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Long-Term Effects of Zoloft on Your Body

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

Last Updated on May 12, 2022 by Chris Weatherall

Long-Term Effects of Zoloft on Your Body

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

Working together to establish a care plan with your doctor is one of the first steps to successfully treat the symptoms of any mental health issue. Holistic minded professionals may incorporate talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other coping tools learned throughout the therapy process into a comprehensive plan for improvement. Drug-based treatment attempts to use prescription antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or both to chemically treat mental illness.

However, research suggests staying on antidepressants for life or even using them long term, can be harmful to your mind and body. In many instances, extended use can leave you worse off than before. Like all SSRIs, the FDA requires a suicide warning on the package label.1 Fortunately, there are other holistic treatment plans that can effectively help treat your mental illness without the possible adverse side effects of Zoloft.


What Is Sertraline?

Sertraline, commonly referred to by its name-brand label, Zoloft, is an antidepressant drug used to treat various mental health concerns ranging from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) to general depression and anxiety-related disorders. Just like any selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, (SSRIs), treatment regimens that involve Zoloft require daily doses of the drug. Most users take the medication once in the morning or once in the evening. The mechanism of how this medication works is not fully understood but forces the body into the accumulation of serotonin over time.

How Does Sertraline Work?

Serotonin is a critical chemical messenger that helps regulate mood, the sleep-wake cycle, and more, and is most often associated with feeling well. Drugmakers and regulators do not know exactly how SSRIs work, but they are theorized to increase active serotonin in certain areas of the brain that may have positive effects on mood. Unfortunately, these molecules eventually break down and become lost as waste material, leaving a potential deficiency over time. This is, at least in part, why long-term use of SSRIs like Zoloft can be harmful and can worsen already hard-to-manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Unfortunately, many mental health practitioners look to these remedies as a default treatment plan for mental illness. In fact, no single prescription medication is a perfect fit for every person, and oftentimes, medications that work for one individual can have a negative impact on another. Gambling with potential negative side effects, especially with medication that can permanently alter your brain chemistry, is very dangerous and researchers agree long term use will often cause more harm than good.2

Pros vs. Cons of Long-Term Antidepressant Use

Although short-term use of antidepressants is advertised to be helpful in alleviating symptoms, there is little scientific evidence to demonstrate its effects. Worse, when used long-term, antidepressants can have severely damaging effects on your health for years to come. When it comes to Zoloft, it is important to look at the pros and cons of this treatment plan before considering an antidepressant prescription.

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Limited Potential for Reduction in Symptoms

Using antidepressants like Zoloft should theoretically increase your mood and mitigate your symptoms. However, these theories have never been proven to be true. In fact, over time, most patients find they need to continue to increase their Zoloft dosage to attain even minor results. Even those results may be a part of a placebo effect. Zoloft’s side effects will also likely outweigh any positive changes you may have experienced.

Disadvantages of antidepressant use include the following.

Serotonin Syndrome

Taking an SSRI causes an artificial accumulation serotonin, that may lead to the development of serotonin syndrome. While serotonin is naturally present in your body, unnaturally high levels of this neurotransmitter can cause serious health complications. Ranging from mild symptoms such as chills and gastrointestinal issues to seizures and even death, excess serotonin buildup from sertraline use can be life threatening.3

Worsening of Symptoms

No SSRI will fully relieve any mental illness. However, prescription drug companies often claim otherwise. For that reason, patients often experience a very arduous process during their attempts to find an antidepressant that addresses their symptoms. While trying different prescriptions, the severity of your symptoms can be dramatically worsened due to unhelpful medications, leaving you in a more vulnerable position than you were previously. In the time it takes for you to begin an antidepressant regime, realize the medication is incompatible with you, and start another medication, your symptoms could grow increasingly worse than before you started taking SSRIs.

Harmful Drug Interactions

As with any new prescriptions, potential interactions with your current medications are a known potential risk. An example of an adverse drug interaction is Zoloft and aspirin, which can cause increased, heavy bleeding in patients taking regimens of both. In fact, there are so many possible adverse drug interactions with SSRIs that often it is left up to the pharmacist to determine the risks for patients, as doctors have been under-educated in the subject.4, 8 , 9

Zoloft Dependence and Withdrawal

Since Zoloft blocks the natural reuptake of serotonin by the nervous system and forces unnatural levels of the hormone to accumulate, your body can become dependent on its effects to sustain a feeling of normalcy. Zoloft is a mind-altering chemical and can cause you to feel withdrawals when you discontinue its use—even if you’ve done so to avoid the negative side effects of long-term use listed above. For this reason, it is critical to consult with a healthcare provider who has familiarity with the subject to gradually taper your use of Zoloft to zero. Doing so can mitigate the severity of your dependence and potentially reduce the withdrawals you feel when ceasing use of the drug.

As you can see, the various drug interactions, harmful side effects, and life-threatening conditions tied to prolonged use of antidepressants like Zoloft outweigh the minimal benefits. As with any condition, there are numerous alternative treatment plans available for depression and other mental health conditions Zoloft was approved to treat. These offer a safer, more holistic option for addressing your mental health.

How Long Does It Take for Zoloft Side Effects to Go Away?

As with any psychoactive drug, the severity of the side effects associated with Zoloft use can vary based on your unique bodily interactions with the drug, as well as the length of use. It’s also worth mentioning that typical SSRI regimens are segmented, meaning that they begin with a dose in the morning or one in the evening; after about a month of scheduled doses, the medication should take full effect.

Therefore, the immediate effects of SSRI medications can vary from person to person and arriving at an individual dosing schedule takes trial and error. For example, the best time of day to take Zoloft for anxiety could be remarkably different among patients. This uncertainty leaves you to do the heavy lifting when it comes to experimenting with a dosage schedule for a dangerous drug with a high risk of dependence. Unfortunately, once you begin taking Zoloft to artificially raise your serotonin levels, even short-term, your brain develops a dependence on the help of sertraline to supplement serotonin supply. Without constant doses, you risk serious side effects. SSRI users have reported adverse withdrawal symptoms when stopping their medication or missing a dose. These effects are commonly referred to as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. Most appear as ongoing, severe, flu-like symptoms and insomnia, and discontinuing your use of a prescription antidepressant can cause a person ceasing Zoloft use to feel ill for days on end. Unmanaged withdrawal from Zoloft keeps these individuals locked in a vicious cycle of Zoloft side effects and discontinuation syndrome.5

Long-Term Effects of Zoloft

While even short-term Zoloft use can cause undesirable and potentially dangerous side effects, taking sertraline for an extended period may have even more severe effects on your body and mind. The long-term effects of sertraline on the brain can go far beyond discontinuation syndrome, causing physical changes like weight fluctuation and problems with your sex drive.

Some of the more common long-term side effects of antidepressants include:

Weight Gain

One of the most-reported side effects from taking SSRIs is weight gain, which can be both physically and mentally taxing. For those with body image issues, gaining weight as a result of taking an SSRI might be hard to deal with emotionally, and it can add an extra hurdle to dealing with your mental illness. In addition to the mental stress of weight gain, the physical stress the body is under as a result of the extra weight can be detrimental to overall health.

Sexual Dysfunction

As with weight gain, one of the most-reported adverse effects of antidepressant use is sexual dysfunction. While increasing the level of serotonin in your brain can seem like a positive effect at surface level, antidepressants also suppress the necessary neuroreceptors and chemicals responsible for encouraging and heightening your libido. This can cause tension in your relationships and personal life as well as physical discomfort.6

Memory Issues

Some studies have demonstrated long-term side effects of Zoloft on memory. This SSRI appears to slow cognitive function and may worsen existing memory deterioration. Because of how SSRIs alter your brain chemistry, side effects can range from minor headaches to full blown memory issues and cognitive decline. 7

Dealing with the long-term effects of antidepressants is a very serious endeavor, even after you cease your use of the medication. As such, taking the potential effects of Zoloft seriously is a crucial part of staying on top of your personal health. Similarly, identifying a safer alternative treatment or seeking treatment for antidepressant withdrawal are two extremely important steps on your own recovery journey. Rather than facing adverse side effects or developing secondary syndromes as a result of SSRI use, choosing a more holistic option for treatment can help ensure you keep your body and your mind healthy.

Alternatives to Prescription Zoloft

Although prescriptions are readily available, they should not be used as a “one size fits all” treatment—or even the first option to treat various mental health conditions. More holistic approaches and alternatives to Zoloft can help you address your mental illness while keeping your body and brain healthy. For example, stimulating physical activities, such as yoga or Qigong, can help you naturally release negative emotions and anxiety in your system by utilizing key stretches and workout techniques aimed at opening up the body.

Other physical activities, such as equine-assisted therapy or workout regimens can help you begin mitigating and treating your depression with different types of physical stimulation. Increasing your activity level promotes an increase in endorphins, one of the brain’s four essential “happy chemicals,” which can ultimately lead to heightened mood. Over time, as these physical routines become part of your daily routine, they can also provide a necessary outlet for the stress in your life, helping you enjoy your life through your newfound sources of accomplishment.

Some less-taxing treatment methods, such as Reiki or art therapy courses, can help you connect to your natural, spiritual self and promote healing from within. By harnessing your body’s natural energy, Reiki therapy can help eliminate the negative energy that may be impacting your health, helping you harness your spirituality as an important facet of your personal healing journey. Similarly, art therapy provides a creative outlet for your feelings and allows you to express your feelings in a productive, and sometimes beautiful, display of emotion by creating art pieces that reflect your personal journey.

Finally, consider pursuing holistic treatment that incorporates some or all these alternatives. Look for a provider that offers talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, art therapy, equine therapy, and more. Then, ask how you can adjust your own personal nutrition and physical activity to increase your serotonin naturally.

Find the Right Kind of Help

Long-term Use of Zoloft

While Zoloft is approved to treat depression and a number of other conditions, the mechanism by which it forces the body to retain serotonin has never been proven to mitigate any symptoms. Worse, the use of antidepressants has been linked to a number of adverse side effects, including the exacerbation of or re-emergence of mental health issues. Taking Zoloft long term to treat your depression, may be making your condition worse.

Sources:


  1. Medline Plus (2022). Sertraline. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a697048.html
  2. 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 2022 May 2]
  3. Martin TG. Serotonin syndrome. Ann Emerg Med. 1996 Nov;28(5):520-6. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(96)70116-6. PMID: 8909274. [cited 2022 May 2]
  4. College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists, National Alliance on Mental Illness (2020) Sertraline (Zoloft). NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Sertraline-(Zoloft)
  5. Warner, C. H., Bobo, W., Warner, C., Reid, S., & Rachal, J. (2006). Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. American family physician, 74(3), 449–456.
  6. Masand, P. S., & Gupta, S. (2002). Long-term side effects of newer-generation antidepressants: SSRIS, venlafaxine, nefazodone, bupropion, and mirtazapine. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 14(3), 175-182.
  7. Siepmann, M., Grossmann, J., Mück-Weymann, M., & Kirch, W. (2003). Effects of sertraline on autonomic and cognitive functions in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology, 168(3), 293-298.
  8. FDA Drug Label Zoloft (sertraline hydrochloride) tablets, oral solution [cited 2022 May 2]
  9. Charles H. Brown, RPh, MS Pharm, CACP Professor Emeritus of Clinical Pharmacy Purdue University School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences West Lafayette, Indiana Overview of Drug Interactions with SSRIsUS Pharm. 2008;33(1):HS-3-HS-19.. [published online 2008 Jan 23] [cited 2022 May 2]


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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Long-Term Effects of Zoloft on Your Body
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Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.

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