‘Withdrawal’ symptoms and ‘addiction’ are commonly reported by people taking antidepressants, according to an online survey study of 1,829 patients in New Zealand.

Of those surveyed, 12.4 per cent reported ‘mild’ withdrawal effects, 17.4 per cent ‘moderate’ symptoms and 25.1 per cent ‘severe’ symptoms – with 16.2 per cent in the latter group reporting worsening quality of life, compared to 7.2 per cent of those reporting no withdrawal effects.

While 72.8 per cent did not report ‘addiction to the antidepressants’, 11.8 per cent reported ‘mild’, 9.4 per cent ‘moderate’ and 6.2 per cent ‘severe’ addiction, with 21.7 per cent of those participants experiencing ‘severe’ addiction reporting worsening quality of life.

Addiction and withdrawal effects seemed to be intertwined: 86.8 per cent of those reporting addiction also experienced withdrawal effects. Conversely, 44.1 per cent of those reporting withdrawal effects reported addiction.

Antidepressants seemed to differ in their propensity to cause these problems. The frequency of reported withdrawal effects ranged from 18.2 per cent (sertraline) to 75.9 per cent (paroxetine). Frequency of addiction ranged from 0 per cent (sertraline) to 45.8 per cent (paroxetine).

The authors note that the definitions of ‘addiction’ and ‘withdrawal symptoms’ used by patients may not be the same as those used by researchers or clinicians and that experts’ definitions of addiction also “vary considerably”.

They conclude that, “in the light of the difficulty millions of people are experiencing when trying to stop or reduce their [antidepressants], patients and the public need to be educated about the existence, and difficulty, of withdrawal symptoms”.

(Int J Mental Health Nursing doi: 10.1111/inm.12488)

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