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Is Zoloft Harming Your Brain More Than Helping it?

This entry was posted in Antidepressant and tagged , , on by .
Medically Reviewed Fact Checked

Last Updated on March 22, 2024 by Diane Ridaeus

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Have you wondered is Zoloft harming your brian more than helping it? Zoloft is a serotonin blocker, meaning that it reduces the uptake of serotonin across the CNS, causing an artificial build-up. These molecules then degrade, becoming lost. This can result in a developed deficiency. SSRIs can also cause too much serotonin to flood the system, which can be fatal. SSRI approvals were based on short-term studies only. Long-term studies on SSRIs are rare. Mental illness statistics have continued to worsen, despite increasing numbers of prescriptions year over year. 

When Zoloft is discontinued, adverse effects can occur that can be debilitating and long-lasting. We can say with certainty that SSRIs are invasive on brain and CNS function, and their effects unpredictable — sometimes leading to crises in both physical and mental health. So does Zoloft harm the brain?  This is a frequently asked question. Certainly, more research is called for to provide clarity. 7,20,23,25 

Typically, as with many diseases and disorders in our world, the first step that many people take is the route of medications. Doctors, nurse practitioners, and health specialists are trained to prescribe these medications and often neglect properly educating patients on their side effects, or alternative treatments. In many cases, the medication’s side effects may be more harmful than the mental illness itself. Oftentimes, the downsides associated with long-term drug treatment can far outweigh the benefits.

Without understanding the side effects and damaging aspects of these medications, many individuals become inadvertently addicted or physically dependent, and find that it is extremely painful to return to a drug-free life. Here at Alternative to Meds Center, we help individuals through the tapering journey and offer holistic, drug-free mental health resources that we believe may benefit individuals far more efficiently than medication can.

Zoloft is a common SSRI antidepressant drug that we help individuals taper off of in our treatment center. If you or someone you know is on Zoloft, it is important to understand the properties and risks associated with this drug, and how our programs might be able to help you. This is why we have assembled some of our most frequently asked questions, to help you better understand Zoloft, its side effects, and how we might be able to help.

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What Is Zoloft Used For?

No doctor would intentionally prescribe Zoloft to harm the brain. Zoloft is an SSRI antidepressant drugs, that is often prescribed for major depressive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and social anxiety disorder.  

What Are The Common Side Effects of Zoloft?

Zoloft side effects are common. These can be different for one person than another. In many cases, we see patients who wish to discontinue Zoloft use because the adverse side effects are more bothersome and uncomfortable than their mental illness was.

Common Zoloft side effects include:
  • Dry mouth
  • Upset stomach, nausea, and/or diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Decreased interest in sex/diminished sexual capacity

Such side effects can create chaos in many areas of a person’s life. Zoloft use may temporarily decrease mental illness symptoms but can cause a concerning increase in other adverse conditions.

What Is an SSRI?

SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, are a classification of drugs that are designed to manipulate the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the brain’s naturally occurring hormones. SSRIs are theorized to create an excess of serotonin in the brain so that more can be absorbed. The thought is that low serotonin levels lead to mental illnesses.

However, clinical studies show that the chronic use of SSRI medications actually depletes serotonin.16

What Does Serotonin Do?

Serotonin is one of the naturally produced chemicals called hormones or neurotransmitters that exist throughout the body. Neuroscientists have so far discovered well over 100 of these, and discovery is ongoing.18 Each of these natural chemicals plays uncountable roles within an intricate and extensive network in a healthy body.

The functions of these chemicals,17 are wide-ranging, as shown in these examples:


According to the research of Berger et al.,3 it is hard to find a single aspect of human life that is not regulated or modified by serotonin, including the heart and other organs, mood, digestion, sleep, energy, circulation, and numerous others. While drug advertising describes serotonin primarily as a brain chemical, 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut.15


Dopamine is often considered the reward or pleasure chemical, but dopamine also monitors motivation, cognitive function, maternal and reproductive behaviors, and motor control. Some drugs manipulate dopamine to such a degree, that the person becomes ensnared in addiction.20


This naturally occurring amino acid is often forgotten, but it is extremely important as it is the most abundant of all neurotransmitters. Glutamate plays numerous critical roles including producing GABA, assisting memory, cognition, learning, blood vessel repair in wound healing, and many others.13


Noradrenaline, also called norepinephrine, is charged with the urge to “get up and go.” It is associated with motivation, vigilance, memory, learning, perception, attention, and is associated with the “fight or flight” response.14

Each of these neurotransmitters has nearly innumerable functions in the central nervous system, including the brain, and each plays vital roles in both physical and mental health. Zoloft is advertised as an agent that increases serotonin levels, which is specifically associated with happiness. A “happy pill” — sounds great, right? Not quite.

Can You Have Too Much Serotonin?

Yes. This is one of the many negative side effects of Zoloft and other medications like it. Though it aims to help individuals, there are dangerous consequences of having too much serotonin in the body. A cluster of these side effects is called “serotonin syndrome.”

These side effects include:
  • Shivering
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • High fever
  • Losing consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Death

Because Zoloft is aimed to artificially increase serotonin levels in the body, these side effects are a serious concern. The medication can cause a flood of serotonin, which can be fatal.20

Why Is Zoloft Prescribed?

Traditional western medicine, sadly, has not particularly focused on overall, long-term health. Rather, doctors are pressured to find a quick fix for the problem at hand and move on to the next patient. This is what makes the most money for the drug companies, medical complexes, and doctors themselves. Actually, physicians are legally obligated to obtain informed consent before treatment is given, except when the patient is incapacitated and someone else may need to be called on to give full informed consent.21

Unfortunately, if this trend continues, less and less information can be disclosed during primary visits. This means that a significant number of patients on Zoloft are not adequately informed about the drug’s side effects and withdrawal symptoms, as well as alternative non-drug-based solutions, as stipulated in the medical-legal literature on informed consent, and haven’t been empowered to make the best-educated decisions about their own health and safety.

Is Zoloft Addictive?

Many medical professionals are provided with pamphlets from drug manufacturers that describe Zoloft as non-addictive and pass this information to their patients. However, discontinuation syndrome 22 has been widely researched in the medical and research communities. The symptoms of this phenomenon are strikingly similar to withdrawal symptoms from addictive street drugs and are concerning. Doctors and mental practitioners continue to prescribe Zoloft and other SSRIs without discussing the entire picture of potential dependence and addiction, leaving, many patients facing the decision to either stay on the drug forever or potentially suffer through withdrawal symptoms like these:

  • Auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Muscle pain and sweating
  • Agitation or anxiety
  • Insomnia and vivid dreams
  • Blurred vision
  • Irritability and fatigue
  • “Electric-shock-like” sensations

Despite the drug industry downplaying potential addiction and dependence, the overall medical consensus advises slowly weaning off antidepressants like Zoloft, rather than abruptly stopping.

Does Zoloft Cause Permanent Damage?

Studies on long-term consequences of SSRIs are conspicuously absent in the medical literature. Drug trials are typically too short to investigate the subject, harmful reactions are selectively reported, and follow-up reporting is underutilized, according to a broad review of these topics published in The International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine.23 What we do know is that higher rates of cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal bleeding, injuries from falls, birth defects, and other adverse effects from SSRI drugs such as Zoloft have been documented.24 Like any other drug dependency, you will need more and more of a drug to achieve the same effect. and the results, once you stop, can be more devastating, and may linger for long periods of time.

We also know prolonged use of SSRIs 10,11,16 creates serotonin deficiencies that can result in lingering and debilitating withdrawal symptoms. Whether these adverse events become permanent may be less likely if one adopts healthy alternative treatments, and proper guidance for holistic tapering and withdrawal management.9-11

Who Should Not Take Zoloft?

According to the drug’s label issued by the FDA, some specific populations are known to be at risk for adverse reactions to Zoloft and should avoid it.7 People who experience the following should not use Zoloft:

  • Seizures
  • Liver problems
  • Manic behavior or manic depression
  • Closed-angle glaucoma
  • Bleeding in the digestive tract
  • Serotonin syndrome

This is not an exhaustive list. Remember, some people are at extra risk for damage from Zoloft, but negative side effects and significant damage can affect a much wider number of persons.

I Want to Get Pregnant, Should I Be on Zoloft?

Zoloft has been shown to present a higher likelihood of birth defects by 3-5%. If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, Zoloft may risk both you and your child’s health.7,8

However, immediate and abrupt withdrawal from Zoloft is not recommended at any time, especially during pregnancy. If you discover that you are pregnant, or are planning a pregnancy, discuss the subject thoroughly with your medical caregivers. It may be safer to wait and taper off the drug carefully and slowly to avoid withdrawal damage to yourself and your baby.

If you are not yet pregnant, prepare to safely taper from Zoloft first, to reduce the risk of birth defects and ensures that your body is in a healthy place to create new life.

Are There Alternatives to Zoloft?

Many doctors would suggest that the only alternatives to Zoloft are other similar SSRIs. These other alternatives, such as Lexapro, Celexa, Prozac, etc., have many of the same side effects and concerns that come with using Zoloft.

Fortunately, there are natural and holistic healing alternatives that do not have the dangerous side effects and withdrawal symptoms that Zoloft and other SSRIs can create. Here at ATMC, we provide the following holistic programs that can act as an effective replacement for mental health prescriptions:

  • Yoga
  • Nutritional therapy (corrected diet, supplementation)
  • Testing for and neurotoxin removal
  • Nebulized glutathione
  • NAD+ IV treatments
  • Amino therapy
  • Personal training
  • Massage
  • Integrated peer support
  • Equine therapy
  • Qi Gong
  • Counseling services
  • Equine therapy

We have seen our clients achieve immense success from safe tapering and replacing their Zoloft prescription with a combination of the above therapies. While gently tapering off their prescription under our supervision, we watch our clients blossom, as these natural and holistic practices support their bodies’ natural rhythms, and free them from debilitating medication side effects.

How Do You Get Off Zoloft?

As we have discussed, Zoloft is a serious prescription that has a significant impact on the body’s natural balance. It is dangerous to stop taking Zoloft abruptly or too quickly to be tolerated, and especially without any instruction from a doctor, or without oversight from a professional who is familiar with drug withdrawal.

Medication tapering is the most effective system for getting off of Zoloft. Tapering involves moving from your prescribed dose, slowly down the dosage ladder and down to zero, or at least to the lowest tolerable dose possible.

In our Zoloft tapering program, we help you to take the correct doses of your medication and ensure that you wean your body off of it safely. As the drug leaves your system and your body begins to readjust, you may experience some uncomfortable symptoms. Our holistic, inpatient treatment programs are here to help. As you begin to holistically detox your body from the SSRI, we will provide you with a gentle and supportive community. Holistic mental health practices such as the ones listed above can help support your body and mind during this time and give you a solid foundation on which to build your drug-free life.

Can Neurotransmitter Rehabilitation Help Me?

Drugs manipulate and disable neurochemistry. Drugs like Zoloft that can damage brain function in these ways can be gradually discontinued, while addressing neurotransmitter rehabilitation. Natural neurochemicals such as serotonin are heavily linked to the gut microbiome, so one of the most important strategies is to repair the gut.15 The first step to rebuilding your brain and your brain’s essential chemicals is healing the gut.

In order to do this, we prescribe a diet that is free of:

  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Soy
  • Sugar
  • Caffeine
  • Chemical preservatives, neurotoxic additives and taste enhancers

We replace those toxins with a diet that is rich in nutrients, probiotics, and amino acids, to build the gut’s microbiome and help your body heal from the damage done by Zoloft.

We also prescribe activities that help to remove heavy metals and toxins from the body. Sauna therapy is a wonderful way to do this, which is why we offer spa services at our facility. We believe that holistic detoxification is an essential part of healing, and we provide the holistic resources at our facility to do so.

Learn More About Healing Your Neurotransmitters After Drug Use

Ready To Get Off of Zoloft?

If you are concerned about whether Zoloft can harm the brain, or experiencing harmful side effects, help is available. We provide our clients with science-based-class holistic detox and treatment to recover. Our goal is to help our clients rebuild natural mental health without relying on prescription medications.  

For more information, or to ask any questions, contact us today.


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2. Ferguson JM. SSRI Antidepressant Medications: Adverse Effects and Tolerability. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2001;3(1):22-27. doi:10.4088/pcc.v03n0105 [cited 2021 Sept 24]

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9. Zoloft Alternatives Alternative to Meds Center

10. Inpatient Medication Tapering Alternative to Meds Center

11. Zoloft Tapering Alternative to Meds Center

12. Thomas C. Fung, Helen E. Vuong, Cristopher D. G. Luna, Geoffrey N. Pronovost, Antoniya A. Aleksandrova, Noah G. Riley, Anastasia Vavilina, Julianne McGinn, Tomiko Rendon, Lucy R. Forrest, Elaine Y. Hsiao. Intestinal serotonin and fluoxetine exposure modulate bacterial colonization in the gut. Nature Microbiology, 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41564-019-0540-4 [cited 2021 Sept 27]

13. Brosnan JT, Brosnan ME. Glutamate: a truly functional amino acid. Amino Acids. 2013 Sep;45(3):413-8. doi: 10.1007/s00726-012-1280-4. Epub 2012 Apr 18. PMID: 22526238. [cited 2021 Sept 24]

14. Prokopová I. Noradrenalin a chování [Noradrenaline and behavior]. Cesk Fysiol. 2010;59(2):51-8. Czech. PMID: 21254660. [cited 2021 Sept 24]

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16. Siesser WB, Sachs BD, Ramsey AJ, et al. Chronic SSRI treatment exacerbates serotonin deficiency in humanized Tph2 mutant mice. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2013;4(1):84-88. doi:10.1021/cn300127h [cited 2021 Sept 27]

17. Reis HJ, Guatimosim C, Paquet M, Santos M, Ribeiro FM, Kummer A, Schenatto G, Salgado JV, Vieira LB, Teixeira AL, Palotás A. Neuro-transmitters in the central nervous system & their implication in learning and memory processes. Curr Med Chem. 2009;16(7):796-840. doi: 10.2174/092986709787549271. PMID: 19275596.[cited 2021 Sept 27]

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19. Klein MO, Battagello DS, Cardoso AR, Hauser DN, Bittencourt JC, Correa RG. Dopamine: Functions, Signaling, and Association with Neurological Diseases. Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2019 Jan;39(1):31-59. doi: 10.1007/s10571-018-0632-3. Epub 2018 Nov 16. PMID: 30446950. [cited 2021 Sept 27]

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23. Danborg PB, Valdersdorf M, Gøtzsche PC. Long-term harms from previous use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: A systematic review. Int J Risk Saf Med. 2019;30(2):59-71. doi: 10.3233/JRS-180046. PMID: 30714974; PMCID: PMC6839490.[cited 2021 Sept 27]

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Additional ATMC Sources:

Originally Published by Lyle Murphy

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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