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Zoloft (sertraline) is an antidepressant medication in the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class of drugs. It’s used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental health conditions. Zoloft increases serotonin levels in the brain to improve mood and regulate emotions. 

A common question before starting this — or any — antidepressant is often: is Zoloft addictive? When taken as prescribed, Zoloft is not considered addictive. In fact, research shows it’s tolerated well by most people who take it. It doesn’t produce a euphoric high or cause cravings, like substances abused for recreational purposes do. That said, Zoloft addiction can still be a concern for many people, as it is possible to become physically dependent on this medication over time. 

What’s the difference between being addicted and being dependent on a prescription drug? Keep reading to learn more — we’ll explain why sertraline is not addictive and explore everything you need to know about this SSRI.  

Zoloft Dependency vs Addiction

Being dependent, as opposed to Zoloft addiction, means you’ve developed a tolerance for a substance. This means you might need more frequent doses or higher dosages than initially prescribed to achieve the same effect. It does not necessarily indicate drug addiction has occurred, though. 

Dependency can be managed through careful monitoring by a doctor. By contrast, drug addiction involves compulsive use despite negative consequences, including psychological distress and impaired functioning socially and/or occupationally. 

“Zoloft dependence is commonly attached to more of a psychological dependence rather than an addictive scope, which results in destructive repercussions from compulsive overuse.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW

How Long Should I Stay on Zoloft?

First, you must know how long it takes for Zoloft to work. The length of time anyone should stay on Zoloft depends on individual needs and circumstances and your doctor’s recommendation. It’s important to first give it time to see if it improves your depression symptoms or anxiety symptoms. Never discontinue using Zoloft or any SSRI abruptly, as there’s a high potential for withdrawal symptoms.

What Happens if You Stop Taking Zoloft?

If you stop taking Zoloft, you can experience withdrawal symptoms starting within 24 hours after stopping treatment and lasting up to 2 – 4 weeks, depending upon factors like duration and dosage before cessation. Tapering off of an SSRI gradually and under medical supervision is always recommended.  

Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome

Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, also known as antidepressant withdrawal, is a set of physical and psychological symptoms that can occur when someone stops taking an antidepressant medication. It commonly occurs in people who’ve taken antidepressants for at least four weeks or longer. Symptoms include: 

Dizziness

Nausea

Headaches

Fatigue

Insomnia

Irritability

Flu-like aches & pains

Vivid dreams 

How to avoid Zoloft withdrawal symptoms

Part of answering the question is Zoloft addictive means understanding the risks associated with stopping this medication abruptly or too quickly. The following can help you avoid Zoloft withdrawal symptoms:

Taper off slowly: It’s important not to make sudden changes in dosage as this could cause serious Zoloft side effects. Your doctor will reduce your dose gradually over time. The process could take several weeks or months, depending on how long you took Zoloft and what dose you were on.

Take with food: Taking the medication with food helps your body absorb the active ingredients properly. This can help reduce any potential side effects or withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking it later on down the line.

Monitor symptoms closely: Monitor any changes in mood or behavior while taking Zoloft and after discontinuing use. This way, you can catch withdrawal signs before they become severe. Some common symptoms include insomnia/trouble sleeping, irritability, headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and increased anxiety/panic attacks. If symptoms appear, contact your doctor right away.

“As with all medications, compliance and maintaining regular medication consultations are the best ways to avoid negative side effects even while titrating down. Continue a healthy self-care routine, including nutrition and sleep, to more clearly notice changes or negative withdrawal symptoms.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW

Determine If Zoloft Is Right for You with Talkspace Psychiatry

Understanding the potential risks associated with taking this or any psychiatrist-prescribed medication is important. Is Zoloft addictive? Though true addiction isn’t a concern, if you’re taking Zoloft as part of your treatment programs, dependency is something to consider. Online psychiatry with Talkspace can help you determine if Zoloft is the right prescription drug for you and your condition.

If you or a loved one is wondering if sertraline is addictive, you don’t have to worry alone without answers. Talkspace provides personalized care to support your journey and give you the tools necessary to lead a healthier, more fulfilling life. Don’t wait any longer – take control of your future today.

Sources:

Lydiard RB, Perera P, Batzar E, Clary CM. From the bench to the Trench. The Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 1999;01(05):154-162. doi:10.4088/pcc.v01n0504. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC181082/. Accessed December 17, 2022.

Gabriel M, Sharma V. Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2017;189(21). doi:10.1503/cmaj.160991. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449237/. Accessed December 18, 2022.

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