Up to two out of three people who come off modern anti-depressants suffer short-term withdrawal symptoms including dizziness, nausea and low mood. But it is impossible for anyone to become addicted to SSRIs, the Royal College of Psychiatrists heard yesterday.
"Worries about addiction have arisen because doctors mistake these withdrawal symptoms for continuing depression and put people back on antidepressants, instead of reassuring them that the symptoms will soon go,' Dr Peter Haddad, a psychiatrist at the Community Mental Health Centre in Manchester, told the College's annual conference. "Typically the symptoms stop immediately the drug is restarted which gives people the impression that they are addicted.
But Dr Haddad said that dependency in the sense of having a powerful urge to continue a drug, often for more gratification, does not happen with SSRIs. Antidepressants do not have street value. People do not forge prescriptions for fluoxetine. Nor do they register with multiple GPs, turn up at A&E departments to get more supplies or lie in bed craving an antidepressant,' he said. "As long as it is used widely, antidepressants have clear benefits, allowing people to get on with their lives.'
But he admitted there could be problems, perhaps explaining why thousands of people went on to websites to saying they were addicted to SSRIs. "I have seen people with apparently intractable withdrawal symptoms but I am always able to help them come off the drug eventually.' He said people needed reassurance that the symptoms were temporary. If necessary, the drug could be restarted and then doses could be reduced slowly.