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Do Antidepressants Permanently Alter Brain Chemistry?

Dec 27, 2021

Over 37 million Americans use antidepressants. 

Depression is on the rise within the country. Those who have experienced depression are familiar with the deep, dark rabbit hole the mind has the capability to create. It’s a scary place. 

When someone’s depressed, it feels impossible to find relief. The silver lining becomes hidden by large, gray storm clouds. But in hopes of healing, many individuals turn to antidepressants and/or therapy. 

Unfortunately, many adults who take antidepressants don’t know how they affect our brain’s chemistry. If you’re wondering, “How do antidepressants work?”, we’ll explain more below. 

What Is Depression? 

Major depressive disorder is a serious mental illness. It negatively affects an individual’s experience at work, home, school, etc. 

Symptoms often seen in a case of depression include:

  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Clouded thoughts
  • Extreme feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Insomnia

Seeking help when depressed is crucial. Many depressed adults seek help from a psychiatrist or therapist. Some even seek intense long-term care within a facility. 

What Are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are a type of pharmaceutical drug prescribed by doctors to combat the effects of depression. Certain antidepressants are also useful in treating OCD, bipolar disorder, and social anxiety. 

While taking an antidepressant doesn’t address all of someone’s problems, they do help with fatigue and increasing emotional stability. Medication takes the edge off extreme feelings. 

Common Antidepressants 

There are several common antidepressants on the market. These include:

  • Zoloft
  • Prozac
  • Lexapro
  • Luvox
  • Cymbalta

Each medication affects the body in a different way, so it’s important to chat with your doctor about the effects of antidepressants before adding them to your routine. 

How Do They Work?

In a general guide to antidepressants, you’ll find antidepressants affect our brain’s neurotransmission. 

Neurotransmission takes place when tiny chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, travel through a neuron into the synaptic cleft. The synaptic cleft is the space of limbo between 2 different neurons.

Once a neurotransmitter is in the cleft, it’s waiting to be taken up by a receptor. 

The travel of neurotransmitters is what affects our moods and emotions. Three major neurotransmitters include norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin.

  • Norepinephrine is used in regulating motivation, heart rate, and cognition
  • Dopamine affects our experience of pleasure, arousal, and decision-making 
  • Serotonin affects mood regulation and our feelings of happiness and appetite


A popular type of antidepressant used today is selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). As one can guess, they affect the serotonin levels in our brain. 

This type of drug blocks our neurons from the re-uptake of serotonin into presynaptic neurons. Because of this, the serotonin is able to hang around longer in our synaptic clefts, hopefully to be taken up by postsynaptic neurons. 

SSRIs encourage the brain to use serotonin more effectively! 


Monoamine oxidase inhibitors were some of the earliest antidepressants ever created. They work by blocking monoamine oxidase enzymes from breaking down neurotransmitters left in the synaptic cleft.

Because fewer neurotransmitters are being broken down, they have a greater chance of being taken up by receptors. Once they’re taken up by receptors, we experience a boost in mood. 

This type of drug isn’t prescribed often due to intense antidepressant side effects. 


Created not too long after MAOIs, tricyclics became known as the second generation of antidepressants. 

If a neurotransmitter isn’t grabbed by a receptor or broken down by an enzyme, it could be taken back up through the presynaptic neuron. This results in unused neurotransmitters.

TCAs block neurons from taking back up serotonin and norepinephrine. 


Serotonin norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors are similar to SSRIs. They also block serotonin from being taken back up by presynaptic neurons. 

However, they also block the re-uptake of norepinephrine. 

Do Antidepressants Have a Long-Term Effect on Brain Chemistry?

After reading the breakdown of the different antidepressants, you might be wondering, “Are antidepressants safe? They seem to be changing a lot inside my brain.”

In the simplest answer, the long-term effects of antidepressants on brain chemistry aren’t understood very well. 

Some research has suggested this type of drug aids in neuroplasticity. In other words, these drugs can affect how our minds organize and form synaptic connections. 

Other researchers believe this type of medication has no long-term effects on our brains once the individual stops using the drug. 

Long-Term Effects While Using

Many depressed individuals find it beneficial to use antidepressants for the remainder of their life. They’re often used in combination with therapy, group support, and lifestyle changes. 

These individuals may experience weight gain, dry mouth, and a variety of sexual dysfunctions. In extreme cases, their bodies may even develop a tolerance against antidepressants. 

In the end, some people decide to stop using antidepressants because of the lack of information surrounding the long-term effects of the brain’s chemical makeup. 

What to Do When Using Antidepressants

Are you using antidepressants for an extended period of time? 

It’s crucial to check in with your doctor regularly about your side effects, mood changes, and concerns. They’ll help assess how well the drugs are working. 

Self-monitor your thoughts and feelings throughout your journey. Chat with a therapist if your thoughts are becoming overwhelming. 

If you do wish to stop taking antidepressants, speak with your doctor about how to stop safely. 

The Big Question: How Do Antidepressants Work?

Due to antidepressants becoming more popular, many people wonder, “How do antidepressants work?”

They work in a variety of ways, depending on the type of antidepressant you’re taking. The long-term effects of this drug aren’t understood very well, but many adults find it beneficial to use them. 

Are you looking for a treatment method that doesn’t include medication? Turn to Brain Therapy TMS to explore the benefits of transcranial magnetic stimulation. Schedule your free consultation today. 

Considering TMS Treatment? Schedule a Consultation!

Tired of the results you’re getting from your standard treatment? Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation may be able to increase your chances of long-term remission, reducing your symptoms and allowing you to live a more joyful life.




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