Why does it take so long for antidepressants to work?

In this blog post, we will answer the following question: Why does it take so long for antidepressants to work? We will discuss the depression timeline, what are neurotransmitters and the most widely used antidepressants. 

Why does it take so long for antidepressants to work?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions because people want to know how long does it take for drugs, such as Wellbutrin to work.

When we start a pharmacological treatment to combat depression, it is necessary to follow it to the letter and have the advice of a professional at all times since if it is not well administered it will not have the desired effect and on the contrary, it can reverse the results.

Generally, when you start this drug treatment, it takes several days or even weeks to take effect and this is often a cause of frustration and despair for some people. Some people also ask the time for an increase does to work. The drugs used to combat depression are (SSRIs), which means selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. But, in what way do they act in our brain?

Effects of antidepressants on the nervous system

To explain in a simple and summarized way how antidepressants work in our brain, we will begin by mentioning that one of the many functions of neurons is to capture serotonin from a space called synaptic.

What happens with depression drugs is that they prevent the neuron from picking up again the serotonin found in the synaptic space to increase the amount of serotonin between the neurons themselves. 

Therefore, they cause the amount of serotonin to rise exaggeratedly from one moment to the next. Apart from the fact that serotonin is responsible for increasing mood, it is also responsible for regulating the sleep cycle, sexual desire, appetite, vomiting, among other things.

Therefore, it is normal that at the beginning of the treatment, when the serotonin levels in our brains are abruptly altered, some annoying side effects such as sleep disturbances, appetite, decreased sexual desire, vomiting, dizziness may appear. , etc. 

Once our serotonin levels are finally regulated, we can experience the benefits of consuming these drugs. This explains why antidepressants can take time to take effect in our brain, and even though our body has a great capacity to adapt to changes, it does not do so immediately and it takes some time to do so. 

Generally, the time required for antidepressants to take effect in our body is more or less 2 to 3 weeks.

There are many questions about drugs to treat depression, especially about their effectiveness. Are antidepressants necessary? This is the question many people ask themselves when they hear stories of people whose medications don’t seem to get better. 

What if it is not a question of efficiency but of time? We tell you exactly how long antidepressants take to take effect and what you can do to make you feel better.

When do antidepressants take effect?

They are not only for depression but they are also recommended in some cases of anxiety or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. And although for many people they have brought about a considerable improvement in their quality of life, the truth is that antidepressants continue to arouse great suspicion and open endless debates. The question that comes to us today is how long antidepressants take to take effect.

This question arises because despite being able to consider these drugs as magic pills that allow your brain to rebuild neurotransmitters, the truth is that they are not immediate. When you suffer from depression, the functioning of the brain is altered and the antidepressants (some and in some cases) try to return it to its normal functioning. And this logically cannot happen the first day or overnight.

The most common is that antidepressants begin to take effect from the second week. You may have to wait until the third or fourth week to notice some improvement. Does it seem like a long time? Maybe it’s not what you expected. Maybe you were expecting something like the immediate effect of a pain reliever to take away the headache.

Antidepressants take time

We are not going to deceive ourselves. Antidepressants take time, so you’re going to have to be patient. The patience that you will also need to overcome the depression you are suffering, since this disease does not disappear overnight and it is not only based on medications. It is difficult to get out of depression and the first thing you have to arm yourself with is patience.

Patience, because antidepressants do work. You’ll notice side effects like dizziness, dry mouth, headache, or changes in appetite sooner than its positive effects. That is why many people want to quit before even checking to see if they are doing something or not.

If the side effects of antidepressants do not let you live, it is best to go to your doctor and change them. Because in choosing the antidepressant you also have to be patient. Generally, if you wait a few more days, by the time the side effects wear off, your body will start to notice all the positive changes.

Depression timeline

Some people notice that antidepressants are starting to take effect in the first few days. It is a kind of placebo effect (because your body has not had time to react to the medication) when finding help. We talk about help whenever we talk about depression. And help has its times.

Because when you suffer from depression you will have to ask your doctor for help, with whom you will find the most suitable antidepressants for you. You’re also going to have to ask for psychological help because drugs alone don’t cure depression. Are you calculating the times of depression?

You can also ask for help from your family, your partner if you have it and your circle of friends. All of them will have to arm themselves with patience because they are suffering from seeing you badly and they may not understand very well why. And they may want you to recover as soon as possible. Explain that depression has its rhythm and that it is usually slower than everyone would like.

So patience, step by step, with all the help you have, face your depression without thinking about how long you have been taking the pills, how many months you have been in therapy or how many days you have been without smiling.

How is depression triggered?

Medicine has not yet identified exactly which are the mechanisms that explain the appearance of depression, however, everything points to its origin being multifactorial.

In other words, various factors are involved in the genesis of depression, ranging from biological and psychological factors to the individual genetic predisposition of each person.

These factors are not mutually exclusive. They can intervene several at the same time and, for example, we find ourselves with a depression in which, in addition to the biological factors related to neurotransmitters, there is the aggravating factor of a divorce (social-family factor), a personality disorder that predisposes to melancholy (psychological factor), and also certain depressive family history (genetic factor).

The more factors that coincide in a person, the more vulnerable he or she will be to depression.

The patient must always be informed

It has never seemed appropriate to prescribe a pill to a patient and say goodbye to him without explaining. Whoever suffers from an illness – and even more so if it is depression – has the right to know what is prescribed for him, why, how it will work in his body and what side effects may arise as a consequence of the treatment.

That is why I always offer a small “psychopharmacology lesson” to patients to whom I prescribe an antidepressant. It takes me only a few minutes, but with this, I achieve an excellent collaboration with the patient and a reduction in the risk of therapeutic abandonment that is so frequently associated with psychotropic drugs, mainly due to the social stigma attached to mental disorders.

Neurotransmitters

In a way that is easily understandable for the patient, I explain that in depression there is a decrease in certain neurotransmitters that are found in the interneuronal space, neurotransmitters that have the mission of transmitting information from one neuron to another.

I usually help myself with a drawing to inform them that neurons do not establish physical contact with each other as if they were two electric cables that touch a light bulb since their communication takes place through messengers (neurotransmitters) that travel from neuron to another to carry certain information.

I take this opportunity to add that in depression there are fewer neurotransmitters, the correct neuronal communication is not adequate, and it is right there where antidepressants intervene, preventing reuptake and making depression improve.

What are the most widely used antidepressants?

The most widely used antidepressants today are those that inhibit serotonin reuptake.

They are known as Select Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors ’(SSRIs) and the most popular of them (and the first to appear – in 1974 – and therefore the best known) is Fluoxetine (Prozac®).

After this well-known drug, new molecules were synthesized, each of which has tried to outperform previous SSRIs in benefits.

The most widely used SSRIs are Fluoxetine, Citalopram, Escitalopram, Sertraline, Paroxetine and, much less frequently, Fluvoxamine.

Although all SSRIs are very similar, some of them show more effectiveness in certain types of pathologies than others. In fact, there are activators, neutrals and inhibitors.

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Conclusions

In this blog post, we answered the following question: Why does it take so long for antidepressants to work? We discussed the depression timeline, what are neurotransmitters and the most widely used antidepressants. 

Antidepressants take time, so you’re going to have to be patient. The patience that you will also need to overcome the depression you are suffering, since this disease does not disappear overnight and it is not only based on medications. 

If you have questions or comments on the content, please let us know!

FAQ on Why does it take so long for antidepressants to work

Why does it take so long for antidepressants to work?

It takes so long for antidepressants to work because of their mechanism of affecting one’s nervous system. The drugs used to combat depression are (SSRIs), which means selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.  Generally, when you start this drug treatment, it takes several days or even weeks to take effect and this is often a cause of frustration and despair for some people. 

Is it possible for antidepressants to work right away?

No, it is nos possible for antidepressants to work right away. Most of them take between 1 to 4 weeks to start working. You have to be patient and combine the treatment with psychotherapy methods. 

Why do antidepressants make you feel worse before better?

Antidepressants make you feel worse before better because the drug’s side effects occur before your depression symptoms can improve. You have to have a lot of patience with the treatment for depression.

Will antidepressants make me happy?

Antidepressants will not make you extremely happy, but they will help relieve the symptoms of depression and associated anxiety. What happens with depression drugs is that they prevent the neuron from picking up again the serotonin found in the synaptic space to increase the amount of serotonin between the neurons themselves. 

Further reading

The Anti-Depressant Book: A Practical Guide for Teens and Young Adults to Overcome Depression and Stay Healthy, by Jacob Towery MD 

Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope, by Johann Hari  

The Pill That Steals Lives – One Woman’s Terrifying Journey to Discover the Truth About Antidepressants, by Katinka Blackford Newman 

The Antidepressant Solution: A Step-by-Step Guide to Safely Overcoming Antidepressant Withdrawal, Dependence, and “Addiction”, by M.D. Joseph Glenmullen M.D. 

What we recommend for depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

References

psychologytoday.com – Number One Reason SSRIs Take Four to Six Weeks to Work

Sciencedaily.com – Why do antidepressants take so long to work?

Cambridge.org – Why do antidepressants take so long to work? A cognitive neuropsychological model of antidepressant drug action

Sane.org – Antidepressant medication

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