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Antidepressants Linked to Violence: Rape, Robbery and Homicide

A study from Sweden has found an association between antidepressants and convictions for assault, robbery, arson, sexual offense or homicide.

Q. I am 30 years old and have been taking fluoxetine. I was prescribed this last year because I attempted to take my own life.

I have noticed that my behavior, though no longer suicidal, is increasingly irrational. I get explosively angry at the smallest of things and struggle daily to control my temper towards my husband.

Until now I would have said that the drug was working for me, but recently I have begun to question whether it is in fact putting my husband at risk. My explosive reactions are right on the edge of violence. Is it possible that the drug is having a negative effect on me?

A. When antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil) or sertraline (Zoloft) were linked to suicidal thoughts in some patients, most health professionals were skeptical. After all, these drugs are prescribed to lift depression and prevent suicide, as fluoxetine did for you. The FDA now requires such medications to carry a black box warning about suicidal thoughts or behaviors, however.

A new study from Sweden (PLOS Medicine, Sept 15, 2015)  suggests that people between 15 and 24 are more likely to commit violent crimes if they are taking SSRI-type antidepressants or venlafaxine (Effexor). These individuals were convicted of assault, robbery, arson, sexual offense or homicide.

Can Antidepressants Trigger Homicide As Well As Suicide?

Americans have a hard time wrapping their heads around the notion that a prescription medication could drive someone to harm or even kill another person. We are a nation that believes very strongly in free will and personal responsibility. It goes against our grain to imagine someone losing control of his emotions and actually committing homicide because of a medicine he might be taking.

That said, a study published in the journal PLOS One (Dec. 2010) suggested that a number of medications were associated with thoughts of homicide, physical assault, physical abuse, aggression towards others and even reports of homicide. One such drug was varenicline (Chantix).

Chantix, Effexor, Paxil, Pristine, Prozac and Acts of Violence:

The scientists who conducted this study noted that:

“These data provide new evidence that acts of violence towards others are a genuine and serious adverse drug event that is associated with a relatively small group of drugs. Varenicline, which increases the availability of dopamine, and serotonin reuptake inhibitors [like desvenlafaxine, fluoxetine, paroxetine, venlafaxine and sertraline] were the most strongly and consistently implicated drugs.”

Stories from Readers:

It is difficult to believe such research unless you read stories from real people reporting to this website. Here are just a few:

Varenicline (Chantix):

The first story from the UK (Jan. 2008):

“I live in the U.K. On Christmas Eve my boyfriend had been using Chantix for some months. He was drinking and went berserk for no reason, assaulted me and destroyed my apartment… As far as I know he has no past mental health problems or history of violence.”

From the U.S. a Surprisingly Similar Report:

“My brother took Chantix for about a month, went berserk, beat his wife with no provocation and then called the police. He has no recollection of the incident and had visual hallucinations before this bizarre and tragic episode. His wife of 19 years divorced him, he’s now homeless, and he’s facing multiple felony charges.”

A Woman Becomes Violent:

“I started taking Chantix early in January 2011 because I promised my son I’d quit. After about two weeks on the drug, my husband and I got into a disagreement and I ended up giving him a black eye and busting out his tooth. Rage and panic attacks were occurring every day, so I quit taking Chantix.”

Fluoxetine (Prozac) Story from the U.S.:

“After a month, wild thoughts came into my mind, especially while driving. I wanted to ram into other cars to show them they shouldn’t drive so rudely. I wanted to get a gun and kill a coworker who irritated me.”

The “Prozac Defense” Rarely Works

People who commit violent crimes while taking antidepressants rarely succeed with a defense that attributes the drug for inducing homicide. Here is just one such case:

A jury took just six hours to decide that Christopher Pittman was guilty of murder in the death of his grandparents. The defense claimed that the then-12-year-old was “involuntarily intoxicated” by the antidepressant Zoloft (sertraline). But the jury didn’t believe that a drug confused him so he couldn’t tell right from wrong.

What Should You Do If You Become An Angry Person?

Although you (our questioner) are over the age range the study found to be at risk, it is not inconceivable that fluoxetine might be contributing to your bursts of rage. Please discuss this with your doctor and show him the PLOS Medicine article.

Our Guide to Dealing with Depression offers a number of alternatives to fluoxetine and other antidepressant drugs.

Share your own story below and please vote on this article at the top of the page.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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