Study Finds Link Between Antidepressants, Violent Crime

A spilled bottle of pills on a table in front of a woman in the cornerUse of some antidepressants may be associated with a small increase in violent crime, a Swedish study published in PLOS Medicine reports. The association is evident among participants aged 15 to 24, but not as significant for individuals 25 and older.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which make more serotonin available in the brain, revolutionized the treatment of depression in the 1980s and 1990s. These drugs—which include brand names such as Paxil and Prozac—promised fewer side effects than older antidepressants, and many people with depression have good results on SSRIs. In recent years, studies have begun to highlight the potential shortcomings of these drugs, including a number of side effects.

The Association Between SSRIs and Violence

For the study, researchers used data from the Swedish Prescribed Drug Register and the Swedish national crime register. This allowed them to track 856,493 people (10.9% of the Swedish population) who were prescribed SSRIs between 2006 and 2009.

Using a regression analysis, researchers compared the rates of violent crime among this group while on SSRIs to the violent crime rate among the same people while not on the prescribed drugs. Researchers controlled for the use of other psychotropic medications that might alter behavior.

The result was a modest, but significant association between SSRI use and violent crime. One percent of people prescribed SSRIs were convicted of a violent crime during the study period. This figure, researchers say, is a 19% increase in the risk of violent crime compared to people not currently taking SSRIs.

People aged 15 to 24 were more likely than any other group to take an SSRI, and were also more likely to commit a crime while taking the drug. Among men, SSRIs increased the risk of a violent crime conviction by 40%; among women, the drugs increased the risk by 75%.

Do Antidepressants Cause Violence?

Researchers did not look for a causal link between SSRIs and violence. Correlation does not always mean causation. The study’s authors point out that people who are willing to take SSRIs may be more likely to behave impulsively or that taking an SSRI may increase the odds of a criminal conviction, but not of criminal behavior. The study’s authors did not control for factors such as substance abuse or severity of symptoms. This might mean that people take SSRIs when their symptoms are the most severe, or that providers more frequently prescribe SSRIs to people with substance abuse issues.

The researchers also mention that the adolescent brain may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of SSRIs, and previous research has found that developing brains are more vulnerable to drug interventions. More research is necessary to determine precisely how SSRI use interacts with the risk of violent behavior. If confirmed, the study’s authors say side effect warnings about increased risk of violent behavior might be needed.

References:

  1. Molero, Y., Lichtenstein, P., Zetterqvist, J., Gumpert, C. H., & Fazel, S. (2015). Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and violent crime: A cohort study. PLOS Medicine. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001875
  2. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. (2013, July 9). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/ssris/art-20044825

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article misrepresented Cymbalta, which is a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI).

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  • Hilary

    Hilary

    September 16th, 2015 at 1:27 PM

    “…some antidepressants is associated with a small increase in violent crime,” Hmm what are the important words here? I would say SOME and SMALL. Yet what some people are only going to see is that there is an increase in crime with the use of these medications. That’s it. That’s all they are willing to see. And I think that that does a terrible disservice to those who use their medications correctly and are given the right dosages and who actually thrive having this be a part of their wellness and mental health regimen

  • ben s

    ben s

    September 17th, 2015 at 3:18 AM

    I am a victim of SSRIs my father is in prision for killing his wife, when I was 19 he started taking SSRIs and had no history of violent behavior. After taking the SSRIs an autopsy revealed he stabbed her more than 40 times. Subsequently my baby brother died in a alcohol related car crash because of the loss of his mother and father he never recovered from the incident. The consequences of the drugs reach far beyond the people that take them

  • Jake

    Jake

    September 17th, 2015 at 11:01 AM

    We do have to be willing to look at this kind of research with some concern given the fact that there are so many people who use these on a daily basis. They may not be the actual cause of the this kind of behavior but it seems that in some people with certain predispositions that they could become a part of that pattern

  • Paige

    Paige

    September 18th, 2015 at 11:32 AM

    There always seems to be this need for a scapegoat, anything that will take the responsibility off of the things that are really causing this to happen. I think that there will always be times of more violence and then less for a while, it is all about societal impact and the things going on in the world. I don’t ever think that you will be able to point your finger at one thing and say that is it.

  • Mike

    Mike

    September 18th, 2015 at 12:42 PM

    As other comments have mentioned, some people are going to read this and use it to attack the use of antidepressants in general, which is an ignorant point of view. And of course people ALWAYS misunderstand the difference between correlation and causation — there are so many reasons why violence might be CORRELATED with antidepressant use (after all, if you are prone to violence, you probably have many other symptoms and may seek treatment for a multitude of reasons including substance abuse which they admit they didn’t control for) but not CAUSED by antidepressant use.

  • pria

    pria

    September 21st, 2015 at 10:39 AM

    There are too many other factors that could corroborate and cause much of this for this to be singled out and taken seriously. If this is a comprehensive study that looked at every other contributing factor to violence, then ok I am ready to listen. But there are still too many loose ends for me to have too much faith in believing this one.

  • ant

    ant

    October 13th, 2016 at 8:03 AM

    That is not true. Side effects are being added to medications all the time, primarily psych meds, because they get fast tracked through FDA. After years of being used people begin reporting long term side effects and then they get added because every side effect that any one has ever had needs to be listed, not just common ones. This doesn’t mean they get pulled from the market. Typically sudden death directly linked to a medication is the only way they get pulled and even then it takes a great deal of litigation.

  • Samuel

    Samuel

    September 22nd, 2015 at 10:26 AM

    If there was any speck of truth here then these things would be yanked from the market.

  • Craig M.

    Craig M.

    October 24th, 2015 at 3:09 AM

    To those that believe; “Some and Small” are accurate representations of actual raw statistical data are incorrect. There are serious SE’s with medications. The numbers are NOT that minuscule! If they were, there would be nobody or entities investigating causal correlations.
    healthland.time.com/2011/01/07/top-ten-legal-drugs-linked-to-violence/

  • lsf

    lsf

    January 25th, 2016 at 10:42 PM

    “People aged 15 to 24 were more likely than any other group to take an SSRI, and were also more likely to commit a crime while taking the drug. Among men, SSRIs increased the risk of a violent crime conviction by 40%; among women, the drugs increased the risk by 75%.” That’s so threatening. Does it mean that young people should avoid taking SSRI so that the violent crime can be decreased?

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