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Is Amitriptyline Addictive? Signs, Side Effects, & Treatment

Is Amitriptyline Addictive? Signs, Side Effects, & Treatment

Elavil (amitriptyline) is a prescription antidepressant medication that belongs to a class of drugs called tricyclic antidepressants. Elavil is also sometimes used to treat pain caused by arthritis, fibromyalgia, damaged nerve endings, and sometimes unexplained chronic neck and back pain. Amitriptyline works by affecting the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, like serotonin and norepinephrine, to improve mood and alleviate symptoms. However, tricyclic antidepressants like Elavil have been phased out for other types of neurotransmitters because they produce more side effects, including addiction. But is amitriptyline addictive?

Can I Get High on Amitriptyline?

Amitriptyline specifically works by blocking the reuptake or reabsorption of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine, all of which play roles in improving mood. Other tricyclic antidepressant medications similar to Elavil include desipramine (Norpramin), nortriptyline (Pamelor), and imipramine (Tofranil). However, as effective as this medication is, Elavil and other tricyclic antidepressant drugs are slowly being replaced by other antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) because of the former’s adverse side effects.

In addition to possible adverse side effects, another major concern of amitriptyline use is the potential for addiction. To be clear, you cannot get high off amitriptyline. Although the drug allows chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine to collect between nerve cells, it does not produce a high as cocaine or methamphetamine would. Instead, Elavil works sufficiently enough to improve the individual’s mood by creating a chemical balance.

People with depression tend to show low serotonin levels, which is why most if not all antidepressants elevate this chemical or block its reuptake in some way. Amitriptyline is currently only available in generic forms in the United States, although it was once marketed under the brand name Elavil. Additionally, while it’s not a controlled substance, a prescription for amitriptyline is required from a physician.

Is Amitriptyline Addictive?

People looking to experience intense sedation may engage in amitriptyline misuse. Due to a misunderstanding of how these drugs work, many people believe that antidepressants produce euphoria, but this isn’t necessarily true. In reality, taking high doses of antidepressants like Elavil may only produce extreme sedation as it creates a further imbalance among chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine.

With that said, amitriptyline is not addictive, but it can lead to physical dependence. As with other medications, even people who take amitriptyline for long periods as directed by their doctor may eventually become physically dependent on the drug. This means that when they suddenly stop taking the medication or miss a dose or two, they might begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms indicate that the body and brain are attempting to adjust to a sudden lack of a drug that they’ve become accustomed to regularly having. Antidepressant withdrawal can be challenging to manage without help, which is why it’s recommended that people who want to quit any medications undergo prescription drug detox.

Although amitriptyline addiction is not possible, the misuse of this drug may encourage the individual to experiment with alcohol abuse and possibly the abuse of other substances. Many people who abuse antidepressants do so with alcohol, which is addictive. So while addiction from this antidepressant alone isn't possible, any form of drug-taking behavior or drug abuse can snowball into a more severe problem.

Signs of Amitriptyline Abuse

Many people who start off abusing one drug tend to be more open to misusing others to experience a greater high. Especially if the person engages in polysubstance abuse (the misuse of multiple drugs), their risk of addiction is greater. With this in mind, while Elavil may not be addictive, the abuse of the medication can lead to adverse side effects and even overdose, so it’s important to look out for the signs of abuse.

Common signs of amitriptyline misuse include:

Behavioral signs:

  • Taking amitriptyline after it’s no longer needed or for longer than prescribed
  • Losing interest in activities previously engaged or interested in
  • Needing more Elavil to experience the same effects
  • Spending the majority of the day thinking about Elavil (how to get more, when they’re going to use it again, its side effects)
  • Doctor shopping (going from one doctor to another for more prescriptions)
  • Being unable to stop using the medication
  • Faking symptoms to get Elavil prescriptions
  • Sudden changes in physical appearance, hygiene, and behavior
  • Taking larger and more frequent doses than prescribed
  • Take someone else’s amitriptyline prescription

Physical signs:

  • Sedation
  • Lethargy/weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Stomach pain and discomfort
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Blurry vision
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Rash or itching
  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Unusual taste in the mouth
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

When taken in high doses or even in ways that it's not designed to be administered (such as crushing Elavil pills and snorting them), overdose is a major risk. A concern of amitriptyline abuse is the potential risk of overdose, which is marked by symptoms like vomiting, chest pain, slurred speech, cardiac arrest, unconsciousness, and more. If you recognize any signs of Elavil abuse or overdose, don’t wait to reach out for help.

Treatment for Amitriptyline Dependency

Although Elavil is not addictive, taking it in higher doses than prescribed, more frequently, or in combination with other drugs to experience a high is not safe. Like other medications, antidepressants are prescribed according to certain parameters, and abusing them in any way can lead to dangerous side effects.

If you or a loved one has developed an addiction to any prescription drugs, our Heartland drug rehab is here to help. Our facility offers prescription drug addiction treatment for all kinds of drug use disorders that incorporate modalities that address both physical and mental aspects of recovery.

Starting with medical detox, our specialists work with our patients to safely get them through withdrawals to then place them in addiction care plans that suit their needs. With the use of individual and group therapy, our team can help clients understand the source of their disorders and how to remain sober after rehab.

For more information about our inpatient substance abuse treatment in Illinois, call Banyan Treatment Center Heartland today at 888-280-4763.

Related Reading:
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Mixing Amitriptyline and Alcohol: Side Effects, Interactions, & Blackouts
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.