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Why Antidepressants Take So Long To Work or “Kick In”

Antidepressants do not work immediately for many individuals hoping to get relief from their depression symptoms. In fact, the general consensus is that they take 4 to 6 weeks to kick in and for the antidepressant effect to take place. This basically means that most people should not get any relief from their depression until about a month into treatment. However, I mentioned in another article “Do Antidepressants Work Immediately” that they can impact certain people within the first few days of treatment. I discussed the fact that they worked for me within 48 hours of treatment when I started taking Paxil.

Why Antidepressants Take So Long To Work

Although there is no factual evidence as to why antidepressants take longer for certain people to work, there are some hypotheses that I have based on individuals that I’ve talked to and what I’ve seen. Most of the time, factors such as: the antidepressants’ half life, overall potency, and strength of dosage can influence how fast they will work for you. Below are some factors that may influence the ability of an antidepressant to work immediately.

Reasons why antidepressants take so long to start working / kicking in

1. Low dose – Taking a low dose of an antidepressant may be part of the reason that it hasn’t kicked in yet. Many times it is actually a good idea to start low and work your way up via a process called titrating. So if you are in the early stages of titrating your medication upwards, the reason that it’s taking longer for you to feel the effects is due to the strength (usually in milligrams) of the dosage that you are taking.

2. Out of shape – If you are a bigger individual, out of shape, or bigger, any drug is usually going to take longer to kick in. This is simply because you have more mass and more overall body for the drug to be distributed. Additionally, the fact that you are out of shape may result in you having a slower baseline metabolism in comparison to someone who is in good shape and works out. Therefore the drug may not be cycling through your body at as quick of a rate for you to feel the effects.

3. Other drugs – If you do other drugs, you may not be able to feel the effects of the antidepressant medication compared to people that are pure (i.e. not doing anything else). Other drugs can affect brain chemistry as well as other bodily functions and change your natural homeostatic state of functioning. If you don’t do other drugs, the likelihood is greater that you will feel an antidepressant sooner than someone who gets a buzz from other substances.

4. Caffeine – Caffeine is a natural stimulant and many people drink it to get themselves going in the morning. However, the fact that it is such a powerful, potent stimulant means that it can increase anxiety, heart rate, and may have a subtle interaction with your medication. Since you are already feeling the effects of the caffeine, you may not notice the medications impact nearly as much as you would by being caffeine free.

5. Alcohol – Drinking alcohol is a personal preference and many people do it to socialize. At the same time, many individuals don’t realize that it does affect mental performance and cognition. It can increase irritability and slow mental performance in certain situations even far after the alcohol has been consumed.

6. Eating unhealthy – There are many preservatives and other substances in foods that affect the way your body and mind function. A little junk food now and then isn’t going to harm anyone, but if you are consistently eating unhealthy foods, your body may be full of so many preservatives that your brain functions differently. Additionally, these may factor into how quickly the antidepressants work. Healthy organic foods tend to be best for helping keep your body clear of contaminants.

7. Smoking cigarettes – Another source of buzz people get is from caffeine via cigarettes. This acts as somewhat of a stimulant and can improve mood slightly. Once again this is another contaminant that may cloud your ability to notice the antidepressant working – literally and figuratively.

8. Slow metabolism – If you have a slower metabolism, it may take longer for the drug to digest and get through your system. Ironically enough some medications can actually slow your metabolism.

9. The medication – Many times how quickly the drug works has to do with what drug it is. Certain drugs may work within the first few days while others you may not notice until week three. There are certain antidepressants like Paxil and Effexor with short half lives that people notice working almost immediately. However, there are other drugs that take longer to reach their full antidepressant potential.

10. Chemistry – How your body reacts to the drug has a lot to do with your chemistry. One antidepressant may work well for your friend, but not for you. Additionally, something that works within the first week for one person may take another 3 weeks. A lot of this has to do with how your body responds to the medication.

Below are some points that I’d like you to keep in mind.  Some people have experienced that antidepressants work immediately.  In other cases, it has taken weeks or over a month for individuals to feel the effects of the particular drug that they’ve been prescribed.  Keep these points in mind as reference if you are trying an antidepressant or mood medication.

Point #1: Antidepressants “working” may not make you super happy

The bottom line is that most antidepressants work fairly quickly if you are on the proper dosage. If by “work” you were thinking instant happiness, then you are sadly mistaken. However, what these can do for you is help improve your mood slightly. Some people notice that they just numb their emotions and for others these drugs can make things worse. I would say that as soon as you start noticing strong mental changes, the antidepressant is “working.” However it may not be positive – you may actually feel more depressed.

Point #2: Most people lack awareness of antidepressants working due to stimulation from other toxins

Most people just lack the awareness of them working because they are so contaminated with other substances. Many individuals are literally walking toxins – getting toxins from things like alcohol, cigarettes, and their morning boost from energy drinks and caffeine pills. Combine that with no exercise, sitting around all day, not setting goals, and people don’t realize that all the toxins were the root cause of their depression in the first place; that’s the sad reality these days.

Point #3: Antidepressants work faster if you have a pure body

If you are a person that is working out, doesn’t use other substances like cigarettes, caffeine, alcohol, or other drugs regularly and eats healthy – then you are in the minority. Most people are contaminating their bodies with other things and it clouds their ability to feel the effects of the antidepressant.

Point #4: The medication and dose plays a major role

Most of the time the drug that you take and the dose play the most important role in determining how quickly something will work. However, if you notice that with everything it takes forever to work or feel an effect; it’s likely due to one of the 10 reasons listed above. Feel free to review and analyze the list and see what you think may be causing your antidepressant to take weeks to work.

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Tom November 8, 2014, 12:47 pm

    First of all congratulations for a well-thought through article with many possible intervening variables that dampen anti-depressant effect or cause one to notice it less. Expectations may have a significant effect. Recent research shows brain changes within 3 hours of a dose of Lexapro. This fits your contention that effect may be more rapid that the “1 week to a month” talk given to many. How responsible is depressive thinking for not noticing the changes? Depressive thinking strongly tends to miss positive signs, which are also more subtle at first.

  • Glenn December 3, 2015, 1:31 pm

    The reason antidepressants take weeks to work is due to receptors having to be made firstly in the brain so that serotonin can pass to it. This takes time – hence the delay. You can’t climb stairs without any steps.

  • Duane January 9, 2016, 4:47 pm

    It took an agonizing 16 weeks… for Celexa (citalopram) to work. Paxil worked within days. Going back to Paxil! If I live to get there. LOL!!

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