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Explains what antidepressants are, how they work, possible side effects and information about withdrawal.

What do I need to know before taking antidepressants?

Before taking antidepressants, you may want to know about some of the risks of taking them. All medication has some kind of risk and can affect people in different ways. But there are some common reasons to be cautious about taking antidepressants.

These include:

You can find out about the risks of specific antidepressants from the British National Formulary (BNF) A-Z list of drugs. Our page on what you should know before taking psychiatric medication may also help with this decision. 

Or you can speak to your doctor or pharmacist with any questions or concerns you have about the risks of antidepressants.

If you take other drugs

You should speak to your doctor about any other drugs you take before you start taking antidepressants. This includes illegal drugs and anything you’ve bought from the pharmacy or online, such as painkillers or herbal remedies.

This is because different drugs can interact with each other, which can sometimes have dangerous effects on your health. If you take more than one drug at once, the interactions can also make the side effects of each drug worse.

You can find out about known interactions for individual antidepressants from the BNF A-Z list of drug interactions. Or you can speak to your doctor or pharmacist about this.

If you drink alcohol 

You should check with your doctor or pharmacist whether it's safe to drink alcohol with the antidepressant you've been prescribed. 

This is mainly because alcohol interacts with most antidepressants. If you have alcohol while you are taking antidepressants, this interaction can:

  • make you feel drowsier than you would from taking the medication on its own
  • affect your ability to perform certain tasks, such as driving
  • make you more prone to falls and confusion. This mainly affects older people.

If you're under 18

If you are under 18, this information may help you decide whether to take antidepressants:

  • Antidepressants may not be fully researched or clinically tested on people under 18 years old. This means there is less information available about the possible benefits and risks.
  • If you are under 18 and your doctor prescribes you an antidepressant, they should be very careful about the dose. This includes accounting for your physical size.
  • Not all antidepressants are licensed for use by people aged under 18 in the UK.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) produces guidelines on treating depression in children and young people. This guidance gives recommendations about which antidepressants can be given to children, when they should be prescribed, and who can prescribe them.

If you have certain medical conditions

If you have certain long-term medical problems, your doctor may not prescribe you certain antidepressants. The NHS has a page on important things to think about before taking antidepressants. This includes information on which antidepressants may not be suitable if you have different types of medical condition.

You can also speak to your doctor if you are concerned about how antidepressants may affect your overall health, including any pre-existing medical conditions.

This information was published in September 2020.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References and bibliography available on request.

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