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Zoloft Addiction

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Medically Reviewed

Last Updated on May 27, 2022 by Diane Ridaeus

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

Alternative to Meds Center’s holistic Zoloft addiction treatment facility is familiar with much better resolutions than spending the rest of your life stuck on antidepressant drugs.

Risks of Zoloft Addiction and Dependence

zoloft side effectsDrug ads do not highlight the evidence that long-term use can lead to physical or psychological Zoloft addiction. Zoloft side effects include the potential for Zoloft addiction. The International Journal of Mental Health Nursing published an article in 2018 reporting that 55% of 1829 people taking antidepressants experienced withdrawals and 27% of the group reported addiction as a consequence of long-term antidepressant use.4

Long-term users of Zoloft and similar antidepressants likely experience a more intense or serious set of side effects when trying to quit the drug than a person who took the drug for only a few days or weeks. If no withdrawal symptoms emerged when stopping the drug, addiction or dependence had not developed. And conversely, if withdrawal symptoms emerge when stopping Zoloft, addiction or dependence has developed. One should also be aware that withdrawal symptoms may take several days or even weeks to appear, which is thought to relate to a drug’s half-life and other factors affecting metabolism and excretion. These withdrawal adverse effects sometimes can be misunderstood and this may result in psychiatric or medical misdiagnosis. There is no good ending to that very complex story.1

Apart from addiction and dependence, Zoloft side effects mentioned on the drug’s label and elsewhere can be quite serious and injurious.3,5,14

Serious Zoloft side effects include:
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Serotonin syndrome
  • Increased risk of internal bleeding
  • Mania (longer than a week) and hypomania (lasts up to several days)
  • Seizures
  • Akathisia
  • Extrapyramidal effects (involuntary movements that cannot be controlled)
  • Angle-closure glaucoma, other eye disorders, swelling, blindness
  • Babies born to mothers taking Zoloft into the 3rd trimester may suffer withdrawals and persistent pulmonary hypertension.
Common Zoloft side effects (in more than 5% and twice the placebo rate) include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Decreased appetite
  • Tremors
  • Dyspepsia (upset stomach, indigestion)
  • Headache
  • Hyperhidrosis (abnormal, excessive sweating)
  • Ejaculation failure, impotency
  • Decreased libido
  • Female sexual disorder (pain or lack of arousal during intercourse)
  • Syncope (fainting, momentary loss of consciousness)
  • Somnolence (drowsiness, sleepiness)

Like other SSRIs, the elimination of Zoloft from the body can be slowed by liver impairment. Long-term use can further intensify and worsen these symptoms and effects. Zoloft is a drug that has a potential for abuse and development of addiction or dependency in some persons, and the potential for Zoloft dependence and other side effects may be elevated when the drug is taken with other substances of abuse such as alcohol or other serotonergic substances.

How Does Addiction to Zoloft Develop?

zoloft discontinuation syndromeDefinitions have been clarified over the years as more and more pharmaceutical products have demonstrated characteristics that coincide with some (but not all) attributes of addiction. While there can be some who seek a “Zoloft high”, the vast majority of persons would not fit that profile, though some would self-identify with that profile.

It is clear that long-term use of SSRI antidepressants may cause the user to develop a need to take the drug to avoid major withdrawal symptoms that can emerge when it is delayed or discontinued.1 It is the intensity of the withdrawals and the desire to stop them that drives the addiction or dependence in many cases. This phenomenon, similar to all SSRIs is called Zoloft discontinuation syndrome.6

Commonly reported Zoloft withdrawals include:
  • Anxiety 
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Akathisia
  • Chills
  • Flu-like reactions
  • Depression
  • Crying spells
  • Agitation
  • Electric-shock-like sensations, “brain zaps”, burning or tingling sensations
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness
  • Gail instability 
  • Lethargy
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Insomnia, sleep disturbance
  • Visual disturbances
  • Myalgia (muscle aches)
  • Tinnitus
  • To avoid these uncomfortable withdrawals, the user feels they must take more of the drug. This is common to all addictions. It is highly recommended that you consult with a doctor, a Zoloft withdrawal management facility, or some other form of medical healthcare that is familiar with SSRI withdrawal before attempting to stop Zoloft. It is easier on the body if the drug can be slowly tapered down and is more tolerable and much safer than a cold turkey approach to stopping the drug.

The pharmaceutical company that manufactures this drug claims that it is non-habit forming. Drug company-sponsored ads repeat this message as often as possible. Clinicians and physicians who dispense the drug may also be encouraged to parrot the message. “Non-addictive, totally safe.”

However, numerous patients have developed Zoloft dependence problems and have experienced serious Zoloft withdrawal symptoms. This particular antidepressant specifically targets serotonin-processing brain cells and also blocks the reuptake of dopamine, though to a lesser degree. In reality, this substance can actually change brain chemistry with chronic use, so that the brain becomes dependent upon the presence of the drug in order to function, and crippled without it.1,2,3,11

Zoloft Addiction, Half-life, and Euphoric Effects of the Drug

Some individuals, who take this medication or other SSRI drugs, report the development of liking the feelings of a lift, or getting a “Zoloft high”. Zoloft has a much slower onset of effect than heroin or other drugs normally associated with the term “high”. Nonetheless, there are clinical reports of developing habits associated with abuse or recreational use, though these are relatively rare.8

Addiction to Zoloft may have a lot to do with this drug’s half-life. The half-life of a drug pertains to the amount of time for half of the chemical to break down (metabolize, become inactive) in the body system. The faster the drug breaks down, the more addictive the drug can be. This is because of the short timeframe for withdrawal symptoms to appear.

This medication has a half-life of about one day (24 hours). Where the liver is compromised, this half-life has extended out to closer to 50 hours.2 At the end of this half-life period is when the negative effects of Zoloft addiction may start to appear. Individuals can become dizzy, depressed, anxious, upset, and irritable when stopping this medication. Sufferers of SSRI antidepressant addiction or dependence may experience vivid dreams or nightmares, nausea, insomnia, electric zap sensations, and akathisia during withdrawal. The user will crave relief from these horrible sensations and will seek the relief and perhaps some measure of euphoria that taking more of the drug provides, at least temporarily, until the next bout of withdrawal symptoms begins. This can become a repeating, agonizing situation, seemingly a trap from which there is no immediate escape. We can help.

Zoloft addiction should be taken seriously, and in the best interest of patients, healthcare professionals often recommend a Zoloft addiction help plan for individuals to avoid the possible side effects of withdrawal and to overcome their dependence.

Zoloft Addiction and Akathisia

Akathisia is a potential side effect of long-term SSRI use and Zoloft addiction. Akathisia is characterized by extreme agitation, unbearable internal and motor restlessness, and anxiousness.  Akathisia is commonly thought to be a precursor to aggressive thoughts, aggressive behaviors, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts or ideation. The internal restlessness, agitation, repetitive compulsion to move, and other features of akathisia also occur in cocaine and antipsychotic drug use and are linked with neurotransmitter dysregulation, especially after chronic use of serotonergic and dopaminergic substances.11 

This is one of the extremely detrimental effects that can occur in long-term SSRI use, Zoloft addiction, dependence, and too rapid withdrawal.5

Does Zoloft Create Brain Chemicals?

zoloft serotonin deficiencyThe SNRI’s and the SSRI’s such as Zoloft do not help produce or create any serotonin. Only the body does that. Antidepressants block the reuptake of neurochemicals. Even though many people may have normal levels of serotonin in the brain, long-term use of SSRI medication can create a true serotonin deficiency. A drug-induced serotonin deficiency can occur because the drug causes serotonin molecules to become suspended from re-uptake. In suspension, the molecules become subject to degrading, and over time, will be lost. Eventually, there will be little to no serotonin left for reuptake. It’s very similar to the way that Cocaine may relieve depression but for only a short time. Cocaine uses up all available dopamine, it does not help to produce or create dopamine or any other naturally produced chemical. Our reward neurochemical is dopamine, so when someone experiences a dopamine surge, everything feels rewarding. Eventually, though, dopamine levels will drop, and with chronic drug use, nothing will feel rewarding for the person.

In the case of Zoloft and SSRIs in general, serotonin suspension is the main target. Zoloft also targets dopamine receptors to a degree, more than other SSRIs according to research.9  Drugmakers emphasize that SSRIs cause an accumulation of neurochemicals, for the proposed lift in tone. That is, as outlined above, only part of the story. In clinical trials using humanized mice, it was found that chronic use of SSRIs causes a dramatic depletion of serotonin. The same study found that supplementation with 5HTP, a precursor to natural serotonin production, reversed the condition.10,11

Off-label Uses of Zoloft 

Zoloft is approved for the treatment of disorders such as MDD, SAD, OCD, PD, PTSD, and PMDD.

It has become common practice for physicians to prescribe drugs for non-FDA-approved use. A growing list of off-label uses of Zoloft has developed.12,13 These include: 

  • Eating disorders such as bulimia or binge eating
  • Premature ejaculation
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Migraine headaches
  • Diabetic neuropathy pain reduction

In many cases of off-label prescribing, the person has been unable to obtain satisfactory results from what is considered standard care, and their physician may deem the person “treatment-resistant” and so, begins experimenting in desperation with unusual drug choices. There is a cavernous gap between “standard care” and science-based drug-free alternative options, which the Alternative to Meds Center has been providing for over 15 years.  

The Alternative to Meds Zoloft Addiction Recovery Program

We focus on discovering the medical and nutritional causes that are contributing to an individual’s depression, insomnia, panic attacks, neuropathy, or other unwanted symptoms. We do not guess, and we do not assume there is no help. 

Our holistic addiction treatment methods are centered on safe and gradual holistic tapering under medical supervision, supporting natural mental health via neurotransmitter rehabilitation, purging neurotoxins, restoring a healthy gut-brain axis, herbal medicine, correcting the diet, and addressing nutritional deficiencies.15-19

Treatment methods include lab tests, natural substances to create neurochemistry stabilization, removal of neurotoxins that have accumulated, medication tapering techniques, amino acid therapy IV + NAD treatments, along with counseling of various genres, environmental medicine, and targeted nutritional therapies, Life Coaching, yoga, colon hydrotherapy, therapeutic massage, sauna, peer support programs, Qi Gong, holistic pain management, Equine therapy, art therapy, acupuncture, and other holistic treatments that can combat depression, treat co-occurring disorders, and provide evidence-based, effective, holistic Zoloft addiction help.

1.  Gabriel M, Sharma V. Antidepressant discontinuation syndromeCMAJ. 2017;189(21):E747. doi:10.1503/cmaj.160991 [cited 2022 May 26]

2.  Pubchem, Compound Summary Sertraline [published online] [cited 2022 May 26]

3. FDA label information Zoloft (sertraline hydrochloride), approval  1991 [cited 2022 May 26] 

4.  Read J, Cartright C, How many of 1829 antidepressant users report withdrawal effects or addiction? published  International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 5 Jun 2018 [cited 2022 May 26]

5.  Lane RM. SSRI-induced extrapyramidal side-effects and akathisia: implications for treatment. J Psychopharmacol. 1998;12(2):192-214. doi: 10.1177/026988119801200212. PMID: 9694033. [cited 2022 May 26]

6.  Black K, Shea C, Dursun S, Kutcher S. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor discontinuation syndrome: proposed diagnostic criteria. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2000 May;25(3):255-61. PMID: 10863885; PMCID: PMC1407715. [cited 2022 May 26]

7.  Haddad P. Do antidepressants have any potential to cause addiction? J Psychopharmacol. 1999;13(3):300-7. doi: 10.1177/026988119901300321. PMID: 10512092.[cited 2022 May 26]

8.  Evans EA, Sullivan MA. Abuse and misuse of antidepressants. Subst Abuse Rehabil. 2014;5:107-120. Published 2014 Aug 14. doi:10.2147/SAR.S37917 [cited 2022 May 26]

9.  Singh HK, Saadabadi A. Sertraline. [Updated 2022 May 2]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: [cited 2022 May 27]

10.  Siesser WB, Sachs BD, Ramsey AJ, Sotnikova TD, Beaulieu JM, Zhang X, Caron MG, Gainetdinov RR. Chronic SSRI treatment exacerbates serotonin deficiency in humanized Tph2 mutant mice. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2013 Jan 16;4(1):84-8. doi: 10.1021/cn300127h. Epub 2012 Oct 1. PMID: 23336047; PMCID: PMC3547473. [cited 2022 May 27]

11.  Patel J, Marwaha R. Akathisia. [Updated 2022 Feb 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: [cited 2022 May 27]

12.  Stone KJ, Viera AJ, Parman CL. Off-label applications for SSRIs. Am Fam Physician. 2003 Aug 1;68(3):498-504. PMID: 12924832. [cited 2022 May 27]

13.  De Sloover Koch Y, Ernst ME. Selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors for the treatment of hot flashes. Ann Pharmacother. 2004 Jul-Aug;38(7-8):1293-6. doi: 10.1345/aph.1D512. Epub 2004 Jun 8. PMID: 15187211. [cited 2022 May 27]

14.  Lochhead J. SSRI-associated optic neuropathy. Eye (Lond). 2015 Sep;29(9):1233-5. doi: 10.1038/eye.2015.119. Epub 2015 Jul 3. PMID: 26139049; PMCID: PMC4565945. [cited 2022 May 27]

15.  Samuels N, Gropp C, Singer SR, Oberbaum M. Acupuncture for psychiatric illness: a literature review. Behav Med. 2008 Summer;34(2):55-64. doi: 10.3200/BMED.34.2.55-64. PMID: 18682338. [cited 2022 May 27]

16.  Appleton J. The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2018 Aug;17(4):28-32. PMID: 31043907; PMCID: PMC6469458. [cited 2022 May 27]

17.  Firth J, et al, The efficacy and safety of nutrient supplements in the treatment of mental disorders: a meta-review of meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials. World psychiatry Official Journal of the World Psychiatri Assoc (WPA vol 18,3(2019): 308-324. doi 10.1002/wps.20672  [cited 2022 May 27]

18.  Sherman KJ, Ludman EJ, Cook AJ, Hawkes RJ, Roy-Byrne PP, Bentley S, Brooks MZ, Cherkin DC. Effectiveness of therapeutic massage for generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Depress Anxiety. 2010 May;27(5):441-50. doi: 10.1002/da.20671. PMID: 20186971; PMCID: PMC2922919. [cited 2022 May 27]

19.  Brinsley J, Schuch F, Lederman O, Girard D, Smout M, Immink MA, Stubbs B, Firth J, Davison K, Rosenbaum S. Effects of yoga on depressive symptoms in people with mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2021 Sep;55(17):992-1000. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2019-101242. Epub 2020 May 18. PMID: 32423912. [cited 2022 May 27]

Originally Published by Diane Ridaeus Published Nov 4, 2019

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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Zoloft Addiction
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