Zoloft (Sertraline) is a prescription medication used to treat conditions that include depression, anxiety, and OCD. Unfortunately, Zoloft is known for having some serious withdrawal symptoms, so is Zoloft addictive?
Well, the whole point of Zoloft is that it’s a long-term medication taken to treat serotonin imbalance, so it doesn’t cause dependency. The withdrawal symptoms usually occur when someone reduces their dosage or stops the medication completely without consulting their doctor.
Zoloft also has a history of being abused by people who don’t need it or being mixed with other substances. Suddenly stopping it can induce unpleasant sensations linked to withdrawal.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the mechanism of how Zoloft affects the brain, as well as why it causes withdrawal when cut off.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Kind of Medication Is Zoloft and What Does It Do?
- 2 For How Long Is Zoloft Usually Prescribed?
- 3 Is Zoloft Addictive?
- 4 What Happens If You Suddenly Stop Taking Zoloft?
- 5 What Are the Side Effects of Zoloft?
- 6 What Are the Contraindications for Taking Zoloft?
- 7 Abusing Zoloft
- 8 Conclusion
What Kind of Medication Is Zoloft and What Does It Do?
Zoloft is the commercial name for Sertraline. It’s a substance that belongs to a class of antidepressants called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).
SSRIs work on a type of chemical the brain produces called serotonin. It’s a neurotransmitter whose job is to regulate emotions by allowing different parts of the brain to communicate.
When the brain has a shortage of serotonin, patients can start exhibiting symptoms of depression and other mood disorders. That’s where Zoloft comes in.
Zoloft works by stopping the brain’s cells (called neurons) from reabsorbing free serotonin in the brain. This frees up more of it so the brain can use it where it’s needed most, thus regulating and improving the person’s mood.
It’s one of the most prescribed antidepressants in the United States, being used mainly to treat conditions like:
- Anxiety and panic disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Some eating disorders
For How Long Is Zoloft Usually Prescribed?
The duration you’re supposed to take Zoloft depends on your diagnosis, which is determined by your psychiatrist. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll usually have to take Zoloft for a few more months, albeit in smaller doses, after you start feeling better.
This is called “dose tapering” and it’s a practice done to stabilize the amount of serotonin your brain receives so it’s not cut off suddenly when your symptoms improve.
Is Zoloft Addictive?
Zoloft is a mind-altering substance, which means your physical brain changes when you use it. This causes dependence in the long term, which should be differentiated from addiction.
Dependence is a physical phenomenon when you feel like your body suffers symptoms in the absence of the drug.
Addiction comprises both physical and emotional dependence, with cravings for the drug being the emotional symptom of the addiction.
Most people who use Zoloft don’t report cravings for it, which makes it technically not addictive. However, stopping Zoloft can lead to serious real-life withdrawal symptoms, and you can definitely overdose on Zoloft.
It’s also worth noting that some patients have a tendency to “doctor shop” after their prescription for Zoloft runs out to get another one. Some even try to acquire the medication illegally.
This is similar to an addict’s behavior, since they don’t care about the consequences of their actions as long as they get the drug.
Luckily, prescription medication and other drug dependencies can be treated at a licensed rehab facility. Steps of physical detox paired with therapy help the addicted person kick their addiction.
What Happens If You Suddenly Stop Taking Zoloft?
Since Zoloft affects your brain chemistry, even if you don’t develop a tolerance for it, there are bound to be some withdrawal symptoms.
This is medically known as Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome and it affects about 20% of all patients who are prescribed an SSRI.
In the case of Zoloft, the symptoms show up quite rapidly because it has a short half-life of about 24–48 hours. This means it disappears from your bloodstream completely, causing a crash in serotonin levels.
The resulting withdrawal symptoms can be summarized in the mnemonic FINISH:
- Flu-like symptoms: chills, sweating, fatigue, headache, and lethargy.
- Insomnia: lack of sleep with vivid dreams or nightmares
- Nausea: abdominal symptoms that can also include vomiting
- Imbalance: vertigo, light-headedness, and dizziness
- Sensory disturbances: Tingling, burning, or electric shock-like feelings on the skin
- Hyperarousal: lack of concentration, irritability, aggression, anxiety, and jerkiness
The brain should eventually adjust to the lowered serotonin levels, but the withdrawal symptoms can last from one to three weeks until it does. The intensity of the withdrawal symptoms as well as how long they last depends on how long you’ve been taking Zoloft.
Rebound depression, anxiety, or OCD symptoms can also happen if you stop Zoloft due to the serotonin levels in your brain dropping suddenly. This is when many patients become suicide risks if the symptoms aren’t treated properly.
What Are the Side Effects of Zoloft?
Any medication can have some unpleasant side effects alongside its desired outcomes and Zoloft isn’t any different. Thankfully, none of them are life-threatening and most of them disappear after the body adjusts to the new levels of serotonin.
Here are some of the side effects associated with Zoloft:
- Loss of appetite
- Low sex drive
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Agitation and restlessness
- Excessive sweating
- Somnolence and fatigue
If you’re facing any of the aforementioned side effects and don’t see any improvement, reach out to your doctor and ask if that’s to be expected. In some cases, they might readjust the dose or give you supportive tips on how to mitigate the side effects.
What Are the Contraindications for Taking Zoloft?
In the United States, the FDA issued a black box warning for Zoloft. This means the drug was shown to cause or worsen suicidal thoughts in younger patients. That’s why it’s not approved for use in treating children and young adults with depression.
In other countries, like the United Kingdom, Sertraline (commercial name Lustral) can be used in patients aged 6–17 to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Zoloft allergies aren’t a common condition, however, some patients might experience swelling, a rash, or hives, as well as trouble breathing after taking the medication. In that case, it should be stopped immediately and you should seek professional medical help.
Pregnant people are discouraged from taking Zoloft since it can lead to hypertension and neonatal withdrawal in the child.
Unfortunately, many people use Zoloft in ways the drug wasn’t intended for. This can mean taking Zoloft when they don’t have a prescription, or mixing it with other substances.
Some people treat Zoloft as a “feel-good” drug because of the calming effects of serotonin. That’s why there’s a trend among recreational drug users to crush up and snort Zoloft pills.
This leads to a temporary pleasurable sensation followed by some terrible side effects similar to withdrawal symptoms. It’s also worth mentioning that Zoloft doesn’t cause a euphoric feeling like other drugs used for this purpose.
Combining Zoloft and Alcohol
It’s strictly advised not to combine Zoloft with alcohol for patients or anyone who wants to try the substance cocktail.
Alcohol is a depressant, which means it’s supposed to lower Central Nervous System (CNS) activity. Zoloft has the opposite effect on the CNS, which means they’re working against each other.
Well, in reality, their effects are synergistic and can cause rapid depression in the CNS. This can lead to some serious side effects that include failure of the respiratory system and coma, and if not immediately treated, it could result in death.
Overdosing on Zoloft
If you take your Zoloft dose, forget, and then take a second dose, there’s no need to panic. You could face some unpleasant side effects that can be troublesome for some time, but are ultimately not harmless in the long term.
Mild symptoms of a Zoloft overdose include:
- Fever and chills
- Increased heart rate
- Upset stomach, nausea, and vomiting
- Dizziness and vertigo
- Tiredness and sleepiness
That said, you should be aware that a large overdose of Zoloft has some life-threatening consequences. It can cause an altered state of consciousness, resulting in delirium and hallucinations that could lead to unsound decisions. It can also damage the heart and pancreas.
In some cases, a Zoloft overdose can cause serotonin syndrome. The severe form of serotonin syndrome is a medical emergency that can cause muscle rigidity and cramps, a high fever, and life-threatening seizures.
Is Zoloft addictive?
Well, Zoloft is a highly beneficial medication that’s used widely to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, the mechanism with which it treats these conditions can also cause physical dependence, which might turn into addiction.
While Zoloft can’t get you high, some people abuse it to get the calming effect of the drug through means of snorting or drug cocktails. It’s highly dangerous to combine Zoloft with alcohol as it can cause respiratory failure that leads to coma and death if left untreated.
Finally, heavily overdosing on Zoloft poses a risk of serotonin syndrome, which can present as fever and chills, and progress to more serious symptoms. Muscle rigidity, cramping, and life-threatening seizures are all potential outcomes.