Last updated:

December 11, 2023


 min read

Can you get hooked on psychiatric meds?

Is it safe to use psychiatric medicines? Can you get addicted to them? Let’s look at the facts.

Reviewed by
Written by
Ipsa Khurana

What are psychiatric meds?

Psychiatric medications are prescribed by psychiatrists to help a person manage symptoms and/or treat a mental disorder. Also called psychotropic medication, they help treat many illnesses that are seemingly unmanageable. The idea that psychiatric meds can get addictive is yet another consequence of the existing stigma about mental health and seeking treatment for the same. 

The first step to undo this stigma is to learn about the scientific basis of things rather than going by the common misconceptions. 

Types of psychotropic medication

Some of the common types of psychiatric medications are:

  • Antidepressants: These can be prescribed for mood disorders, OCD, anxiety, and eating disorders. Examples of antidepressants include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors).
  • Antipsychotics: These are used to treat psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. 
  • Mood stabilisers: These help people with bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, etc. manage extreme mood swings.
  • Sedatives: These decrease your psychomotor and cognitive performance. Mainly used for anxiety and insomnia, sedatives are usually prescribed in the form of pills.
  • Stimulants: These increase activity in the brain and help people with ADHD.

Things to consider while taking psychiatric medication

  • If the drug has worked for someone else, it does not mean it will work similarly for you. All bodies (and minds) are different and react differently. 
  • You won't feel better right away; it will take some time for the drug to alleviate symptoms. Some medications, like sleeping pills, might provide quick relief, though.
  • You should not stop your meds the moment you start feeling better. This may lead to relapses or returning symptoms. Consult your doctor before modifying any dosage.

Whether you will be prescribed psychoactive medication by your psychiatrist depends on various factors, including the diagnosed disorder, the severity of your symptoms, and how they affect you. Not everyone is prescribed medicines; you can also be recommended other forms of treatment, such as therapy or lifestyle changes.

Are psychiatric medicines addictive?

Addiction is defined as the uncontrollable urge to consume something that can potentially be harmful. Its characteristics include intense cravings, obsessions, loss of control, and impulsive behaviour to satisfy the addiction. Psychotropic drugs usually do not have this effect on people.

As defined by DSM-5 and ICD-11 under substance use disorder, addiction has certain distinct symptoms. These include craving, failing to cut back, spending extra efforts to obtain what satisfies your urges, and giving up on other important things in your life. These symptoms are not aligned with what a person taking prescription psychiatric medication - such as antidepressants - would feel.

Psychiatric medicines do not lead to cravings. Tolerance or dependence - where you need to increase the dosage to feel the same 'kick' - are also not an effect of psychotropic drugs.  

Some medicines may induce minor and temporary withdrawal symptoms, like dizziness, headaches, nausea, insomnia, etc., for nearly a week after stopping the medication. These symptoms wear off soon after, indicating that these medicines are not, in fact, addictive. 

However, you should not stop medication without consulting your doctor. Suddenly stopping the dosage might result in relapses, which can be harmful. It is best to bring it up with your doctor if you want to modify your dosage or have concerns about your medication.

How to know if you are getting hooked on psychiatric meds?

As stated above, the symptoms of addiction are not seen in people taking psychiatric meds. If you are taking such medications and are experiencing some of the following effects, bring it up with your psychiatrist ASAP.

  • You need more of the drug to have the same results as before.
  • The medicines are causing unexpected changes in sleeping or eating patterns. 
  • You are consuming alcohol and/or drugs along with prescription medication.
  • You are facing symptoms like excessive sweating, headaches, dizziness, or seizures. 

You are probably good to go if you don’t find yourself going through such extremities due to psychotropic drug consumption. If you feel like tapering off, you should consult your doctor for a gradual decrease in dosage upon feeling better. You can also talk to a therapist online.

Need help?

The stigma around psychiatric meds has prevented numerous people from seeking the help they need. It is high time we accept psychotropic medication as a part of standard psychiatric treatment and perceive it as an aid to better health, just as the medicines we take for physical illnesses.

You should see a psychiatrist if you want medications to make your symptoms manageable. Our experts offer you a safe, empathetic, and non-judgmental space and help develop a treatment plan that suits your needs.

References Bourin, M., & Briley, M. (2004). Sedation, an unpleasant, undesirable and potentially dangerous side-effect of many psychotropic drugs. Human psychopharmacology, 19(2). Harlow, K. (2019, September 17). No, you aren’t a drug addict if you take antidepressants. Healthline. Nordqvist, C., & Barrell, A. (2022, June 28). All about antidepressants. Medical news today. Peisley, T. (2017, August 21). Busting myths about psychiatric medication. Sane. Psychiatric medication. (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2022, from Scott, P.S. (2021, January 27). Signs of Drug Addiction. WebMD.