Zoloft Side Effects

What is Zoloft?

Sertraline oral tablet is a prescription medication that’s available as the brand-name drug Zoloft. This drug is used to treat major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic attacks, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Zoloft belongs to a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) [1]. A class of drugs is a group of medications that work in a similar way. These drugs are often used to treat similar conditions. Zoloft works by increasing the amount of serotonin, a natural substance in the brain, that helps maintain mental health balance. This can improve the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Zoloft Side Effects
If you’re experiencing too many Zoloft side effects because of withdrawal, then you might want to consider talking to a substance abuse specialist for treatment options

Just like with any other medication, knowing as much as possible about the drug you’ll be taking is crucial to making sure you maximize its inherent benefits. Knowing how to take Zoloft properly is necessary to make sure it works as efficiently as possible. When taken correctly, Zoloft can make individuals feel less fearful or anxious, and it can decrease the urge to perform repeated tasks. This drug can improve sleep quality, energy levels, appetite, restore interest in daily life, and reduce unwanted thoughts and panic attacks.

How SSRIs Work

Serotonin is one of many brain chemicals that transmit messages between brain cells. It has been called the “feel-good chemical” because it causes a relaxed state of well-being. Normally, serotonin circulates in the brain and then absorbs into the bloodstream.

Depression is a mental condition that is linked with low levels of serotonin (as well as low levels of norepinephrine, dopamine, and other brain chemicals). SSRIs work by preventing the blood from absorbing some of the serotonin from your brain. This leaves a higher level of serotonin in the brain, and increased serotonin can help relieve depression.

SSRIs don’t cause the body to make more serotonin. However, they just help the body utilize what it has more efficiently. SSRIs are fairly similar in terms of how effective they are. They do vary slightly in their side effects, what they’re used to treat, their dosage, and other factors.

SSRI Safety

Certain people should be cautious about using an SSRI. These include pregnant women and children. In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) [2] added a black box warning to drug labels for SSRIs. The warning indicates an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in children and young adults. However, further research has suggested that the benefits of antidepressant medication may outweigh the risks of these suicidal thoughts.

SSRIs increase the risk of certain birth defects, especially lung and heart problems. Physicians and future moms must compare the risks of SSRI treatment to the risks of untreated anxiety and depression. Depression without treatment can also have a negative effect on a pregnancy. For example, depressed future moms may not seek the prenatal care they need. Some pregnant women may switch their SSRI to reduce their risk while still treating their depression [3]. This is because different SSRIs have different side effects.

Combining Zoloft and alcohol can cause the antidepressant property of Zoloft to not work as well as it would on its own. Alcohol may allow the person to feel better in the short term. It may actually increase levels of depression and anxiety in the long run. Combining both can worsen alcohol cravings. Individuals with certain types of serotonin receptors are more sensitive to stimulation.

SSRIs result in greater serotonin activity, which can then trigger dopamine release and activate the brain’s reward pathway. Suppose alcohol is consumed while an SSRI induces this reaction. In that case, it can strengthen the association between alcohol and pleasure or in some cases, result in the formation of the association that was otherwise absent before.

Off-Label Zoloft Uses

Zoloft also has several off-label uses. Off-label means the medication has not gained FDA approval. Because Zoloft works by altering brain chemistry, some doctors may prescribe it to patients with various issues. But, there is no extensive clinical trial data for off-label uses, and the FDA has not reviewed Zoloft for effectiveness or safety for these indications. There are also no official dosages for these uses.

Some off-label uses may include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Autism
  • Dementia
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Obesity
  • Eating disorders
  • Hot flashes
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Personality disorders
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Migraines
  • Premature ejaculation
Zoloft Side Effects
There are some serious Zoloft side effects to be aware of if you are misusing or abusing this drug. If you experience any of these, contact a substance abuse specialist right away.

Zoloft Side Effects – Overdose

Overdosing on this drug is more serious than missing a dose. There are no reported cases of fatal Zoloft overdoses. However, taking too much of this medication can cause serious Zoloft side effects or health complications. Purposefully or accidentally taking two or more doses of Zoloft could cause:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Tremors
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat

In rare cases, consuming too much Zoloft can also cause serotonin syndrome, which results in dangerously high levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. When there’s too much serotonin in the brain, this can cause diarrhea, confusion, and headaches. More severe symptoms may include seizures, muscle rigidity, hallucinations, and comas.

Zoloft Side Effects

GI Effects

Interestingly, there’s actually a lot of serotonin in the gastrointestinal tract, so people on Zoloft can experience changes in GI functions. That could mean an upset stomach, nausea, or changes in bowel habits like diarrhea or constipation can be one of the leading Zoloft side effects. Experts suggest starting on the lowest possible dose to avoid these issues, then increasing the dosage as your system adapts to the extra serotonin.

Changes in Appetite or Weight

Individuals taking Zoloft gained nearly two pounds over the course of a year, according to one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It’s not the only SSRI associated with weight gain and Zoloft side effects, but if that’s a concern for you, talk to a specialist about your options.

Sexual Side Effects

This is one of the zoloft side effects no one wants to talk about, but it can affect at least a third of individuals on SSRIs. It is not yet known why drugs like Zoloft have sexual side effects, however, individuals can experience things like lack of sex drive, difficulty orgasming, or the inability to maintain or get an erection. For some people, the benefits of the medication will outweigh the negative Zoloft side effects on their sex life; for others, a change in prescription may be needed.

Night Sweats

Nighttime sweating is one of the most common Zoloft side effects. It may not be dangerous at all, given that the person is seeing an internist regularly and has had a physical exam and lab work within the year to indicate there’s nothing else responsible for it. It is uncomfortable, though, so we recommend wearing sweat-wicking materials to bed and keeping your bedroom cool enough at night.

Increased Anxiety

Another one of the more common Zoloft side effects is called akathisia. It’s like feeling restless or amped up like you need to move or like you’re unable to calm down. In some instances, akathisia can even feel like a panic attack. But akathisia can be lessened by starting on a really low dose and slowly working your way up.

Trouble Sleeping

In most cases, anti-anxiety and antidepressants mediations help indiviudals sleep better. However, occasionally, unusual dreams, restlessness during sleep, or feeling like the sleep is altered in some way.

Behavior or Mood Changes

Unmistakably, you want your mood to change while taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. But the behavior or mood change that we’re most worried about is increased depression or suicidal thoughts or a switch from depression to mania.

Any antidepressant intervention has the potential to flip someone who’s vulnerable, who has bipolar disorder rather than depression, into a mania, which is why it’s so crucial to make sure you have the right diagnosis before starting the Zoloft medication.

Serotonin Syndrome

This is a catch-all term for what happens when there’s too much serotonin in the body. It affects the blood pressure, it can also cause severe gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, and can even lead to fevers, confusion, and seizures—in extreme cases, it’s deadly.

For people who are just taking one medication, the risk is very low. However, if a person is on several medications that affect serotonin levels, the risk level rises. Sometimes, individuals describe this as a bad flu—so on the off chance that happens, call your doctor right away. The treatment is to simply stop the medication [4].

Rashes

Sometimes individuals taking the medication can develop increased skin sensitivity or rashes as a Zoloft side effects. It’ll typically go away on its own, and you can find relief in the meantime with an over-the-counter (OTC) anti-itch cream. However, if you show signs of an allergic reaction, such as itchiness, hives, or throat swelling shortly after you start the drug, you should stop taking it and report these symptoms to your doctor immediately. 

Headaches

Headaches are a common Zoloft side effect when you first start taking the drug or when there is an increase in the dose. For most individuals, headaches go away after a few weeks as the body adjusts to the meds. If you experience occasional headaches while starting the medication, you may try common over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as Tylenol.

If your headaches are persistent, it is recommended to talk to your doctor, as it’s possible you may tolerate a different medication better.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is another common Zoloft side effects that can sometimes persist. It’s necessary to pay attention to dry mouth because it can increase the risk of cavities and other oral issues. In addition, to maintain hydration and good oral hygiene, one could consider trying a mouthwash or toothpaste specifically designed for dry mouth.

Rare Side Effects

While most individuals tolerate drug well, people can experience rare but serious Zoloft side effects such as seizures, vision changes, confusion, and dizziness while taking the drug. Discuss to your doc about any underlying conditions you have before you start any new meds, how Zoloft might interact with anything you’re already taking, and seek immediate help if you start experiencing any of these uncommon Zoloft side effects.

Zoloft Withdrawal

Zoloft withdrawal is a form of SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome. This condition will affect about 20% of people who use an SSRI. Zoloft has a short half-life. Therefore its effects quickly wear off. Typically, drugs with a shorter half-life may indicate more potential withdrawal problems.

When someone suddenly stops using Zoloft, their serotonin levels will abruptly decline. As a result, the person may experience physical as well as mental Zoloft side effects. Therefore, it is essential to consult a professional to detox by gradually reducing the amount of drugs until the person stops completely. This method is sometimes called a “tapering strategy.”

The length of time someone has been taking Zoloft will usually determine the length of the tapering strategy. Typically, tapering lasts four weeks, but experts may suggest tapering the medication over 6–8 weeks to reduce the risk or severity of symptoms and Zoloft side effects [5].

Zoloft Side Effects on Withdrawal

  • Chills
  • Vertigo
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Recurring nightmares
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Tingling sensations in the skin

Zoloft Side Effects Detox and Treatment

Many forms of drug abuse treatment are available, but the first step towards a successful Zoloft recovery is detox. Withdrawal from this drug requires care from detox specialists. Medically–assisted Zoloft detox removes the element of needless suffering and minimizes the potential risks of withdrawal. 

Creating a treatment plan that addresses the physical aspects of withdrawal, the psychological connection with drug use, and managing underlying mental health conditions is part of setting clients up for success.

Following detox, most clients will receive recommendations to continue with their addiction treatment. Any addiction treatment program for Zoloft should be integrated with individual or group therapy.

Typically, treatment continues in the form of inpatient rehab, with a special focus on the following aspects of addiction recovery:

  • Relapse prevention
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Individual and group therapy
  • 12-Step Program work
  • Family therapy
  • Chemical dependency education

Exercise has a powerful antidepressant effect. People are far less likely to relapse after recovering from depression if they exercise three times a week or more. Exercise makes serotonin more available for binding to receptor sites on nerve cells, so it can compensate for changes in serotonin levels as the person tapers off SSRIs and other medications that target the serotonin system. Check in to a facility that offers holistic treatment and programs that promotes physical activities.

Find the Right Treatment Plan for Zoloft Side Effects

zoloft side effects
Reach out at We Level Up NJ today!

Please, do not try to detox from Zoloft on your own. Zoloft’s side effects can be painful and difficult without medical assistance. However, getting through the detox process is crucial for continued treatment. We Level Up NJ provides proper care with round-the-clock medical staff to assist your recovery through our medically-assisted Detox Program. So, reclaim your life, call us to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.

Sources:

[1] NIDA – https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants

[2] FDA – https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2016/019839S74S86S87_20990S35S44S45lbl.pdf

[3] CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/pregnancy/meds/treatingfortwo/features/ssrisandbirthdefects.html

[4] SAMHSA – https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma12-4688.pdf

[5] We Level UpZoloft Withdrawal Treatment