The Repercussions of Going on Antidepressants

Written by Max Goldberg on November 5, 2010. Follow Max on Twitter: @livingmaxwell.

As I mentioned the other day, there were tremendous repercussions for me going on Prozac during college. Yet at the time, I didn’t have any idea that they would be so disastrous.

What influenced my judgment to go on antidepressants was a real desperation to feel better. And to feel better quickly. Worrying about how this would impact my life 5 or 10 years down the road was of no consideration whatsoever. I wanted relief and I wanted it immediately.

These are the key repercussions:

EMOTIONAL NUMBNESS To be completely fair, Prozac did work in the beginning. The heaviness I was feeling pre-Prozac did go away and getting through the day was no longer a struggle. This improvement did not happen overnight but within the first few weeks I noticed a difference.

Once I was on the drug for a few years, however, a more ominous effect took hold. I became emotionally numb and lived within a very tight emotional range.

I was never happy and never sad. I was emotionally flat and had little feelings for anyone or anything. The only time that I experienced true happiness was when I was drunk.

When drunk, I broke through Prozac’s emotional ceiling and could experience the bliss and euphoria that being sober prevented from happening. Not surprisingly, I ended up developing a serious drinking problem.

I didn’t drink every single day but when I did drink, I could not control it at all and could show absolutely no restraint. Furthermore, blacking out occurred on a regular basis. I woke up many, many, many mornings not remembering what happened the previous night nor how I made it home.

NEVER ADDRESSED THE KEY PROBLEMS Antidepressants were like a band-aid. They temporarily patched up whatever problems I was having at the time but did nothing to directly address them. So, I lived for many years with hidden or underlying issues that never got resolved.

When I went off of the drug in 2001, the same problems reared their heads and undoubtedly worsened.

I don’t believe that issues can ever really be resolved when you are taking antidepressants because it is not your authentic self. An individual’s emotions are being manipulated with drugs. Can it be possible for a person who is in a drug-induced state to truly come to grips with serious spiritual and emotional issues? My answer is no.

PERSONAL GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT STUNTED I feel like my emotional and personal development was stunted for almost 11 years, the amount of time I was on the drug.

I watched as my other friends develop, evolve and mature while I seemed to be stuck in the same place. I couldn’t reflect on what was happening because I couldn’t look inside of myself. I had no idea who I was, what I stood for or what I believed in. The drug made self-reflection an impossibility.

I was in this very flat state of mind, almost robotic. Each day just came and went, and I seemed to be fine with that.

When I went off of the drug in the summer of 2001, I was 31 years old but felt emotionally as if I were a college student.

PHYSICAL AND NEUROLOGICAL IMPACTS There is no way to determine what they were/are. I had no overt side effects, such as sexual problems or anything else.

However, the antidepressants had to have some real impact. The fact is that I, or we as a society, just don’t know what they are yet. This class of drugs has only been around for a few decades and the data isn’t available.

However, it is intellectually dishonest to say that antidepressants will have no negative physical consequences. These are chemicals that do not belong in our bodies and can only cause harm. The extent of that harm remains to be seen.

One of the reasons that I went off of the drugs was that I was afraid I’d wake up with brain cancer at 50 years old because of so many years of taking Prozac.

——

The reasons listed above are all in hindsight, and hindsight is always 20/20. I didn’t know any of this would happen and that the impact would be so grave. Nevertheless, I take full responsibility since it was me, not my parents, who decided to stay on this drug for well over a decade.

Was taking Prozac the right decision at the time? On Tuesday, I’ll get into this more.

19 Comments

  1. Hi Max,

    I appreciate your experience with Prozac. While, obviously, such drinking is unusual, the emotional numbness is fairly common. I would like to point out a few things though,

    1. We (scientifically) know that medication works best when it’s combined with therapy. There are lots of types, several known to be particularly useful to those with depression.

    2. For someone with no history of depression the goal is not to keep them on medication, but actually to get them off in some reasonable time period. Currently, a specialist I recently talked with says he weans people off after 6 symptom-free months. This is why I always suggest that people see specialized psychiatrists.

    3. It’s quite ridiculous to say that personal growth can’t happen on antidepressants. People grow when they do the work. Happens in every mental hospital and in every therapists office every day.

    4. Emotional numbness is something that can be addressed either by, getting off the antidepressant, or switching antidepressants if the patient wishes to continue medication treatment. But doctors can only help with that if they’re made aware of the side effect and that’s it’s bothering the patient.

    5. As for the neurological impacts, I have no more data on that then anyone else. Lithium and first generation antipsychotics began use in the 1950′s and there is no correlation between those people and neurological illness that I’m aware of. It’s not to suggest that antidepressants, with only 30 years of data won’t be linked to something, I can’t say, but in what we know so far, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

    Drugs aren’t perfect, far from it. That’s why there are so many people out there offering complimentary approaches. An average person with an average depression has many options.

    But for people with severe clinical depressions, bipolar, schizophrenia or others, we just don’t have those options. Up to one in five people with bipolar disorder commit suicide while half will attempt it. These drugs can save many of those lives.

    So, should you have been on Prozac? Only you can answer that question. But for many, it offers many more benefits than risks, just like any medication for any illness.

    - Natasha

    Written by Natasha on January 19, 2011 @ 4:47 pm
  2. Hi Natasha,

    Thanks so much for your comment. Let me address your points one at a time.

    1. I would generally agree that medication works best when combined with talk therapy vs. medication and no talk therapy.

    2. In an ideal world, this is not the goal — to keep patients on medication for a long-term. However, I think you are incredibly naive to think that all doctors share this view. I would say about 99% of them do not.

    It is not in the doctors’ interest to have patients go off meds because then they will stop coming to see them. Patients must see a doctor if they want to continue getting refills of their medication. By keeping a patient on meds, it forces the patient to keep coming back and solidifies the doctors’ revenue stream.

    Doctors prescribe antidepressants as if they were candy. Anyone with a tinge of sadness gets them. So, why would they want the patients to go off of them so quickly???? They don’t.

    There may be very few who do but that is much more of the exception than the rule.

    3. I don’t think it is ridiculous for me to say this at all. I stand by my assertion 100%. You and I differ on the definition of the “self” when a person is on medication. I believe a person taking meds is not their true self. You think they are.

    If meds deny a person to authentically feel, how can that be the person’s true self? When you are on medication, your emotional state is manipulated. In my view, this is not your true self. If you are not your true self, how can any real emotional growth take place?

    You are obviously of the belief that even if a person’s feelings or emotional state is manipulated, emotional growth can take place. Emotional growth / personal development may appear to be taking place but it isn’t. Go off of medication and see how much of that personal growth sticks. None of it will.

    The fact that you believe true emotional growth can take place and be sustained is something that I find ridiculous.

    In my view, true emotional growth and personal development takes place when you can tap into and make significant, long-term changes to your inner core — unobstructed by meds, drugs or drinking.

    4. I think it is more about getting off. For me, it was. I was philosophically opposed to medication interfering with my emotional state. Switching to a different medication was not going to solve this problem. It was just putting on another band-aid rather that addressing the problem directly.

    5. I think it is intellectually dishonest to say that it has no impact. I don’t really care what the data says.

    It is the same argument that says GMO-food has no health impact on the human body. It just doesn’t hold water for me at all.


    I am adamantly against medication for me. Other people should do what they want. It is not for me to tell them what they should and shouldn’t do. I believe in a person’s right to choose.

    Nevertheless, there are approximately 35 million people who take antidepressants in the U.S. Do you really believe that 35 million people need to be on these drugs???????

    Maybe a very, very small percentage of them do because they would kill themselves otherwise. Obviously, life is better than death.

    We are an over-prescribed society and I believe the risks of antidepressants FAR OUTWEIGH the benefits. It is not even close.

    Thanks so much for your feedback. Much appreciated.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on January 20, 2011 @ 11:25 am
  3. Hi Max, I understand the experience you had. I want to let you know that i agree with most of what you have said. What you haven’t mentioned is that there are people that could really benefit from being on SSRI’s for a limited period of time. For example, I have been on Prozac for about 4 months and it is having a very positive affect. I did hardcore soul searching many many years ago to the point where i had stripped all of my egoic tendencies leaving me completely raw, at which point i rebuilt myself from scratch. I still meditate, write journal entries, and do many other soul enriching practices. One thing left over unfortunately was awkward social integration and a certain feeling of isolation and melancholy. The friction from said problems resulted in frequent, paralyzing panic attacks and overall anxiety and much higher intensity than most people. Getting on Prozac got me on a more even keel which allowed me to more effectively communicate and integrate using the fruits of my deeply internal spiritual development. I plan on trying to get off it in a couple of months and we’ll see if i have effectively integrated this new found perspective of calmness as opposed to Kundalini firing off everywhere.

    Just wanted to give another perspective. Yours is very subjective and specific, everyone has a different story, so I don’t think your adamant beliefs hold true for all situations.

    Written by Chris on January 21, 2011 @ 7:53 am
  4. Hi Chris,

    Thanks so much for your comment.

    My overall reaction to what you have written is this. Antidepressants give people an artificial floor. Will that help people from feeling down? Yes. It did for me, especially in the beginning.

    If a person wants to live with an artificial floor for six months or their whole life, that is their choice. I didn’t want that experience anymore.

    Once the floor gets pulled out from underneath you, it becomes a completely different ball game, especially after many years of being on the drug. And I find deep spiritual development to be impossible when a person is on antidepressants.

    If antidepressants prevent you from feeling down (prevent you from feeling a key part of the human experience), then how can they possibly assist or allow for spiritual development? Maybe I am missing something but I just don’t see it.

    While this may be a harsh view and may upset you, it is what I believe. A person may stabilize when on meds and not feel depressed but the real work happens, in my opinion, when someone goes off.

    At the end of the day, I believe in a person’s right to choose. If meds are working for you and you want to take them, then you should take them. Who am I to tell people what to do?

    Every situation is different, yes, but it does not change my overall view of the role of antidepressants. Being on meds for 6 months vs. 11 years is a big difference. Nevertheless, from a philosophical perspective, I am against them.

    Chris, I have been through the ringer (nearly 11 years on Prozac and 3.5 years to recover from it — with constant thoughts of suicide) and have very strong opinions about the subject.

    I appreciate your leaving a comment here and visiting my site.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on January 21, 2011 @ 5:18 pm
  5. Hi Max, I just wanted to say, I agree with everything you’ve said 110%!
    I was put on an SSRI at 24 years old during a bad marriage. I needed guidance and support, instead I was told my brain was broken.

    SSRI’s led to stimulants, mood stabilizers, SNRI’s, and lithium for a short time. I was a mess. I lost 13 years. I have little memory of those years (especially sad, because I was raising two boys). I didn’t grow as a person at all. I quit dating in 2003 and never developed knew friendships either. I didn’t even realize this was odd until I was off meds.

    I probably would have responded like some others on here while I was still under the influence and told you the meds were great. With a clear mind and 20/20 hindsight, I know the facts, my life was destroyed.

    And they do cause physical problems; I lost a ton of hair, and my teeth are a mess. I look like I’ve aged 20 years instead of 10.

    Thank you for your honesty and bravery for posting your experience. You’ve said much that I’ve wanted to share myself but have been unable to articulate due to lasting cognitive damage.

    Written by NoRx4Me on February 7, 2011 @ 10:12 pm
  6. Hello NoRx4Me,

    I read your comment and was very, very upset to hear everything you went through. While some people have commented on this post that antidepressants have helped them, there are plenty of others who have been on the medication for a long time and feel very differently.

    It is one thing to be on meds for 3-6 months and it is another thing to be on meds for more than 10 years, as both you and I have been.

    Thank you very much for writing here and for sharing your story. There will be plenty of others who undoubtedly will benefit from knowing what you went through.

    I am going to dedicate a blog post to your comment and have a further discussion about this with my readers. People need to know.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on February 8, 2011 @ 10:48 am
  7. I can’t wait to read it!

    For anyone who is on an antidepressant and wants to get off; please do so slowly. More slowly than most doctors will tell you too. If you’ve been on them for years, it would be a good idea to taper 10% of your current dose, every 4 weeks or so. Withdrawal can be devastating. I didn’t do it that way and like you Max, I lost my job and could barely function for some time.

    A good website for help with this is: Paxilprogress.org. It’s a network of people who have or are coming off SSRI’s (the original site owner was on Paxil). Max, you would find 100′s of stories like yours and mine there. We’re not alone in our experience.

    Written by NoRx4Me on February 8, 2011 @ 6:03 pm
  8. I watched my loving wife of 14 years turn into an emotionless zombie and then turn into someone who hated everything about me. Divorced me. Yelled at me. Became crazy. These drugs suck.

    Written by Josh Carney on February 21, 2011 @ 3:42 pm
  9. Hi Josh,

    I am very, very sorry to hear all of this.

    And, I agree with your sentiment about the drugs.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on February 21, 2011 @ 6:08 pm
  10. The truth must out! Having battled for years, on and off various psycho meds (when I first took Prozac, I thought I was just getting a free ‘high’!) I finally worked out that what had changed, what had caused the change, what had created the problem, it was the medication itself. 20 months clean now, I am still trying to remember where those 14 years went. So many people/places/jobs/events, mostly unremembered, but those that are remembered are unreal, as if they are memories from a different person. And if you want to really give yourself a thirst for alcohol, then start taking SSRIs, for that is the effect they had on me. Brain zaps; I think every seasoned SSRI victim knows about brain zaps. I has my last brain zap – electric shock/brain convulsion, whatever you want to call it, 380 days after quitting the “medication”! Now, I am just flat, empty, emotionless and lost. Burned out by all the poisons the medical “profession” pushed into me. I could write forever on this topic. I am just glad that you are helping to get the truth out there, Max. Thanks.

    Written by Just Another Victim on April 7, 2011 @ 4:53 pm
  11. Thanks so much for your input here. Congrats on being clean for 20 months!! It is a very hard thing to do but awesome work on making the hard decision.

    It is funny how antidepressants increase your (and everyone else’s) desire for alcohol. It is nothing more than an escape from the medication. How ironic, no??

    Thanks for your kind words and submitting a comment. Much appreciated.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on April 7, 2011 @ 7:29 pm
  12. “Now, I am just flat, empty, emotionless and lost.”

    Unfortunately, this is how I feel most of the time. Unless I’m on the internet talking about this subject, I feel like I’m not a whole person with my own life experiences to share. Broken, was the word that came to mind yesterday. I just feel Broken. Yet, I can’t talk to anyone about this brokeness because it won’t make any sense to them. “What do you mean, you lost 13 years? You were right there, living it”. But it feels like I was away in prison or something.

    I never had the urge to drink on meds. In fact, I prided myself on quitting alcohol and drugs when I had my son at 19. I wanted a clear mind. I didn’t even know I didn’t have a clear mind on these drugs. I thought they were making me normal, like the doctor told me. “Correcting an imbalance”. HA! They got me good with that one.

    Written by NoRx4Me on April 10, 2011 @ 9:12 am
  13. Hi NoRx4Me,

    When you are on meds, it does feel like you are away. This is especially true and apparent when you go off the meds and can compare your life during-meds and post-meds.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on April 11, 2011 @ 10:20 am
  14. i got off of prozac twelve days ago, I had been on it for six months. I was on a high dose for ocd and I also was on welbutrin for depression. At first the change was like magic, the ocd disolved and I was able to cope professionaly and personaly much better. I did notice emotional “numbness” and alot of the passion I had disappeared. I no longer liked to go for long runs or journal. But the relief from the ocd was worth it. Then after months went by it worked less, I still had some relief from the ocd when I stopped taking the drug but it wasnt worth it to me anymore. My therapist is going to be totally against the fact that I quite taking them cold turkey. She has my best interest at heart, and the depression and ocd has somewhat returned, but so has my passion and curiousity. I am still confused and praying for answers.

    Written by danielle on May 8, 2011 @ 7:40 pm
  15. Hi 12 Days,

    Thanks for sharing your story. Keep listening to your heart and know that the answers will come. For sure, they will come.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on May 9, 2011 @ 8:29 am
  16. Hi Max,

    I’m very glad I found your site. I’m 32 and was on lustral for 15 years. In nearly all that time, it never occurred to me to stop taking them, it never occurred to my family to discuss with me if I should stop taking them, and it certainly never occurred to my doctor to stop prescribing them.

    I went on them aged 17 – I was socially anxious and feeling down. I was referred to an NHS counsellor who, in the first session, chided me for being childish and it stopped me going back.

    With a distrust of counselling, I ended up on the meds and stayed that way right until 2009 when I first tried to come off following therapy. I went back on them after a very shaky experience. This year has seen my second attempt (since feb) and I feel like reality has hit me between the eyes. I wasn’t a zombie for all those years on meds, but I didn’t feel like I grew emotionally and it feels like a blur.

    I now find myself trying to make up for lost time and operate as a fully fledged adult which I really don’t feel like right now. Am I stuck emotionally as my teenage self? Who knows, but I sure as hell don’t feel like a responsible 32 year old woman

    It’s a long post, but those who have not experienced long-term AD use may find it difficult to truly understand the implications of it.

    Written by Den on November 29, 2011 @ 6:40 pm
  17. Hi Den,

    Thanks so much for writing and sharing your story.

    I know exactly how you feel. Questions about my emotional and personal development are things that I think about all of the time. In retrospect, growth in those areas did not happen until I went off medication. While on Prozac, I was functional but emotionally void; A 30 year-old physical body but 18 year-old psychologically.

    It is only when I went off Prozac did I start to grow and develop as an adult and form serious opinions about who I am/was as a person – what I stood for, my values, etc.

    Here is a recent speech I gave about my experience on Prozac

    http://livingmaxwell.com/going-off-antidepressants-into-organic-food

    Going off Prozac was not an easy choice and the road has been hard, but in my view, it was the only way to live life – pure, organic, raw, unobstructed from pharmaceuticals.

    Thank you for sharing and for your strength.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on November 30, 2011 @ 1:13 pm
  18. I’m so glad there are people talking about this, I want to add my story to this thread in the hope that the sharing of more personal stories will bring these side effects of antidepressant medication to more public attention.
    I was prescribed antidepressants when I was 16 after falling out with a group of friends at highschool. Because I was feeling down my doctor thought this would be the best way to lift me out of the slump I was in. This medication didn’t come with any therapy at the time of presecription and during the times that I did have therapy coming off the medication was never suggested.
    I didn’t stop taking the meds until I was 26 and during that time I had a serious drinking problem and then a serious drug problem along with a series of abusive relationships with men, I wasn’t able to make or maintain friendships, had no direction or personal goals and I have almost no memories of that decade of my life. When I try to recall events from that time it all seems blurry and I can’t find even one memory that is sharp or in focus the way some of my earlier memories are. I am only now (three years after coming off the medication) developing enough self awareness to realise that my lack of emotional maturity can probably be attributed to missing out on ten years of personal growth. Although it is a relief to realise that there is a reason I am so behind it is scary to realise how much living I’ve missed. I can’t get those years back and while I can now work towards accepting the fact that I am a ‘late bloomer’ it is still hard to feel like a teenager at nearly 30. I have little in the way of impulse control and while I am now learning to make and maintain friendships all of my closest friends are in their very early 20′s. I am also concerned about the possible effects on my memory. I have trouble remembering what I have to do next or what I did yesterday, let alone last week. I live by lists to get by on a daily basis but recalling people, events, conversations, even meals I had yesterday is always tricky if not impossible.

    Written by Jodie on January 4, 2012 @ 7:09 am
  19. Hi Jodie,

    Thanks for sharing your story. A lot of what you shared is very similar to what I went through.

    While a lot was lost, a lot was gained as well. You have a greater appreciation for life and my guess is that you have grown further spiritually/emotionally having been through this experience than had you not.

    I believe that a person can recover their memory. Eat lots of good, healthy, pro-brain foods and lots of omega-3s.

    Congrats for having the strength and courage to go off. I know how hard it is.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on January 4, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

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