Talk to your doctor if you're taking any of these meds and have noticed changes in your mood.
Medications are supposed to make you feel better–and most of the time they do. But they also often come with side effects. Usually, those unwanted consequences are minor, but in some cases, they can be serious. Some drugs can even cause depression, regardless of whether or not you’re predisposed to mental health problems.
No one knows exactly why certain drugs have this effect.
“The medications may interfere with neurotransmitters in your brain like dopamine and serotonin, [and that] may affect mood changes,” says Edmi Cortes, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “But some of the medications we just don’t know.”
What we do know is that depression is a serious condition that needs to be managed. If you suspect you’ve developed depression as the result of a medication, contact your doctor right away.
“The most important thing is to communicate with your doctor when you experience mood changes,” says Dr. Cortes. “We can manage by reducing the dosing, by changing the medication or, when the medication is really necessary to treat the illness, by giving an antidepressant to treat depressive symptoms.”
Here are some commonly used drugs that are sometimes linked with depression. Talk to your doctor if you’re taking one of these and notice changes in your mood.
Beta blockers such as metoprolol are widely prescribed to treat high blood pressure, but they’re also used for chest pain, irregular heartbeat, migraine, some tremors, and even glaucoma. Generally, and especially for hypertension, beta blockers are used long-term, but some research has linked continued use with depression.
The good news is there are tons of alternatives; in fact, beta blockers aren’t even used that often any more.
“They’ve gone a little out of favor as a standard treatment because there are newer things that may work better without [the risk of depression],” says Joshua Nathan, MD, president-elect of the Illinois Psychiatric Society and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Illinois Chicago.
Steroids like prednisone are used to treat a surprising number of conditions, including autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, asthma, allergies, and even cancer. But they can come with a mental health downside.
“Chronic use is associated with a range of psychiatric problems,” says Dr. Nathan. “It can cause depression, anxiety, psychosis–and I’ve seen all of those things.”
Euphoria and mania seem to be more common with short-term use while depression becomes more prominent with longer use, even if the doses aren’t large.
If you have a family history of depression or alcoholism, you have an even greater risk for developing one of these side effects when using corticosteroids. Talk to your doctor or specialist about your risk factors and medication alternatives.
Not all antibiotics, of course, but certainly some have been linked with depression, notably levofloxacin and ciprofloxacin. Both belong to the family of antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones and are prescribed for a variety of bacterial infections.
A large survey of medical records in the United Kingdom found that just one course of quinolones was linked with a 25% higher risk of depression. In addition, taking one course of a med in the penicillin group of antibiotics was associated with a 23% higher risk of depression. Two courses of a penicillin took the risk up to 40%, and more than five courses involved a 56% higher risk.
Make sure you only take antibiotics when you need them. Overuse also contributes to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The depression usually goes away once the treatment has ended, but one study found that it could come back later.
Given that interferon combats life-threatening illnesses, antidepressants are sometimes used so the person can continue the treatment. Research has shown that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other classes of antidepressants can bring relief to up to 85% of people who develop depression during interferon treatment.
RELATED: 10 Surprising Antidepressant Facts
Some reports have indicated that anticonvulsant (or anti-seizure) drugs like topiramate and gabapentin may contribute to depression.
These drugs suppress the central nervous system (CNS). “We know that medications that are central nervous system depressants may be associated with depression,” says Dr. Cortes.
Benzodiazepines (like common anti-anxiety meds Xanax and Valium) are also CNS depressants and have been associated with depression.
Luckily, “medication-induced depression goes away when you stop the medication,” says Dr. Nathan, and “there are usually other options.”
Anticonvulsants are now used to treat not just seizures but also bipolar disorder, pain from damaged nerves, and fibromyalgia. There are other treatments for all of these conditions, and there are also alternatives for benzodiazepines.
The addictive painkillers–which are responsible for one of the greatest public health crises in American history–also seem to increase the risk of depression.
One study found that the risk of depression in people who had never had it grew the longer they took opioids, starting at about 30 days. The dose didn’t seem to matter.
At the same time, recent research has found that more than half of all opioid prescriptions in the U.S. are going to people with existing mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. People with these mood disorders are at a greater risk of abusing opioids.
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You’ve probably seen or heard the warnings that antidepressants can actually increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or ideation. Strange as this may seem, research backs it up.
“Teens and young adults in their early 20s in rare cases have increases in suicidal ideation when starting an antidepressant,” says Dr. Nathan. "But there is not data saying that starting antidepressants can cause or worsen depression, and long-term use is not associated with depression either."
Antidepressants have helped millions of people emerge from depression; the percentage of young people experiencing suicidal thinking as a side effect is small. Talk to your doctor if you suspect your depression is getting worse on treatment or you are contemplating harming yourself. Never stop taking one of these medications without supervision from your doctor.