Sertraline (Zoloft, Lustral) for Depression Treatment
Many people that struggle with addiction also suffer from co-occurring depression or other disorders and are prescribed medication to treat their condition.
This page will go over the common antidepressant medication Sertraline and what it is used to treat. We’ll also go over areas of concern, such as Sertraline withdrawal and potential interaction with other drugs.
What is Sertraline?
Sertraline is the generic name for the antidepressant medications Lustral and Zoloft. It is one of the many selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) available to treat depression and related conditions.
SSRIs block receptors in the brain from absorbing the neurotransmitter serotonin, which allows this chemical transmitter to continue amplifying signals between neurons for longer. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters involved in influencing mood, and when more of it is present in the brain, or it is present for longer, low mood can elevate and energy can increase.
Sertraline was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States to treat several mental health conditions, including:
- Panic attacks.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Social anxiety disorder.
In some instances, it can be prescribed to treat premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which has symptoms like mood swings, breast tenderness, bloating, and irritability. Rarely, this antidepressant is used to treat chronic headaches and sexual problems including premature ejaculation.
Withdrawal from Sertraline
When a person taking sertraline wants to end their use of this drug, they should consult their doctor to begin tapering the medication to prevent or reduce withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can include:
- Agitation or restlessness.
- Sleep disturbances, especially involving strange dreams.
- Numbness, or pins and needles, especially in extremities.
- Tremors, shaking, or weakness.
- Feeling “head zaps,” or electric shocks in the head or behind the eyes.
- Depersonalization (feeling detached from surroundings or reality).
Patients who take antidepressants like sertraline may experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit even if they were taking the medication as prescribed. Antidepressant withdrawal symptoms are called discontinuation syndrome, and it can be avoided or mitigated if one works closely with a physician during the withdrawal process.
Side Effects of Sertraline
Common side effects from sertraline include:
- Dry mouth.
- Upset stomach, including nausea or diarrhea.
- Difficulty sleeping.
Another common side effect of many antidepressants, including sertraline, is weight gain. While medical professionals do not understand the exact cause of this weight gain, it could be due to fluid retention, increased appetite, or changes to exercise routines. For people who are concerned about this side effect, their doctor can monitor their weight and advise on a plan to consume fewer calories and exercise more.
While the side effects mentioned above are not considered dangerous, if they get worse or disruptive, it is important to speak with a doctor to adjust the dose or consider other treatment options.
Uncommon, but serious side effects of Sertraline include:
- Decreased sexual ability.
- Weakness or muscle cramps.
- Bruising or bleeding easily.
- Unusual or rapid weight loss.
- Shaking or tremors.
- Black or blood stool.
- Bloody vomit.
One of the most dangerous potential side effects is the increased risk of suicide among people who take sertraline. This is true of SSRI antidepressants in general, and it especially affects younger people who may receive prescription sertraline. Children, teenagers, and young adults are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts when taking sertraline than people who are middle aged or older.
Another potential side effect from SSRIs like sertraline is serotonin syndrome. This condition involves too much serotonin in the brain, which neurons cannot uptake fast enough to maintain safe levels. The primary cause of this condition is taking more than one antidepressant, especially if it involves other types of antidepressants like MAOIs or tricyclic antidepressants. Some other medications also increase serotonin, so it is important for patients to keep their doctors informed of all medications and dietary supplements before beginning sertraline.
Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:
- Rapid heart rate.
- Loss of coordination.
- Severe dizziness.
- Twitches or spasms.
- Abdominal cramping, nausea.
- Vomiting or diarrhea.
- Restlessness or agitation at unusual levels.
Addiction or patterns of substance abuse involving sertraline are rare, but prescribing doctors should be made aware of any substance use disorders (SUD) the patient suffers from.
Sertraline’s Interactions with Other Drugs
Before beginning treatment with Sertraline, it is crucial that the patient informs the prescribing physician of any other medications they are taking. Certain drug interactions—especially those involving other antidepressants—with Sertraline can be dangerous.
Other medications, both prescription and over the counter, that may affect sertraline include:
- Cold or allergy medication.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen.
- Sedatives, including sleep aids.
- Opioid pain medications.
- Muscle relaxers.
- Medications to treat seizure disorders, epilepsy, or similar conditions.
- Medications to ease addiction and help detox, including methadone or buprenorphine.
- Birth control.
- St. John’s wort.
Alcohol may be dangerous when combined with many drugs, including prescription antidepressants like sertraline. Although sertraline is considered a predominantly safe SSRI, there are dangerous side effects, and consuming alcohol in any amount while taking the drug can increase the risk of side effects. Sertraline and other antidepressants can be especially dangerous if a person routinely binge drinks.
Sertraline’s Interactions with Other Physical and Psychological Conditions
People who have mental health conditions like bipolar disorder or cyclothymic disorder, or who otherwise experience manic episodes, should inform their doctor before taking sertraline since it could make manic episodes more frequent or more extreme.
People with the following physical conditions should be cautious when taking sertraline, and keep their doctor informed of side effects:
- Liver or kidney problems
- Any heart condition
- Bleeding disorders, especially gastrointestinal bleeding
Get Help for Addiction and Co-Occurring Depression
It’s crucial that those suffering from addiction and a co-occurring mental health disorder undergo integrated treatment. Studies have shown that a comprehensive treatment approach—as opposed to treating these conditions separately—is associated with better outcomes.
If you or a loved one is suffering from co-occurring depression and addiction, please call a Sunrise House admissions navigator at to start treatment as soon as possible. Learn about your payment options for treatment or if you can use your insurance for treatment.
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