Antidepressants at College
Antidepressants are the most common psychoactive medications used in the college population and in the general population. They have been used effectively for a long time, but until the arrival of Prozac in 1987, they weren't nearly as popular because of the risks and side effects of the older antidepressants, called tricyclics. These include drugs such as Norpramin (desipramine), Elavil (amitriptilene), Sinequan (doxepin), and Tofranil (imipramine).
The mechanism of action of antidepressants is still not completely understood, but there is general agreement that they affect levels and functioning of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. The tricyclics usually had a dual action, some more specialized to one or the other neurotransmitter, and they were also effective for depression.
But they were never popular because they frequently caused side effects, including weight gain, which is the "kiss of death" for any medication that a college student is willing to consider. From a clinician's standpoint, they were also problematic because they could have effects on cardiac conduction, could be quite lethal when taken in overdose, and had a variety of other unpleasant side effects such as dry mouth, lethargy, night sweats, constipation, urinary hesitancy, jitteriness, and sexual side effects.
When Prozac arrived on the scene in 1987, it caused an explosion in antidepressant use. This drug, which was a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), appeared to have almost no side effects, and people who had been chronically depressed sometimes had remarkable turnarounds. There was also an initial decrease in appetite, which led many people to my office requesting the medication, not because they were depressed, but because they heard it was an effective diet pill. Others claimed that these drugs made people "better than normal," and their popularity soared.
A steady stream of SSRIs came to market: Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), Celexa (citalopram), Luvox (fluvoxamine), and Effexor (venlafaxine), a dual uptake inhibitor (also affected norepinephrine reuptake at higher doses as well as serotonin).
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