Commonly prescribed antidepressants and how they work

Clara T. Fryman

Antidepressants are among the most searched medications on the internet. But there is a lot of information out there to sift through. We’ve pulled together some basic information from MedlinePlus and the National Institute of Mental Health on common types of these medications. What are they? Antidepressants are prescribed for […]

Antidepressants are among the most searched medications on the internet. But there is a lot of information out there to sift through.

We’ve pulled together some basic information from MedlinePlus and the National Institute of Mental Health on common types of these medications.

What are they?

Antidepressants are prescribed for mood conditions such as depression and anxiety, as well as for pain and sleeping troubles. You may have to try a few different ones before you and your provider find the best one for you.

How do they work?

Antidepressants can help balance chemicals in our brains. This can lead to improved moods, concentration, and sleep. It may take a few weeks (often four to six) for these medications to fully work.

The most commonly prescribed ones include: 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most prescribed type of antidepressant and include:

  • Fluoxetine
  • Citalopram
  • Sertraline
  • Paroxetine
  • Escitalopram

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are similar to SSRIs. Common ones include venlafaxine and duloxetine.

Bupropion works differently than SSRIs or SNRIs. It also treats seasonal affective disorder and helps people stop smoking.

Older antidepressant medications include tricyclics, tetracyclics, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). They are prescribed less often than other medications because they tend to cause more side effects. However, they work better for some people.

Possible side effects:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight gain
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleepiness
  • Sexual problems

Next steps

If you or someone you know thinks they have depression, talk to your health care provider as soon as possible. Antidepressants, talk therapy, or a combination of the two may help.

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