Medications That Can Cause Depression as a Side Effect

assortment of medicines
Benita Lee
Benita Lee, MPH, is on the Research Team at GoodRx.
Posted on

More than one-third of US adults may be using a prescription medication associated with depression and/or suicidal symptoms as a possible side effect, a recent study finds. Over 200 medications, including birth control pills, blood pressure medications, antacids, and painkillers, were cited with these concerns.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that 38% of adults interviewed from 2013 to 2014 used medications associated with depression as a possible side effect in the 30 days prior to the interview compared to 35% from 2005 to 2006. 

Similar findings were discovered with drugs listing suicide as a possible side effect. Adults reporting the use of medications with suicide as a possible side increased from 17% in interviews between 2005 and 2006 to 24% in interviews between 2013 and 2014.

In addition to more people taking these drugs, the percentage of people taking several of these medications at once was also higher in 2013 to 2014 compared to 2005 to 2006. With those people taking three or more of these drugs at a time, the prevalence of depression was three times higher compared to those just taking one.

Common symptoms of depression include feelings of emptiness or hopelessness, loss of interest in normal activities, sleep disturbances, lack of energy, trouble concentrating, and even physical symptoms like back pain and headaches.

Medications associated with depression as a side effect

In the study, about 8% of adults in the 2013 to 2014 time period used blood pressure medications associated with depression as a potential adverse effect. These include drugs like metoprolol, atenolol, enalapril, and quinapril.

About 10% of adults in the same time period used proton pump inhibitors and H2 antagonists associated with depression as a potential side effect. These are medications for reflux disease or GERD like omeprazole, esomeprazole, ranitidine, and famotidine.

Other popular drugs named in the study that are associated with depression as a side effect include corticosteroids, used to treat inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, hormone medications like birth control pills and emergency contraceptives, anti-anxiety medications like alprazolam (Xanax), medications for pain relief like hydrocodone and tramadol and allergy medications like montelukast (Singulair) and cetirizine (Zyrtec).

It’s important to be aware that some of these medications might be common ones you can pick up over the counter, where warnings about side effects may be less comprehensive than those on prescription medications. Moreover, antidepressants are the only drug class with a black-box warning for suicidal risk. (Black-box warnings are the most serious types of warnings on prescription medication packaging). That means that while plenty of other medications may be associated with depression and suicidal symptoms as potential adverse effects, they may not display obvious warnings for it.

The takeaway

If you are feeling depressed, it’s possible that your symptoms are related to a prescription medication you’re taking. However, do NOT discontinue the medication on your own. Talk to your doctor as soon as you think there’s a problem, and they’ll be able to find you an alternative medication.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.

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