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Zoloft Addiction

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Medically Reviewed Fact Checked

Last Updated on November 21, 2023 by Carol Gillette

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Michael Loes MD

Zoloft, otherwise known as sertraline, is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). A selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor is a type of drug often prescribed as an antidepressant. SSRIs are used to treat moderate to severe depression, and they work in the body by forcing levels of serotonin to accumulate in areas of the brain.

Serotonin is a natural inhibitory hormone that regulates mood, emotions, appetite, digestion, sleep cycles, and many other healthy body functions.

Know the Truth About Zoloft Addiction

As an SSRI, Zoloft creates an accumulation of serotonin in the brain by blocking its normal reuptake. SSRIs are marketed as generally effective long-term medications to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. Zoloft is a medication specifically used to treat panic disorder, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).1

Unfortunately, many patients start taking these medications without knowing the full implications of using them long term. In fact, long-term usage has led to side effects and withdrawal symptoms in patients using Zoloft that have endangered their health and impacted their daily lives. Persons taking antidepressants like Zoloft should seek medical assistance to safely stop taking the drug.2

Does Zoloft Create Brain Chemicals?

Contrary to popular belief, antidepressants like Zoloft don’t actually create serotonin. Instead, they block the reuptake of serotonin causing an increased build-up along the central nervous system pathways. SSRIs poison the enzymes that normally allow for recycling serotonin molecules so they can be reused again and again.3 This suggests the drug will likely cause a deficit over time, as the person’s natural neurotransmitters are being spent, but not recycled, and not recreated. One study found that synaptic remodeling occurs when a patient starts taking Zoloft.4

These effect are very similar, mechanically, to how cocaine users report that cocaine helped relieve depression, but only for a short period. Cocaine affects dopamine, another neurotransmitter. Dopamine is referred to as the “feel-good chemical” or reward chemical in the brain. Cocaine interacts with dopamine receptors. When cocaine is first taken, users report feeling happy, excited, and rewarded.

Zoloft blocks the reuptake of serotonin
However, in this example, cocaine takes the place of normal dopamine interactions, so that the body neither responds to dopamine in the same way nor is it signaled to create more dopamine. In the end, the person will experience a dopamine shortage and the dips in mood that come with it.

While Zoloft is thought to primarily influence other neurotransmitters than cocaine’s profile, studies on long-term use show that, like cocaine, any “positive” effects wane over time, and negative effects emerge such as sleep disturbance, addiction, dependence, worsened depression, and others.

Risks of Zoloft Addiction and Dependence

Despite pharmaceutical ads and what you may read on some websites detailing the benefits of the drug, actual Zoloft research paints a much different picture. Users of sertraline find that long-term use of the medication can lead to psychological Zoloft dependence. zoloft addiction risk serotonin syndromeSignificant withdrawal symptoms develop when the medication is discontinued either abruptly or gradually. This causes physical symptoms that can interrupt the patient’s life and put their health at risk.

Aside from withdrawal, other side effects come with the medication as well, including the possibility of serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome is a severe drug reaction that happens when a prescription drug causes too much serotonin to build up. This condition can be life-threatening, and is most often found when multiple serotonergic agents are active in the body, such as multiple antidepressants. Physical symptoms include fever, sweating, chills, coma, confusion, other cognitive deficits, and can be fatal if not immediately treated. This is the rare circumstance when abrupt cessation of the drug is part of the treatment, but only in a hospital setting set up to handle critical level care.

Other side effects of sertraline are low libido, nausea, aggression, violence in thoughts and actions, insomnia, numbness, and irritability.5 Because of the way Zoloft is metabolized in the body, elimination of the medication from the body can be hampered by liver impairment, and the drug can cause secondary hepatitis as well.6 Long-term use of the drug may magnify and worsen these side effects. Since this prescription medication has the potential to develop dependency in the patient taking it, dependence can be elevated when mixing Zoloft with other substances, especially those that also affect serotonin or are associated with liver damage.1-4,7

Should You Stop Taking Zoloft Abruptly?

No. If you are currently taking Zoloft to deal with depression, you may have noticed the negative side effects the medication can cause. However, stopping sertraline abruptly and sometimes even cutting the dose gradually can cause severe, often lingering reactions in patients taking the medication. Sertraline withdrawal symptoms can be very intense, causing lethargy, diaphoresis (“cold sweats”), confusion, nausea, irritability, dysregulated mood, hypomania (state of euphoria and hyperactivity but not as long-lasting or extreme as in full blown mania), agitation, sensory disturbances, vertigo, tremors, headaches, emotional lability (constantly changing or unpredictable emotion, outbursts, etc.), sleep disorders, tinnitus, and seizures.

Zoloft can be gradually tapered down to zero to mitigate these withdrawal symptoms. However, tapering safely and comfortably can take time — perhaps weeks or months — indicating that the effects of Zoloft include addiction or dependence. It is recommended to consult a doctor who is familiar with Zoloft and well-versed in how to reduce dosages gradually. Not all addiction treatment professionals and medical health professionals are well-equipped, so choose your healthcare professionals carefully before entrusting them to help you discontinue Zoloft.

Is Zoloft Habit Forming?

It is important to note that the company that creates Zoloft does not claim that sertraline is addictive. In fact, many advertisements from the company have recently re-affirmed that sertraline is not a habit-forming substance. As a result, many clinicians that prescribe the medication claim to their patients that the drug is entirely safe, but the withdrawal symptoms for many say otherwise.

Clinical trials pre-approval were short-term, and did not research the side effects caused by long-term use, or determine the outcomes when discontinuing use. The initial withdrawal symptoms were downplayed as mild, or all too often, misdiagnosed as returning mental disorders. As a result, many patients reporting adverse withdrawals were often not taken seriously.

Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome was virtually ignored for decades and its impact was not examined fully.12 However, as long-term users of the medication continue to increase yearly, ignoring the possible implications of long-term use of this antidepressant medication is dangerous.

Sertraline affects the way neurons in the brain reuptake and process serotonin. This prescription drug can therefore change the brain’s chemistry and affect how it responds to natural serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Eventually, the brain and central nervous system adapt to the presence of the drug, causing issues when use is stopped.

How Does Addiction to Zoloft Develop?

Addiction here implies that withdrawals occur when the medication is stopped. Dependence is a synonym for this condition. Addiction to Zoloft can develop when the medication is used for long-term treatment. This long-term treatment can cause the patient to develop tolerance, or a lessening of the therapeutic effects, and withdrawal symptoms are common when it is discontinued. Withdrawal symptoms can be intolerable for many people, and they may resume use of the medication to avoid further symptoms.

Addiction, dependence, and withdrawal symptoms develop because Zoloft has an effect on neurochemicals and other components of how the central nervous system, brain, genetics, and other factors monitor the functions of the human body.

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

Patients taking sertraline or other SSRI medications often report developing a dependency on the feeling of a Zoloft high. While official sources say the drug does not produce a sense of euphoria, there have been many reports from patients of hypomania and heightened euphoria as a side effect of the medication.7,14 euphoric effects of long-term zoloft addictionHypomania is a short-lived period (often 2-3 days) of increased mood, excited state, and overactive behavior that can be euphoric to some. Zoloft addiction and hypomania can also lead to aggression towards others and even crashes that can result in suicidal ideation.

Zoloft’s addictive qualities may have to do with the drug’s half-life. The half-life is the amount of time it takes for half of the chemical to metabolize or become inactive in the body. The half-life of sertraline in the bloodstream for someone taking 50 to 200mg daily is about 26 hours according to the FDA. The drug’s half-life extends to 50 hours if the liver is damaged.8 When the half-life period ends, the adverse side effects of Zoloft addiction begin. Patients can become dizzy, depressed, anxious, and irritable because they haven’t taken their medication.

Patients suffering from antidepressant addiction can experience dreams or nightmares, nausea, insomnia, zapping sensations, and akathisia during Zoloft withdrawal periods. Akathisia is a potential side effect of this drug’s use and 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, and suicidal thoughts or ideation. This is one of the extremely detrimental effects that can occur from SSRI drugs. Not only is akathisia a horrendous side effect, but it is often linked with suicide, where a person so affected becomes desperate for relief.9 This is only one of the extreme symptoms a patient can experience when dealing with antidepressant addiction.

Zoloft Addiction Recovery

zoloft addiction recovery sedona drug rehabYour mental health is essential and should be a priority in any withdrawal or addiction treatment program. If you are taking Zoloft and want to discontinue your use of the drug, it is crucial that you take a step-by-step approach and do not abruptly or too quickly stop taking the medication. In fact, to stop taking this medication safely, it is not only essential to manage your physical symptoms, but also to ensure that you have access to the right tools to help you cope with your mental health, as well.

It’s best to create a plan with competent medical professionals before going off the medication, as this process can be quite lengthy and may involve nuanced tapering over a significant time period, perhaps for weeks or months. Keep in mind that the way an individual patient is tapered off the drug depends on how long the patient has been on Zoloft, the dosage the patient was taking, the severity of symptoms the patient has had while taking the medication, and the person’s general level of health. Once you and your medical team have decided to begin a taper, alternative resources can provide critical tools in successfully and safely discontinuing Zoloft use.10


Psychotherapy can help you cope with the symptoms of Zoloft addiction and the intensity of the physical and mental symptoms that resulted from ceasing use of the medication. Talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other counseling can help you develop ways to cope with what you are feeling that do not rely on pharmaceutical drugs. In addition, if you are struggling with other substance addictions, therapy can help you learn to manage symptoms of substance use disorder (SUD).

Physical Activity

Another helpful tool for Zoloft addiction recovery is physical activity. The endorphins and chemicals released during exercise have a powerful antidepressant effect. For many people, these “feel good chemicals” can help combat withdrawal symptoms. Physical activity can be extremely useful during a gradual taper to zero Zoloft use. In addition, patients that exercise three or more times a week are less likely to relapse after recovering from depression.

Secure a Support System

As you recover from Zoloft use and dependence, you must make sure to have a proper support system in place. This includes, first and foremost, a clinician or medical professional to help guide you through the tapering process and the physical and emotional symptoms experienced when discontinuing the medication. During discontinuation, a family member or friend is also great to have as part of your support system to help deal with the emotional stress of stopping the medication. Finding a local recovery group or utilizing the services of an addiction recovery facility can help you connect with others who have had a similar experience.

Remain Dedicated to the Tapering Process

Lastly, the most critical part of recovery is completing the tapering process. When you stop taking Zoloft, the dose may be reduced, using accurate measuring methods, or perhaps liquid dosing. Be sure to stay in close contact with a medical professional even after completely stopping the medication. Drug-free alternative treatments can help ensure depression or other symptoms have not returned. These can include nutrition, exercise, counseling and others, and can be safely used to support ongoing healing.11

Treatment for Zoloft Addiction At Alternative to Meds Center

At Alternative to Meds, a wealth of therapeutic support is available and which is detailed on our services overview pages. The program for each client is uniquely designed. Lab testing is crucial for understanding much of what should be addressed. Each person works with their team of professionals and meets with them at regular intervals for input, so that progress is smooth, and any changes needed can be implemented without delay.

Orthomolecular fundamentals are an important treatment pillar, as is addressing neurotoxin overload, and facilitating neurotransmitter rehabilitation. A wide array of comfort therapies are made available prior, during, and after safe and gentle tapering, including therapeutic massage, personal counseling services, peer support programs, exercise, equine therapy, acupuncture, sauna cleansing and other spa services, IV treatments, and much more.

Please contact us for more information on how Alternative to Meds Center can provide you or a loved one with the care and attention for successful recovery of mental health naturally after Zoloft addiction.


1. Singh HK, Saadabadi A. Sertraline. [Updated 2023 Feb 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: [cited 2023 Nov 20]

2. Koliscak LP, Makela EH. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor-induced akathisia. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2009 Mar-Apr;49(2):e28-36; quiz e37-8. doi: 10.1331/JAPhA.2009.08083. PMID: 19289334. [cited 2023 Nov 20]

3. Lam MK, Lam LT, Butler-Henderson K, King J, Clark T, Slocombe P, Dimarco K, Cockshaw W. Prescribing behavior of antidepressants for depressive disorders: A systematic review. Front Psychiatry. 2022 Sep 9;13:918040. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2022.918040. PMID: 36159914; PMCID: PMC9501861. [cited 2023 Nov 20]

4. Schaefer, A., Burmann, I., Regenthal, R., Arélin, K., Barth, C., Pampel, A., … & Sacher, J. (2014). Serotonergic modulation of intrinsic functional connectivity. Current Biology, 24(19), 2314-2318. [cited 2023 Nov 20]

5. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, January 22). Serotonin syndrome. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2023 Nov 20]

6. Suen, C. F., Boyapati, R., Simpson, I., & Dev, A. (2013). Acute liver injury secondary to sertraline. BMJ case reports, 2013. [cited 2023 Nov 20]

7. Mendhekar DN, Gupta D, Girotra V. Sertraline-induced hypomania: a genuine side-effect. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2003 Jul;108(1):70-4. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0447.2003.00080.x. Erratum in: Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2003 Dec;108(6):466. PMID: 12807380. [cited 2023 Nov 20]

8. Pfizer (2020). ZOLOFT (sertraline hydrochloride) Label. FDA.  [cited 2023 Nov 20]

9. Koliscak LP, Makela EH. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor-induced akathisia. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2009 Mar-Apr;49(2):e28-36; quiz e37-8. doi: 10.1331/JAPhA.2009.08083. PMID: 19289334. [cited 2023 Nov 20]

10. Lejoyeux M, Adès J. Antidepressant discontinuation: a review of the literature. J Clin Psychiatry. 1997;58 Suppl 7:11-5; discussion 16. PMID: 9219488. [cited 2023 Nov 20]

11. Jeynes KD, Gibson EL. The importance of nutrition in aiding recovery from substance use disorders: A review. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2017 Oct 1;179:229-239. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.07.006. Epub 2017 Aug 4. PMID: 28806640. [cited 2023 Nov 20]

12. Horowitz MA, Taylor D. Tapering of SSRI treatment to mitigate withdrawal symptoms. Lancet Psychiatry. 2019 Jun;6(6):538-546. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30032-X. Epub 2019 Mar 5. PMID: 30850328.  [cited 2023 Nov 20]

13. Hengartner MP. Methodological Flaws, Conflicts of Interest, and Scientific Fallacies: Implications for the Evaluation of Antidepressants’ Efficacy and Harm. Front Psychiatry. 2017 Dec 7;8:275. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00275. PMID: 29270136; PMCID: PMC5725408. [cited 2023 Nov 20]

14. 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 2023 Nov 20]

Originally Published August 7, 2021 by Diane Ridaeus

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

Dr. Michael Loes, M.D.


Dr. Michael Loes is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Pain Management and Addiction Medicine. He holds a dual license in Homeopathic and Integrative Medicine. He obtained his medical doctorate at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, 1978. Dr. Loes performed an externship at the National Institute of Health for Psychopharmacology. Additionally, he is a well-published author including Arthritis: The Doctor’s Cure, The Aspirin Alternative, The Healing Response, and Spirit Driven Health: The Psalmist’s Guide for Recovery. He has been awarded the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s “Excellence in Research” Award.

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Zoloft Addiction
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