14 Common SSRI Side Effects

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated July 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of medication often prescribed to manage the symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders, including but not limited to obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and anxiety. These medications work by increasing serotonin reuptake in the brain, as the neurotransmitter serotonin can often be lacking in those with certain mental illnesses.

SSRIs are often widely utilized because their side effects are typically believed to be less severe than those associated with other types of antidepressants. However, SSRIs can still produce a range of side effects for some people. These effects can include weight gain, drowsiness, tremors, anxiety, mania, and others.

When taking or considering medication, discuss all questions regarding the medication with your doctor. Never start or stop any form of medication without the guidance of a licensed medical professional. As medication can be highly effective when combined with therapy, you may also connect with a therapist in person or online. Therapy can also be supportive on its own for those who do not take medication for any reason.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.
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Potential SSRI side effects

SSRIs may cause side effects for some people. However, it is not guaranteed that everyone who takes SSRIs will experience any of these side effects. Awareness can be a step toward preparedness for those who do. Below are common side effects to discuss with your doctor. 

Sexual dysfunction

One of the most common SSRI side effects can be sexual dysfunction, which can take many forms. Some individuals may report erectile dysfunction and an inability to ejaculate. Decreased libido can also occur. In some cases, this side effect can lead to tension in relationships and discomfort for the individual taking the medication. 

Weight gain

Fluctuations in weight can be another common side effect of SSRIs. Some people report initial weight loss after starting SSRIs, followed by weight gain within six months of starting the medication, with additional weight gain sometimes following. 

Changes in appetite may cause these weight changes. For some, gaining weight can lead to additional physical health concerns, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. However, weight is not a direct indicator of health problems, so talk to your doctor if you are concerned about eating or body changes. 

Insomnia

Sleep disruptions are a potential SSRI side effect that can seriously impact an individual’s mental and physical health. Some people who take SSRIs experience trouble falling and staying asleep. 

Emotional detachment

Some people struggle to experience emotions as strongly as usual when taking SSRIs. This side effect, commonly called emotional blunting, is thought to be related to higher medication doses, though it can occur regardless of the amount taken. 

This side effect of SSRIs can be concerning for many people as they may not experience emotions like happiness or excitement in the way they normally do. Emotional detachment may also make it difficult to have an outlet for anxiety, sadness, or anger. While these feelings in the extreme may not be desirable, not feeling them at all can cause conflicts in relationships and decreases in overall quality of life.

Drowsiness

Fatigue and brain fog can be common side effects of SSRIs, and they often make it hard to concentrate and get as much done throughout the day. This drowsiness is thought to be caused by increased melatonin production. To alleviate drowsiness that can be caused by SSRIs, professionals may recommend sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, exercising regularly, and eating nutritious foods.  

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Anxiety

Some people have reported increased anxiety with the use of SSRIs. Though these medications are sometimes prescribed to manage anxiety, individuals may still begin to experience extreme feelings of worry or fear. These feelings are typically situational. The anxiety may also be related to emotional detachment, with anxiety potentially peaking because other feelings may not feel the same as they usually do.

There may be several lifestyle changes you can make to manage feelings of anxiety. Regularly practicing mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing can reduce these symptoms. You may also consider reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption, as both substances can increase anxiety levels. 

Restlessness

One of the more common SSRI side effects can be an increase in energy levels that may make it hard to sit still and relax. Without an outlet to expend this energy, an individual may become restless while sitting for long periods, such as at work or school. They may also find themselves fidgeting more or frequently pacing when they are not engaged with the task at hand.

Finding healthy outlets for your energy may reduce restlessness, and remaining engaged in active pursuits may help you utilize your excess energy constructively. You might also consider starting a new hobby or volunteering with a local organization. 

Agitation

Some people who take SSRIs find that they become more irritable than usual. Because SSRIs can affect serotonin levels in the brain, an individual may become agitated easily, have little patience, or experience angry outbursts. Anger management techniques, such as deep breathing and grounding exercises, as well as support groups, can be helpful.

Tremor

Some people who take SSRIs for an extended period can develop involuntary muscle movements. Tremors may show up in any part of the body, but they are most often experienced in the hands. Some people develop a tremor so severe that it can become difficult to write with a pen or type on a computer.

Mania

When used for the treatment of depression in people with bipolar disorder, SSRI side effects can cause or precipitate manic episodes. Manic episodes can be defined as periods in which an individual experiences an increase in energy, an elevated mood, and a decreased need for sleep. This episode can lead them to engage in risky behavior and experience potentially harmful physical symptoms. Starting an SSRI medication during a depressive episode in an individual with bipolar disorder can also cause a mixed episode, which can be dangerous. Please contact your doctor immediately if you experience this side effect.

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Other physical side effects of SSRIs

Several other physical SSRI side effects have been reported on occasion. These side effects are frequently mild and tend to resolve themselves after treatment is continued for several weeks. However, these SSRI side effects can be common when starting treatment.

  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache

The BetterHelp platform is not intended for any information regarding which drugs, medication, or medical treatment may be appropriate for you. The content provides generalized information that is not specific to one individual. You should not take any action without consulting a qualified medical professional.

Managing mental health conditions with therapy

Research shows that the most effective treatment for depression is often a combination of therapy and medication. However, these methods can also be beneficial for other conditions, including anxiety. Online or in-person therapy can be a helpful alternative to medication or used in conjunction. 

With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can participate in sessions remotely, which can be helpful if you’re struggling to leave home due to mental health disorder symptoms or medication side effects. In addition, you can schedule sessions that fit into your life, as there are often timeslots available outside of typical office hours.

A growing body of evidence suggests that online therapy can help individuals manage symptoms of mental health disorders that are commonly treated with SSRIs. For example, in one study, researchers concluded that online cognitive-behavioral therapy could produce “sustained and clinically meaningful improvements in depression and anxiety” for those experiencing moderate to severe symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be a common treatment method to help an individual identify and replace negative thought patterns that may be underlying maladaptive behaviors and emotions, such as those related to depression. 

Takeaway

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can be an integral part of a treatment plan for depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders for some people. However, they can be accompanied by several potential side effects. Knowing how SSRIs may affect you may help you get the most out of treatment and understand the potential risks associated with this class of medication. Side effects can include sexual dysfunction, diarrhea, headache, drowsiness, and other symptoms. Inform your doctor or psychiatrist if you’re experiencing any of these or other effects. For further support with symptoms of mental health disorders, consider connecting with a licensed therapist online or in person.
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