Antidepressant medications are primarily used in the treatment of depression and anxiety. They work by gradually changing the balance of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Several kinds of neurotransmitters are involved in behavior and mood regulation. Serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are among the most significant of these chemicals, and most antidepressants work to increase the amount of these present in the brain. The brain naturally removes neurotransmitters through a process called reuptake. Some of the most popular antidepressant medications block reuptake, thereby raising the concentration of specific neurotransmitters.
Several classes of antidepressants are currently on the market:
Side effects are normal with antidepressants. Common side effects include headache, nausea, insomnia, agitation, and sexual problems. Usually, these side effects are not severe. In addition, most side effects occur in the first few weeks of treatment and diminish over time. Doctors can adjust medication dosage levels or switch to a different medication if side effects interfere with basic functioning.
Most antidepressant medications take several weeks to reach full effectiveness. According to research, cognitive therapy combined with medication has shown to be more effective than medication alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, most people with depression need to remain on an antidepressant for six to twelve months or longer to see the full benefits of the medication. Suddenly stopping an antidepressant medication can lead to withdrawal symptoms and a recurrence of depression. Some people may only have a single episode of depression or anxiety, while for others depression represents a chronic, lifelong condition. Although sometimes trial and error is necessary to match a person with the right antidepressant, the overall success rate of these medications is high. Approximately 60% to 70% of people with depression respond well to their first antidepressant prescription.
MedlinePlus. (n.d.). National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. Antidepressants. Retrieved April 24, 2012, from
Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Depression (major depression). Retrieved April 23, 2012, from
U. S. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.) Understanding antidepressant medications. Retrieved April 24, 2012, from
Last Update: 08-27-2012
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