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Antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed mental health medications globally. Prolonged feelings of sadness are not abnormal, but when depression begins to interfere with your daily life, antidepressants can help reduce symptoms and help you get back on track.

With so many different types of antidepressants on the market, many options are available for all types of patients. Side effects can be common when taking antidepressants, but weighing them with their potentially life-changing benefits is key.

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What Are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are a popular treatment for depression and come in many different formulations. These drugs won’t cure depression, but they’ve proven to ease the symptoms of depression.

For many people who struggle with mental health issues, the right antidepressant can be life-changing.

Antidepressant drugs generally target specific neurotransmitters in the brain to improve mood and behavior.

Depression is believed to be caused by an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain—antidepressant medications are designed to fix this imbalance.

Most antidepressants target one or more of the following neurotransmitters and hormones: 

  • Dopamine (feelings of reward and pleasure)
  • Serotonin (feelings of satisfaction, happiness, and optimism)
  • Norepinephrine (made from dopamine and works with your sleep-wake cycle, mood, memory, and fight or flight response)

What Disorders Can Antidepressants Treat?

Over the years, antidepressants have been shown to help with many disorders, not just depression. As a result, antidepressants have become one of the most prescribed psychiatric medications.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 13.2% of adults aged 18 and older used antidepressant medications in the past 30 days during 2015–2018.

Antidepressants can help with the following mental health conditions:

Types of Antidepressants

Doctors prescribe many different types of antidepressants depending on their patient’s unique situation and symptoms.

In many cases, patients can benefit from trying a few different kinds to find which antidepressant works best for them.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, are the most common type of antidepressant.

SRRIs work by increasing serotonin levels in your brain but have little effect on other neurotransmitters like dopamine or norepinephrine.

Medications categorized as SSRIs include:

  • Sertraline (Zoloft®)
  • Fluvoxamine (Luvox®)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac®)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva®)
  • Citalopram (Celexa®)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro®)
  • Vilazodone (Viibryd®)

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs, are a powerful class of antidepressants, the first ever introduced. MAOIs prevent the breakdown of the brain chemicals serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

MAOIs aren’t used as often anymore due to the risk of interaction with other drugs, but some patients still benefit from them. These days, they are mainly FDA-approved for the treatment of bipolar depression.

Medications categorized as MAOIs include: 

  • Selegiline (Emsam®)
  • Moclobemide (Manerix®)
  • Tranylcypromine (Parnate®)
  • Isocarboxazid (Marplan®)
  • Phenelzine (Nardil®)

Serotonin/Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

Serotonin/Norepinephrine Reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs, increase serotonin and norepinephrine levels in your brain.

SNRIs differ from SSRIs because they increase both chemicals rather than focusing only on serotonin as SSRIs do.

Medications categorized as SNRIs include:

  • Venlafaxine (Effexor®)
  • Levomilnacipran (Fetzima®)
  • Desvenlafaxine (Khedezla®, Pristiq®)
  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta®, Drizalma®, Irenka®)
  • Milnacipran (Savella®)

Serotonin Modulators

Serotonin modulators are similar to SSRIs in that they increase the amount of serotonin in the brain, but they differ by changing the neurotransmitter itself.

The way serotonin modulators work is not fully understood, but many people resistant to SSRIs have found success by taking serotonin modulators.

Medications categorized as serotonin modulators include:

  • Vilazodone (Viibryd®)
  • Vortioxetine (Brintellix®)

Serotonin Antagonist and Reuptake Inhibitors (SARIs)

Serotonin Antagonist and Reuptake Inhibitors (SARIs) prevent serotonin reuptake in the brain. But they also prevent serotonin particles from binding to unwanted receptors, so the nerve cells function better.

Medications categorized as SARIs include:

  • Nefazodone (Serzone®)
  • Trazodone (Oleptro®)

Tetracyclic and Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

Tetracyclic and Tricyclic antidepressants, or TCAs, are an older class of antidepressants.

TCAs are often used only for treatment-resistant depression and anxiety due to increased rates of side effects. These antidepressants mainly focus on serotonin and norepinephrine.

Medications categorized as TCAs include:

  • Amitriptyline (Elavil®)
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil®)
  • Doxepin (Silenor®)
  • Imipramine (Tofranil®)
  • Trimipramine (Surmontil®)
  • Desipramine (Norpramin®)
  • Nortriptyline (Pamelor®)
  • Protriptyline (Vivactil®)
  • Maprotiline (Ludiomil®)
  • Amoxapine (Asendin®)

Atypical Antidepressants

As the name would suggest, atypical antidepressants are not typical and don’t fit into other classes of antidepressants.

In addition, while each one affects overall brain chemistry, each medication works in different ways from one another.

Medications categorized as atypical antidepressants include:

  • Bupropion (Wellbutrin®)
  • Mirtazapine (Remeron®)
  • Agomelatine (Valdoxan®)
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Possible Side Effects of Antidepressants

One downside to antidepressants is their potential side effects. For many patients, these side effects cause general anxiety or fear of taking antidepressants.

However, as with many psychiatric medications, you have to outweigh the risks with the potential rewards. Specific side effects can vary depending on which class of antidepressant you’re taking.

Common side effects reported for most antidepressants include: 

  • Weight gain
  • Blood pressure issues
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Sexual side effects (e.g., decreased sex drive, less enjoyment from sex)
  • Serotonin syndrome (can occur when quitting antidepressants abruptly without tapering off)

Other Treatments for Depression

While antidepressants are often the first-line treatment for depression, a few over-the-counter supplements have been shown to help with the treatment of depression.

If you take other medications, consult your doctor before adding these to your regimen, as there could be interactions.

Common supplements that may help with major depression include:

  • John’s Wort
  • Fish oil
  • Methylfolate
  • N-acetylcysteine
  • S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)
  • Vitamin D

Find a Mental Healthcare Provider Near You

If you or a loved one is suffering from severe depression, an antidepressant could help you find relief from your symptoms.

While a general physician can prescribe antidepressants, working with a mental health professional can give you more options. In addition, pairing an antidepressant with talk therapy (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy) increases your chances of finding more relief.

Visit SAMHSA’S Early Serious Mental Illness Treatment Locator to find a mental healthcare provider near you and begin your journey to a happier life.

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Learn More About Centric or For Immediate Treatment Help, Call (888) 694-1249.

FAQs About Antidepressants

What are antidepressants?

Antidepressants are a type of psychiatric medication used to treat depression. Several classes of antidepressants target different chemicals in the brain, all intending to fix the chemical imbalance that causes depression.

What are the most commonly used antidepressants?

The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
    • Fluoxetine (Prozac®)
    • Citalopram (Celexa®)
    • Sertraline (Zoloft®)
    • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva®)
    • Escitalopram (Lexapro®)
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
    • Venlafaxine (Effexor®)
    • Duloxetine (Cymbalta®)
  • Bupropion

What do antidepressants do?

Antidepressants alter brain chemistry by increasing the amount of one or more neurotransmitters thought to contribute to depression, which are dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.

What are the side effects of antidepressants?

While side effects may vary depending on the class of antidepressant in question, common side effects include:

  • Weight gain
  • Blood pressure issues
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Sexual side effects (e.g., decreased sex drive, less enjoyment from sex)
  • Serotonin syndrome (can occur when quitting antidepressants abruptly without tapering off)

How effective are antidepressants?

Antidepressants are quite effective at treating depression. According to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, about 40 to 60 out of 100 people who took an antidepressant noticed an improvement in their symptoms within six to eight weeks.

Are antidepressants addictive?

No, not in the traditional way we think of addiction. However, you can develop a physical dependence on antidepressants.

In most cases, doctors recommend tapering off antidepressants to avoid serotonin syndrome and other withdrawal symptoms that can occur when quitting cold turkey.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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  2. Can a Dietary Supplement Help Ease Your Depression? Harvard Health. (2019, December 1). Retrieved May 15, 2023, from

  3. Griffin, R. M. (2021, June 14). How Antidepressants Work: SSRIs, MAOIs, Tricyclics, and More. WebMD. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from

  4. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. (2020, June 18). Depression: How Effective Are Antidepressants? National Library of Medicine. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from

  5. MediLexicon International. (2022, June 28). Antidepressants: Types, Side Effects, Uses, and Effectiveness. Medical News Today. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from

  6. Ogbru, A. G. (2021, April 8). Antidepressants: Depression Medication List & Side Effects. RxList. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from

  7. Sheffler, Z. M., Patel, P., & Abdijadid, S. (2023, March 1). Antidepressants. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from

  8. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2020, March 31). Commonly Prescribed Antidepressants and How They Work. MedlinePlus. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from

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