Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

What are SSRIs used for?

In adults, SSRIs are FDA approved to treat:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Bipolar depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder

In children, specific SSRIs are used to treat depression and anxiety:

  • Citalopram (Celexa) and Fluoxetine (Prozac) – Treatment of depression in ages 12+
  • Sertraline (Zoloft) – Treatment of anxiety in ages 12+

Beyond specific FDA recommendations, there are also “off label” uses your provider may recommend.

How do SSRIs work?

SSRIs exert action by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, thereby increasing serotonin activity in the brain.

Serotonin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that is involved in several organ systems in the body. It’s sometimes known as the “happy chemical” because it helps regulate mood, and low levels of serotonin in the brain have been associated with depression and other mental health disorders.

With SSRIs, you and your family members can start to notice changes in the first 2 weeks, such as improvements in sleep, energy, and appetite. It may take up to 4 weeks before you begin to feel better, and up to 6-8 weeks for the medication to reach full efficacy.

Are SSRIs addictive?

NO. SSRIs do not have addictive properties. However, it is very important to continue taking them as prescribed and consult your provider regarding increasing, decreasing, or stopping the medication. 

Once SSRIs build up in your system, your brain adjusts to increased serotonin levels, so abruptly discontinuing them can cause a “discontinuation syndrome” which can be very unpleasant. This can cause flu-like symptoms, insomnia, nausea, and/or return of anxiety/depression symptoms. 

DO NOT stop taking your SSRI because you feel better. Always consult your provider before making changes.

What side effects could I experience with SSRIs?

Sexual dysfunction, headaches, nausea, trouble sleeping, dizziness, diarrhea, weakness, fatigue,
stomach upset, dry mouth are among the more common side effects. 

They can also increase appetite, potentially leading to weight gain. Children and adolescents on SSRIs (under age 25) have an increased risk of suicidal thoughts upon starting SSRIs.

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