Do Anti-Depressants Increase Risk of Relapse?

According to a new study, people with depression who use anti-depressants and then stop are more likely to relapse than those who use do not use any medication for their depressive symptoms. Paul Andrews, evolutionary psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster University, led a study that found those who used anti-depressants were twice as likely to suffer another episode of depression in the future. The findings stir the already boiling pot of controversy over anti-depressant medication and depression. The researchers looked at several previous studies to reach their conclusions, which found that although people with depression who never took medication still had a 25 percent chance of relapsing, those who took medication and then stopped were 42 percent more likely to suffer another depressive episode. The researchers analyzed data from people who had been on anti-depressants and then placebos, people who were only on placebos and people who were only on anti-depressants.

Andrews notes that the brain self-regulates the production of serotonin and states that anti-depressants disrupt that natural regulation. He says, “We found that the more these drugs affect serotonin and other neurotransmitters in your brain – and that’s what they’re supposed to do – the greater risk of relapse once you stop taking them.” Andrews adds, “All these drugs do reduce symptoms, probably to some degree, in the short-term. The trick is what happens in the long term. Our results suggest that when you try to go off the drugs, depression will bounce back. This can leave people stuck in a cycle where they need to keep taking anti-depressants to prevent a return of symptoms.” He believes that depression may be a necessary mechanism the body uses to cope with stressful situations. Andrews adds, “There’s a lot of debate about whether or not depression is truly a disorder, as most clinicians and the majority of the psychiatric establishment believe, or whether it’s an evolved adaptation that does something useful.”

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • viki


    July 22nd, 2011 at 12:49 PM

    wow,take anti-depressants to get rid of depression and then attain an all-time dependence?! it’s doing more harm than good,the now we cannot even be sure whether to take medication or not!!

  • Sharon Park

    Sharon Park

    July 22nd, 2011 at 6:48 PM

    That’s curious. My understanding was that depression meds weren’t designed to be taken on a daily basis long-term. I haven’t had any for years so perhaps that has changed as medications and treatment options have evolved but I thought you had to have a break from them at some point. Can anyone shed any light on that?

  • Lou Wilson

    Lou Wilson

    July 22nd, 2011 at 7:33 PM

    You should treat antidepressants like training wheels on a bike. Use them until you get better, but you should never rely on them 100%. Depression meds should kickstart your serotonin levels into action and your body should take over from there producing the amount that you need and were previously deficient on. If they don’t, that’s when you know you need to be looked at more deeply by a doctor.

  • Naomi McCullum

    Naomi McCullum

    July 23rd, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    This isn’t really news is it?! It happens with any medicine. You should use a medicine to help you but also endure that you do not use it to an extent that you come to be dependent on it! That is how pharmaceuticals are build-they can get you dependent.

    Just draw a line and stay within that. Dependence like this is far less likely to occur then.

  • Tami Bell

    Tami Bell

    July 24th, 2011 at 5:29 AM

    You know, it really bugs me that these medications are out there doing so much good for so many people with depression yet all that we continue to harp on is how bad they are. Really? Well for me they were a lifesaver and I could give you the names of many others who feel that exact same way. It helps you get the symptoms under control, and there is no proof that there would not be a relapse anyway with or without the medications. Right? This is all just theory, and to me the proof behind it sounds kind of shaky.

  • alphonso giordano

    alphonso giordano

    July 24th, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    I don’t feel it’s healthy to be taking meds on and off again. Judging by that study’s findings it’s certainly not any better for you than never taking them at all.

    Surely it’d better to have some kind of maintenance level of dosage? That could already be in your system then be topped up if the need occurs and depression symptoms raise their ugly head.

  • Marshall B.

    Marshall B.

    July 24th, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    @alphonso-you took the words out of my mouth. It’s like taking painkillers for a snapped arm and never going to the hospital to get it bandaged up. If the drugs don’t work, move on to the next step. Depression is just as debilitating as any untreated physical illness and will only get worse if not properly taken care of. We have healthcare in 2011-why aren’t we using it?

  • Dennis


    July 24th, 2011 at 8:11 PM

    Holy smokes now I wonder about the effects that my daughter might be suffering from taking meds for depression. She has been diagnosed with depression and ticks since she was 8. Is it a bad thing that she is on prozac for the depression and taking other drugs for the ticks. Does this mean that my wife and I have now condemned her to life full of taking medication?

  • Chicago Hypnotist

    Chicago Hypnotist

    July 25th, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    I think that anti depressents can be useful for a variety of mood disorders and in some cases, major depressive disorder. In my experience, as I’m sure many studies prove, talk therapy along with medication seems to work best. Sadly, we live in a society where people just want a magic bullet. Hopefully we can get back to a combination of both therapy and medication.

  • I.S.


    July 26th, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    @viki-Exactly! You need to use antidepressants to keep yourself sane while you’re being treated for the root cause of your depression. I feel depression’s a symptom of bigger issues that you need to pay attention to. That can be done by combining them with or replacing them with therapy, not trusting the outcome to simply pills alone.

  • Lynsette Nelson

    Lynsette Nelson

    July 26th, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    There’s debate about whether depression is a disorder? Holy heck, that must be by individuals who have never suffered it themselves or experienced having a loved one in the throes of it. Saying that I find that offensive is an understatement. Depression is as real as the nose on your face.

  • Rich L. Webster

    Rich L. Webster

    July 26th, 2011 at 9:02 PM

    We’ve gotten to where in our culture we want instant gratification. Everything has become faster and more convenient, and naively some want that to apply to everything, including medical treatment. If it takes too long to do, no matter how much it’s worth it, they don’t do it.

    We need to take more responsibility for our health and have patience. Depression meds can take six weeks to be at optimal working levels in your body.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on