Doctors prescribe medications called antidepressants to help relieve symptoms of clinical depression and related conditions, such as social anxiety disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The purpose of these medications is to adjust chemical imbalances in the brain that may account for shifts in behavior and mood.
Though developed in the 1950s, the use of antidepressants has become increasingly more common over the last 20 years. Today, common antidepressants fall into one of five main categories.
Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)
Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors are one of the two most commonly prescribed antidepressants. SNRIs treat mood disorders and major depressive disorder (MDD), as well as a variety of other conditions related to a chemical imbalance such as:
- Anxiety disorders including social anxiety
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Likewise, SNRIs can be used to treat chronic pain disorders such as fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain. Once metabolized by your body, SNRIs impact levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. These are two of your brain’s neurotransmitters that play a large role in helping to stabilize mood.
Common medications that are SNRIs include:
- Desvenlafaxine, such as Pristiq
- Venlafaxine, such as Effexor
- Duloxetine, such as Cymbalta
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are also mostly used in depression treatment. SSRIs work to block the reuptake of serotonin, which allows for a higher concentration of the neurotransmitter to remain in the body.
An increase in serotonin makes it easier for neurotransmitters to send and receive messages, which can result in stable and more positive moods. SSRIs “selective” due to their ability to affect only serotonin and not other neurotransmitters.
Common medications that are SSRIs include:
- Fluoxetine, such as Prozac or Sarafem
- Sertraline, such as Zoloft
- Citalopram, such as Celexa
- Paroxetine, such as Paxil
- Escitalopram, such as Lexapro
- Fluvoxamine, such as Luvox
A Note About SNRIs and SSRIs
SNRI and SSRI medications are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, but these drugs are not without side effects, including:
- Dry mouth
- Weight loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Anxiety and agitation
- Headache and dizziness
- Abnormal thinking
- Sexual dysfunction
- Low sodium
- Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia
Note that those under the age of 18 may want to proceed with caution. Those who use SSRIs and SNRIs, especially young people, may experience thoughts of suicide when first beginning the medication. All antidepressants that involve this risk have a black box warning, as required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).