SSRIs vs MAOIs for Treating Depression

Medication is an important part of treatment for many people suffering from addiction and co-occurring depression.

This page will discuss 2 common types of antidepressant medications: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

What is Depression?

young woman with depression feeling sad and looking out the window at the rainDepression is a common mood disorder that can have significant negative effects on a person’s life. Fortunately, there are many antidepressants available to treat people with all types of depression. When combined with therapy or counseling, antidepressants are an effective way to regulate mood and improve symptoms.

Many people suffer from both depression and substance use disorder (SUD). This is what is known as having a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. Sometimes these people may consume intoxicating substances in an attempt to escape depressive symptoms, effectively worsening the symptoms of both their addiction and depression in the long run.

While “self-medicating” depression with drugs or alcohol is not the answer, medication prescribed for depression can be a crucial component of an effective treatment plan.

SSRIs and MAOIs are two prominent types of antidepressant medications; they work differently and can lead to different effects.

What are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRIs) Antidepressants?

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are currently the most prescribed type of antidepressant. These medications are prescribed primarily to treat forms of depression, but they can be prescribed for some forms of anxiety and other mood disorders, although this usually involves off-label use. They are considered safe and very effective, with little likelihood of misuse.

An SSRI seems to affect only serotonin, which is one of the most important neurotransmitters involved in regulating mood. Other antidepressants typically affect more neurotransmitters, but because SSRIs focus on just one neurotransmitter, they are more predictable and may have fewer side effects. These medications prevent the rapid reuptake of serotonin by neurons, so the neurotransmitter stays in synapses for longer, allowing neurons to communicate more effectively. This helps to elevate mood.

What Are Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor Antidepressants (MAOI)?

Although SSRIs are the current frontline treatment for depression, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) were the first antidepressants developed. They are typically more potent than SSRIs because they affect more neurotransmitters, and they can cause more side effects. However, they are sometimes still prescribed to people who do not experience benefits from other antidepressants.

An MAOI inhibits the effectiveness of monoamine oxidase, a chemical in the brain that removes neurotransmitters from the brain. People who suffer from depression, and sometimes anxiety, do not have enough neurotransmitters present to keep neurons in contact, which can cause low mood. When monoamine oxidase does not remove neurotransmitters, mood can be lifted because neurons are better able to communicate.

When Do SSRIs and MAOIs Begin Working?

SSRIs become fully effective in 1-4 weeks when the medication has reached a saturation level in the body, and the brain has a consistent amount accessible. Positive changes to mood fully set in after 4-6 weeks.

Similar to SSRIs, MAOIs can take 1-6 weeks to work. The average timeframe is 2-4 weeks for the medication to become fully effective.

Side effects of SSRIs and MAOIs

SSRIs Although SSRIs cause fewer side effects than other antidepressants, there are still some side effects that can develop. They include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Sleepiness
  • Insomnia
  • Dry mouth
  • Restless or agitation
  • Headache

MAOIs cause more side effects than SSRIs. Side effects include:

  • Nausea, diarrhea, or constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tingling or pricking sensations on the skin

Drug and Food Interactions with SSRIs and MAOIs

SSRIs are less effective when alcohol is present in the body. They may also interact with other antidepressants, especially MAOIs or tricyclic antidepressants, if these drugs have not fully left the body when a person is changing medications. Other medications, like benzodiazepines or sleep aids, may also interact with the drug, and some herbal supplements, like St. John’s wort, can reduce the effectiveness of SSRIs.

Like all prescription medications, SSRIs should not be combined with other medications, and they should not be mixed with alcohol or illicit substances. Other than that, SSRIs have few limitations; MAOIs, on the other hand, require dietary restrictions to be effective and safe. Some of these restrictions include:

  • Aged cheese
  • Cured meat
  • Sauerkraut
  • Fermented soy products, including miso, soy sauce, or tofu
  • Raisins, dates, or other dried fruits
  • Nuts
  • Other foods or drinks with tyramine

Addiction Treatment for Patients on Antidepressants

doctor comforting patient that struggles with depression during rehabAs mentioned earlier, many people struggle with both depression and addiction. Research shows that these people respond better to integrated treatment of both conditions.

Rehab facilities like Sunrise House in New Jersey provide comprehensive care in several types of addiction treatment, and the experienced staff is equipped to treat people with co-occurring depression.

Treatment at Sunrise House is tailored to the needs of each patient. This means patients are evaluated upon admission to addiction treatment, and specialists then use this information to outline an individualized treatment path for them. As treatment progresses, patients are continuously assessed and necessary adjustments to their care are made.

If you or a loved one is struggling with co-occurring addiction and depression, recovery is possible. Check your insurance coverage by filling out the confidential or speaking to an admissions navigator at to go over your payment options for rehab.

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