Do Antidepressants Work for Addiction?

4 tips to stay sober during the holidays

Last week we discussed antidepressants. What they are and how they are used in the treatment of depression. This week, we will discuss how these drugs are used, specifically for the treatment of addiction and how to educate yourself on whether these drugs are good for you and your addiction recovery. We will strive to answer the question: Do antidepressants work for addiction?

How and Why are Antidepressants Prescribed For Addiction

When addicts enter into addiction treatment they are putting their trust in that addiction treatment center and their staff. Usually, the process goes something like this:

  1. Client enters rehab.
  2. Client is assessed during intake by treatment team.
  3. Client is very often then sent to a psychiatrist for further assessment (especially if they exhibit any signs that are perceived as abnormal or uncomfortable.
  4. Psychiatrist does an assessment and most of the time will prescribe a drug to treat condition.
  5. Client then proceeds to take this drug as part of their treatment regimen.
  6. Client continues to take this drug after leaving treatment.

This process is important to understand because you can see the progression from being treated by an addiction professional to a client becoming reliant upon another drug for their sobriety. It should be noted that I am not completely opposed to Medication Assisted Treatment, however, I feel it is used far too often and only prolongs issues that could have been resolved sooner. We will steer clear of the discussion regarding our society being a pain adverse society which has caused the current prescription drug epidemic. For now, let’s focus on if these drugs are as needed as much as they are used in addiction treatment.

The Placebo Effect

Antidepressants are supposed to work by fixing a chemical imbalance, specifically, a lack of serotonin in the brain. Indeed, their supposed effectiveness is the primary evidence for the chemical imbalance theory. This means that studies have shown that studies have shown that antidepressants might not work near as well as people believe.

A placebo is used in clinical trials to test the effectiveness of treatments and is most often used in drug studies. For instance, people in one group get the tested drug, while the others receive a fake drug, or placebo, that they think is the real thing. This way, the researchers can measure if the drug works by comparing how both groups react. If they both have the same reaction — improvement or not — the drug is deemed not to work. Placebo trials have been held in studies and have shown that drug–placebo differences in antidepressant efficacy increase as a function of baseline severity, but are relatively small even for severely depressed patients. What this means is that there aren’t much differences in the reported recovery of those with depressive symptoms amongst those that took an antidepressant and those that received a placebo pill.

Educating the Addict

These findings are huge for the addict and their family. It is important to educate yourself on how antidepressants are prescribed, why they are used, and if they are right for you. Understanding that there is serious doubt about the efficacy of antidepressants is a dirty secret that pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know. When you enter into treatment, the treatment team wants you to heal. They are following a model that has worked for them in the past, although not as successful as you might think. We want to get you in and get your co-occurring symptoms treated so we can then get to the causes of your addiction. This is actually backward to what we are taught. You must treat the addiction first and then deal with co-occurring disorders. Of course, there is room for mental health issues like schizophrenia, etc. What I am discussing is the prevalence to treat sad feelings and negative emotions with a drug. Again, I must reiterate that I am not advocating for no medicine in addiction treatment.The question we want to raise is: Do antidepressants work in addiction recovery?

What would happen if our treatment centers did the hard work of focusing on the addiction and not using another drug to treat the chemical imbalance caused by using drugs. The tearing down of this system is more in-depth than we have time or space for here. However, I encourage you to educate yourself on the efficacy of these drugs so that you can make the best decision for yourself or for your loved one in the future.

As always, if you or your loved one need addiction help, we at San Diego Sober Living are here to help you navigate through your recovery journey. We have been there and we know the way out. Give us a call today.

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