Q. I have been taking the antidepressant sertraline for years but it doesn’t seem to be working any more. The trouble is that when I try to stop taking it, I experience incredible side effects. The dizziness is unbearable. To walk across a room I have to hold on to furniture. My pulse is racing and I have a pounding headache.
Taking the drug again makes the symptoms disappear but my mood is no better. Is this drug addicting? I would love to find out if there is something else I could do to alleviate my depression.
A. Doctors describe the loss of effectiveness as tolerance or “poop out.” Patients have been reporting this problem with drugs like fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft) but there isn’t a lot of research on this phenomenon. A report in the journal International Clinical Psychopharmacology (March, 2011) describes a similar problem with respect to the antidepressant desvenlafaxine (Pristiq).
There are other types of antidepressants, such as bupropion (Wellbutrin), selegiline (Emsam) and old-fashioned tricyclic drugs such as nortriptyline or desipramine. Many nondrug approaches can also be helpful, from vigorous exercise and light therapy to fish oil and talk therapy.
We are sending you our guide to Dealing with Depression for more details on all these approaches and a discussion of how to taper off antidepressants.
Stopping sertraline suddenly can lead to dizziness, headache, nervousness, insomnia, sweating and difficulty concentrating.