People who have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or clinical depression may be prescribed escitalopram, the generic version of Lexapro. Escitalopram is in the category of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs for short.
SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants on the market, according to the Mayo Clinic. The medications are taken to help improve mood and aid in overcoming depression. The Mayo Clinic explains that SSRIs facilitate the management of depression by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical messenger in the brain that carries signals between the organ’s nerve cells, which are called neurons.
The Mayo Clinic explains how the medication works, writing, “SSRIs block the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin into neurons. This makes more serotonin available to improve transmission of messages between neurons. SSRIs are called selective because they mainly affect serotonin, not other neurotransmitters,”
In addition to GAD and clinical depression, escitalopram can be prescribed off-label to treat other conditions such as:
- Panic disorder with or without agoraphobia (the fear of entering open or crowded places)
- Social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
The medication can be taken by mouth either as a pill or in liquid form. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved escitalopram in two dosages: 10 milligrams (mg) and 20 mg.
Medical News Today writes that researchers deem the medication safe and effective for treating depression in children who are between ages 2–17; they do not recommend giving the drug to children who are younger than age 12. The health site also reports that physicians do not use escitalopram to treat GAD in people under age 18.
Is Escitalopram Addictive?
Medical News Today advises that escitalopram be taken as directed without missing or changing any doses. Antidepressants are generally considered safe to use because they slowly work over time and are not habit-forming or addictive. This still does not mean people won’t attempt to misuse or abuse them.
Doubling up on doses is not recommended, and taking the medication with other medicines is not advised. If you are being considered for an escitalopram prescription, you should tell your doctor if you are taking other medications, including any that are sold over the counter, as well as any supplements or herbs that you may be using.
While long-term use of escitalopram is not likely to lead to addiction, people who have a history of substance use disorder (SUD) might be more susceptible to abusing the drug. As with other drugs, escitalopram can interact adversely with other substances.
Some people mix alcohol with antidepressant medication, which is highly dangerous. Combining the two substances can also happen inadvertently, as some people might drink alcohol while taking an antidepressant medication. Mixing the two can, however, happen on purpose, as some people abuse alcohol and prescription medication to boost the high they achieve. Either way, mixing the two is strongly discouraged, as it can lead to medical complications and overdose.
Healthline reports that while more research is needed on how alcohol influences the effects of escitalopram, it is clear that there is some risk to using both together at the same time.
Side effects from drinking alcohol with taking escitalopram include:
- Drowsiness, sleepiness
- Dry mouth
Escitalopram abuse can also occur when a person takes too much of the drug. This action can lead to too much serotonin flooding the brain and building up in the body. This buildup is known as serotonin syndrome, and this condition is a form of overdose.
Signs of serotonin syndrome include:
- Agitation, restlessness
- Rapid heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- Dilated pupils
- Heavy sweating
- Twitching muscles, loss of coordination in muscles
- Rigid muscles
The Mayo Clinic advises that serotonin syndrome is severe when the following signs are present:
- Irregular heartbeat
- High fever
- Loss of consciousness
If serotonin syndrome is suspected, visit a doctor, or seek medical care immediately. This condition can lead to a loss of consciousness and death if left untreated.