Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/24/2022
Living with depression is difficult, so treating it is a necessity. Medication can be an effective way to do just that. Most commonly, people talk about serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in the treatment of depression.
But there are many other types out there — like amitriptyline. If you’ve been looking into your options and are considering using amitriptyline for depression, you’re in the right place.
Before we dig in, we want to say that depression can be a debilitating mental health condition — and it’s probably much more common than you think.
The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that upwards of 21 million adults in the U.S. dealt with at least one major depressive episode during the previous year.
Exploring your treatment options and getting the help you need is the first step. So, let’s get to it.
Neurotransmitters are what relay information between your neurons. There are actually over 100 different types of neurotransmitters and they help both your brain and body function.
Certain neurotransmitters are thought to be linked to depression. Some of these specific neurotransmitters include serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and more.
If you’re feeling off, here are a few symptoms of depression to keep in mind:
Sadness, anxiety or hopelessness
Feelings of guilt
Weight gain or loss
Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
If you experience some of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you may be diagnosed with depression. Of course, to receive a diagnosis, you’ll need to speak to a mental healthcare professional.
Amitriptyline is considered to be an antidepressant medication. Antidepressants are thought to work to treat depressive symptoms by boosting levels of neurotransmitters associated with depression.
Amitriptyline is in a class of antidepressant medicines known as tricyclic antidepressants. It is FDA-approved to treat major depressive disorder and works by blocking the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine.
Taken orally, patients generally start with taking 25mg at bedtime. If that doesn’t prove effective, a healthcare professional may increase the dosage.
As for the most important question: does amitriptyline work as a treatment for depression? While there’s no way to guarantee any medication will work for every single person, there’s a reason amitriptyline is prescribed to millions of people every year.
In a systematic review of 194 randomized controlled trials, amitriptyline was compared to other tricyclic antidepressants, as well as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Researchers found that slightly more people who took amitriptyline recovered from depression than those who took other types of antidepressants.
However, researchers also noted that the burden of adverse effects may be slightly larger when taking amitriptyline.
Wondering what those adverse effects are that the researchers referred to? Like any medication, amitriptyline does have some side effects.
Some of the more common adverse effects associated with amitriptyline include:
Sedative effects (like drowsiness)
Tricyclic antidepressants have also been connected to the adverse effect of urinary retention (meaning, difficulty peeing).
There are also some more serious adverse effects of amitriptyline. If you experience any of the below adverse reactions, call a healthcare professional immediately:
Severe skin rash
Facial or tongue swelling
It’s also possible to suffer from an allergic reaction when taking amitriptyline (as it is, the first time you take any medication). So, if you feel anything like respiratory depression, hives or other allergic reaction signals, call a medical professional immediately.
A healthcare professional is the best resource for determining the right way to treat your depression. You can absolutely ask them if amitriptyline is a good option for you.
Other options that may be suggested include talking to someone about your feelings or other medications — or both. Learn more about both below.
There are many different types of therapy available, but there’s one you should pay close attention to — cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Research shows that CBT is a viable way to treat people grappling with depression.
When you engage with a therapy professional trained in CBT, you work with them to identify patterns and behaviors that may be contributing to — or exacerbating — your depression. From there, they’ll guide you in determining ways to break those cycles. Our guide to the benefits of therapy will explain more in detail.
In addition to amitriptyline, there are other antidepressants that can help. Options include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and other tricyclic antidepressants.
Another option: Bupropion. This is an atypical antidepressant, which just means that it doesn’t fall into one of the other categories. In addition to depression, it can be used to treat seasonal affective disorder.
These medications all come with their own set of adverse effects so, you should make sure you understand those before you start taking them. Though they’re usually not serious, it’s still good to get medical advice to understand the potential risks.
Either way, your mental healthcare provider will have the information you need to select the right treatment option for you.
If you’re depressed, you aren’t alone. Depression in adults is quite common. That said, you don’t have to stay depressed.
There are a number of treatment options that can help relieve your depression.
One is amitriptyline, which is a tricyclic antidepressant. There is some research that suggests that this type of medication may have a slight edge when it comes to treating depression over other antidepressants.
However, adverse effects may be a bit more prominent. Common side effects include vomiting, urinary retention and dizziness.
If you do decide to try this medication, health care providers tend to start with a 25mg dose of amitriptyline. From there, they may adjust your dosage of amitriptyline based on whether or not you experience common side effects or how you react to it. If you notice any adverse reactions to amitriptyline, you should reach out to your healthcare provider immediately.
In addition to this type of depression medication, therapy and other medications (like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) may help.
To determine the right course of treatment for your depression, it’s best to schedule a consultation with a mental health professional. They will be able to assess your depression and discuss any current health topics that are concerning you and give you medical advice that may help.