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How do Antidepressants Work

How do Antidepressants Work

While the use of antidepressants might help you deal with depression, it is important to understand how they work so as to make sure that the chances of addiction and overuse are ruled out.
Abhijit Naik
The term 'antidepressants' is used to refer to a group of psychiatric drugs that are typically used to treat various mood disorders. These drugs are generally prescribed for people suffering from depressive illnesses, like depression, bipolar disorder, etc. Antidepressants usually target one or many neurotransmitters related to mood and help in treating the ailment associated with it. Millions of people the world over resort to depression medication to ease various mood disorders.

Antidepressants - How they Work?

In the human brain, neurons are separated by a gap referred to as synapse. In order to transfer a message, these neurons resort to neurotransmitters. After being released by the sending neuron, these neurotransmitters move around in the synapse until they are accepted by some other neuron. Such transfer of message is executed at a tremendous speed, after which the neurotransmitters either return to the sender neuron, in a process known as reuptake, or get broken down by certain enzymes.

Serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine are some of the most important neurotransmitters associated with depressive ailments. In people suffering from these ailments, the production of neurotransmitters is severely hampered. In such circumstances, antidepressants are administered to increase the number of neurotransmitters in the brain as a part of the treatment of the underlying medical condition.

How do They Affect the Brain?

There are several different types of antidepressants, prominent ones among which are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Each of these work differently in the brain to provide relief from the said ailment. Though each of these help in maintaining the required levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, the process executed to do this differs in each of them. While SSRIs delay the reuptake process to execute the task, TCAs do it by blocking the sender neuron from accepting the serotonin when it returns and MAOIs do it by suppressing the enzymes which break down the neurotransmitters. While SSRIs only target serotonin levels in the brain, TCAs target all three neurotransmitters associated with mood and mood-related disorders.

How Long Before they Start Working?

Many people quit taking antidepressants after taking them for a week or two, as they don't experience the desired results. It is important to understand that it normally takes a few weeks for them to show their effects. The time required by them to ease the suffering also depends on whether the person is following the instructions given by the doctor properly, or not. Certain changes in the diet and staying away from alcohol as recommended by the doctor, also help in accelerating the recovery process.

Though useful in several cases, antidepressants are generally not recommended for everyday use due to some side effects associated with them. These side effects, ranging from mild to severe, differ from one type of antidepressant to another. A person is normally prescribed the one which has the least side effects, or the one which doesn't interfere with any other condition that the person is suffering from. The overuse of these drugs is known to cause harm to the body in the long run and therefore, people using them should only do so under medical supervision. Lastly, adverse effects of the same, if any, should be brought to the notice of the physician immediately.