farr Institute, recommends asking your healthcare provider these five questions before you start taking antidepressants.
"What are the possible side effects?"
Govind recommends not just asking about potential side effects, but how you can manage them.
"For many people, these improve within weeks of starting an antidepressant," notes the Mayo Clinic, which explains that some of these side effects will not go away. "For some antidepressants, monitoring blood levels may help determine the range of effectiveness and to what extent dosage can be adjusted to help reduce side effects."
"Can I stop taking the medication on my own?"
You may feel that the antidepressants you're taking aren't working, or maybe the side effects are causing you too much discomfort. On the other hand, your symptoms may have improved to the point where you don't feel you need medication anymore. Whatever your concern, don't stop taking antidepressants without talking to your medical provider.
"The decision to go off antidepressants should be considered thoughtfully and made with the support of your physician or therapist to make sure you're not stopping prematurely, risking a recurrence of depression," warns Harvard Health. "Once you decide to quit, you and your physician should take steps to minimize or avoid the discontinuation symptoms that can occur if such medications are withdrawn too quickly."
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How long do I have to take the medication?"
Michelle Tricamo, MD, tells Women's Health that people should be symptom-free for approximately one year before they discuss stopping their antidepressants. "Just like you want someone to finish the whole course of antibiotics to prevent relapse, we don't want anyone to prematurely discontinue antidepressants, either," she says. However, some providers may recommend taking the medication indefinitely.
"What foods or other meds should I avoid while taking antidepressants?"
Whenever you're on any prescription drugs, Govind advises speaking to your doctor about possible interactions with other medications, including over-the-counter drugs. "Some antidepressants can interfere with the effectiveness of other medications, and some can cause dangerous reactions when combined with certain medications or herbal supplements," says the Mayo Clinic.
"Can I drink alcohol while taking this medication?"
Antidepressants and alcohol can be a risky combination."It's best to avoid combining antidepressants and alcohol," Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, MD tells the Mayo Clinic. "It may worsen your symptoms, and it can be dangerous." Hall-Flavin notes that worsening of symptoms, side effects, or changes in blood pressure are all possible consequences.
In addition, "Don't stop taking an antidepressant or other medication just so that you can drink," he says. "Most antidepressants require taking a consistent, daily dose to maintain a constant level in your system and work as intended."
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.