How do antidepressants work? |

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How do antidepressants work?


Antidepressants are medications that help treat depression, but health care providers also prescribe them to treat other conditions. How exactly do they work?

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Types of antidepressants

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There are different types (classes) of antidepressants, including:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These types of antidepressants are the most common.
  • Serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). Tricyclic antidepressants are an older class of antidepressants that are often reserved for treatment-resistant depression and anxiety due to the increased potential for side effects.
  • Atypical antidepressants.
  • Serotonin modulators.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). These are the oldest antidepressants. Although they are highly effective, they are often reserved for treating treatment-resistant depression and anxiety. This is because taking MAIO requires dietary modifications to prevent hypertensive reactions resulting from interactions with the amino acid tyramine, which is found in high concentrations in some foods.
  • N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonists.

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Effect of antidepressants

In general, antidepressants change the way your brain uses certain chemicals (neurotransmitters) to better regulate your mood and behavior. More specifically, they affect the neurotransmission of serotonin, norepinephrine, and possibly dopamine. Different types of antidepressants work in different ways.

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Studies also show that antidepressants stimulate neuroplasticity, a process by which the brain can change its structure by strengthening or weakening connections between brain cells (neurons).

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How do you take antidepressants?

Antidepressants usually come in pill form (tablets). Swallow the pills with liquid, such as water. When you first take an antidepressant, your health care provider will likely prescribe the lowest possible dose of the medication they feel is necessary to improve your symptoms. Over time, the dose will be adjusted if necessary.

It may take several weeks before you feel better in your symptoms.

Treatment usually lasts at least six months after you start feeling better. If you have recurrent, chronic, or severe depression, your doctor may recommend that you continue taking antidepressants for the foreseeable future.

Antidepressants are the most effective medications for treating symptoms of depression. But like many other medications, antidepressants help some people more than others. Studies show that the benefit of antidepressants generally depends on the severity of the depression. The more severe the depression, the greater the effect. Antidepressants are usually effective for moderate, severe, and chronic depression. It usually does not help in cases of mild depression.

Read also: How do we stop or reduce antidepressants?

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Although antidepressants can treat the symptoms of depression, they don't always treat the causes. Therefore, health care providers often recommend psychotherapy (talk therapy) as an adjunct to depression medications.


Last updated: April 2024

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Megan Vasquez

"Creator. Coffee buff. Internet lover. Organizer. Pop culture geek. Tv fan. Proud foodaholic."

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