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Is Amitriptyline Addictive?

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 8/3/2022

In the last couple of decades, prescription medication addiction has been a big story. Addictive medications ruin families. They destroy lives. They cause damage well beyond the benefits they deliver in many cases. And if you’ve seen those news stories, it’s fair to look ask, “Is amitriptyline addictive?” before you start taking it. 

The good news is that amitriptyline isn’t addictive. But the bad news is that if you do decide to stop taking it, you may experience some negative effects. While it’s not the result of addiction, it nevertheless poses some health risks. 

To understand why this happens, we need to cover some basics about amitriptyline and its class of antidepressants.

How Amitriptyline Changes Your Brain Chemistry

Amitriptyline is a tricyclic antidepressant medication — one of the earliest antidepressant therapies released all the way back in the 1950s, respectively. 

This prescription antidepressant affects the serotonin levels in your brain like the way selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) do, but it also affects your norepinephrine levels. Technically, it’s a member of the tricyclic antidepressants family of medications.

Amitriptyline is used in the treatment of depression and chronic pain and neuropathic pain treatment and is often a choice for depression that hasn’t responded to other treatment options. 

It’s not a first-line medication in part because of the side effects it can cause, including adverse effects like increased blood pressure, body aches, rapid heartbeat, nausea, headaches, urinary retention and more.

When you hear about pain relief with amitriptyline, it’s fair to wonder if this medication can cause addiction over time. Luckily, treating nerve pain and other medical conditions doesn’t mean that the effects of amitriptyline come with dependency. 

That doesn’t mean you won’t possibly experience issues when using amitriptyline, though.

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Is Amitriptyline Addictive?

When you stop taking a maximum dose of amitriptyline, your body doesn’t crave it the way you crave food when you’re hungry, water when you’re thirsty or chemically addictive drugs like opioids after getting clean. 

Instead, you experience withdrawal — a condition often used interchangeably with addiction, but technically not related.

About 20 percent of antidepressant users experience withdrawal from antidepressants or antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. The common side effects will typically begin appearing between two and four days from the day you last take this antidepressant medication — if they present at all.

Usually, one to two weeks of symptoms is all you can expect, but in some cases, they can stick around for a year or more. 

Discontinuation symptoms — the physical symptoms and psychological symptoms of this medication leaving your system — aren’t the same for everyone, and your experience might be more or less severe based on the size of your dose.

You might encounter withdrawal effects sometimes characterized as flu-like symptoms, as well as increased symptoms of depression. 

But amitriptyline withdrawal symptoms might also include:

  • Gastrointestinal issues 

  • Restlessness

  • Dizziness

  • Vomiting

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

These may end up being both mild and severe symptoms, which is why it’s crucial only to go off this medication under the supervision of your healthcare provider.

Should I Stop Taking Amitriptyline?

Here’s the easiest question we’ll answer here today: should you stop taking amitriptyline?

No. No you shouldn’t — not without talking to a healthcare professional first.

Your dose of amitriptyline is only part of what comes with taking a complicated prescription drug, and the reality is that your reaction to amitriptyline discontinuation could be pretty severe if you’re on a large dose or sensitive to the change.

In most cases, people start amitriptyline on a low dose and a healthcare provider increases that dose over time. The same concept is applied when discontinuing it — your healthcare provider will slowly taper your dosage over time to minimize your odds of experiencing withdrawal symptoms. 

Progressing to smaller doses of amitriptyline will result in smaller drops in your levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. That, in turn, will lessen your potential risk of severe side effects.

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Amitriptyline Addiction: The Final Word

Psychiatric conditions, drug interactions and risk of overdose are all understandable concerns when taking a new medication. It’s important to understand this stuff, too. But without proper guidance from a healthcare provider, answers to questions like these aren’t all that useful. It takes an expert to explain and treat withdrawal safely — and to recognize the difference between withdrawal and addiction. 

If you’re concerned about an upcoming change in the dosage to your medication, talk to your healthcare provider. If you’re nervous to go on this medication, bring those concerns to a healthcare professional. 

Mental health isn’t something you can treat, fix or fight without help. Whether that’s a mental health professional or other expert, you’re going to need someone in your corner while you tackle mood disorders. 

Our mental health resources are just a click away.

2 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Amitriptyline: Medlineplus drug information. MedlinePlus. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682388.html.
  2. Gabriel, M., & Sharma, V. (2017). Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne, 189(21), E747. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449237/.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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