Medically reviewed by Susan Vachon, PA-C on February 4, 2022
When you have depression or anxiety, you want to do everything you can to make sure you don’t exacerbate your symptoms. Unfortunately, that may mean making slight alterations to your medication regimen.
Some medications for other conditions can make your depression or anxiety symptoms worse. And if you’ve been prescribed an antidepressant or benzodiazepine, these don’t always interact well with other meds. Let’s take a look at the most common medications you’ll want to avoid after being diagnosed with anxiety or depression.
7 Medications That Can Cause Anxiety
Anxiety is thought to be caused by having an overactive limbic system. This is the part of the brain responsible for processing stimuli and regulating emotional responses. In particular, it’s responsible for your fight or flight response, which is what causes so many of the tell-tale signs of anxiety.
Because of that, you’ll want to avoid any medications that can also have an effect on this part of your brain. That means avoiding drugs mixed with caffeine. Caffeine can be in more drugs than you realize. For example, it’s an ingredient in the commonly used Excedrin Migraine formula. It’s also in drugs like Anacin, Cafergot, and Migergot.
ADHD drugs are another type of medication you’ll likely want to avoid. These often work by stimulating your brain and changing the way it sends signals between neurons. In particular, drugs like Adderall, Focalin, Vyvanse, Concerta, and Ritalin are probably best left alone.
If you have asthma, you also might take drugs like albuterol, salmeterol, or theophylline. These work by helping to expand airways in your lungs to make it easier to breathe. Unfortunately, these medications sometimes can make you feel jittery, which may mimic the symptoms of an anxiety attack. Therefore, it’s often best to look for alternative medications.
A few other types of medications that may exacerbate anxiety are corticosteroids (like cortisone, dexamethasone, and prednisone), thyroid medicines (like Armour Thyroid or Nature-Throid), seizure medicines (like phenytoin), and Parkinson’s disease medicines (like levodopa and carbidopa).
6 Medications That Can Cause Depression
Depression is linked to changes in the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. In particular, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine help to regulate your mood and bodily functions. When these are low, you’ll feel depressed. Unfortunately, if you take drugs that can cause a change in brain chemistry, they can make your depression worse.
One type of drug that has been consistently linked to an increase in depression is isotretinoin, a type of acne medication. You might also know it by the brand name Accutane.
Surprisingly, drugs that are used to treat anxiety can lead to depression. The most common drug for this is benzodiazepines, which can depress the nervous system and make communication between neurons even slower than it is normally. Other drugs that depress the body include calcium-channel blockers, which are typically used to treat high blood pressure, and barbiturates, which are used to treat seizures.
While opioids already have a bad rap because of their addictive potential, but as it turns out, they’re especially bad for depression patients. That’s because they affect the brain’s natural balance for reward and pleasure, further disrupting brain chemistry. brain chemistry.
Certain birth controls are also linked to depressive symptoms, including hormonal IUDs. However, the risk of this is low, especially when you work with a doctor to find the right birth control for you.
7 Medications That Don’t Play Nice With Antidepressants
The most common medication prescribed for the treatment of depression is antidepressants. In particular, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most popular choice, but these don’t get along with all drugs.
In particular, you never want to mix SSRIs with other drugs that increase brain serotonin levels, like St. John’s Wort, linezolid, or amphetamines. This can cause a problem called serotonin syndrome that has serious side effects like diarrhea, fever, and seizures.
SSRIs also aren’t safe to take with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen. That’s because they can increase the chances of gastrointestinal bleeding.
If you have another mental health condition, you’ll need to be especially careful. SSRIs should not be mixed with lithium (often used to treat bipolar disorder) or clozapine (often used to treat schizophrenia and psychosis).
4 Medications That Don’t Play Nice With Benzodiazepines
If you have anxiety, your doctor may prescribe benzodiazepines. However, benzodiazepines don’t react well with all types of drugs.
One major medication to avoid while on benzodiazepines is opioids, like OxyContin, morphine, and hydrocodone. Opioids are sedative depressants, meaning they can slow down your heart rate and respiration. If you take too much in combination with your benzos, you could have a hard time breathing.
Drugs for treating insomnia should also be avoided while on benzos, as they work very similarly to each other. Taking them together can result in blackout spells where you lose consciousness.
Another dangerous drug interaction can occur if you take proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec, Nexium, or Prevacid. These target acid reflux, but in doing so, they can increase blood levels of benzos to abnormally high levels. This can result in increased side effects like dizziness, confusion, and even sedation.
Only Your Doctor Can Tell You Which Medications Are Safe
While this guide provides general information on which drugs are typically not used in depression and anxiety patients, it should not be thought of as medical advice. To know for sure which drugs you can and cannot take with your mental health condition, be sure to speak to a medical professional. They’ll be able to review your medical history and symptoms to decide which prescriptions are safe for you to take.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes.