Last updated: 29 October 2023 & medically reviewed by Dr. Jenni Jacobsen
Lexapro is a brand-name version of the SSRI antidepressant escitalopram which is prescribed for the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders. Here we look at Lexapro’s uses, effects, abuse and addiction potential, and known risks.
SSRIs like Lexapro and Zoloft are more commonly used than other antidepressants such as MAOIs as they have a higher success rate in the treatment of depression and other conditions and have fewer severe side effects.
While Lexapro increases the brain's serotonin levels it does not affect the processes that lead to dependence and addiction.
A potentially severe condition that can arise from Lexapro abuse is serotonin syndrome, which often occurs when someone takes two or more substances that increase serotonin levels, leading to a harmful amount of serotonin in the body.
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What is Lexapro?
Lexapro, the brand name for escitalopram, is a common form of antidepressant that falls into the class known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are one of the most widely prescribed antidepressants alongside tricyclic antidepressants and are used to treat a wide variety of mental health conditions as well as those recovering from substance use disorders such as alcoholism.
SSRIs like Lexapro and Zoloft are more commonly used than other antidepressants such as MAOIs as they have a higher success rate in the treatment of depression and other conditions and have fewer severe side effects. Read here for more information on Lexapro vs Zoloft.
Other brand names for escitalopram
Cipralex, Lexam, Mozarin, Aciprex, Depralin, Ecytara, Elicea, Nexpram, Nexito, and Nescital.
What is Lexapro used for?
Lexapro is used to treat a wide variety of mental health issues, most notably mood disorders. As with other SSRIs, Lexapro helps treat mood disorders by rebalancing the brain's level of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasurable feelings, which is often lower than average in those with mood disorders. Common mood disorders treated by Lexapro include:
it is also occasionally used off-label to treat:
Eating disorders such as binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa
Panic disorder (panic attacks)
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
Side effects of Lexapro
While SSRIs like escitalopram are considered to be safer than other antidepressants as they have fewer negative side effects, there are still some conditions that may arise that may be troubling.
Common side effects of Lexapro include:
Soreness in the eyes
Bowl issues (diarrhea or constipation)
Low sex drive
It is important to consult with a doctor if any of these issues present themselves. Do not cease taking the medication without your doctors say so.
Is Lexapro addictive?
Like all forms of SSRI, Lexapro, Cipralex, and other brands of escitalopram are not considered to be addiction-forming and hold a low potential for abuse. While Lexapro increases the brain's serotonin levels it does not affect the processes that lead to dependence and addiction.
This is why Lexapro is often prescribed to people recovering from substance use disorders such as alcohol. It is effective in reducing alcohol cravings, a primary treatment for depression that may occur during recovery, and as an adjunct treatment for addiction. As the drug holds a low potential for addiction and abuse, it is considered a safe form of alcohol addiction treatment.
While Lexapro may not lead to psychological addiction, abusing it can lead to complications. Taking more than the recommended dose of SSRIs can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when use stops or is reduced and can lead to dangerous conditions like serotonin syndrome.
Can you overdose on Lexapro?
While Lexapro does not have a significant risk of addiction and or dependence, abusing it can be harmful and may lead to SSRI overdose. Lexapro overdose occurs when too much of the prescription medication is taken at once or is taken alongside other SSRIs.
Symptoms of Lexapro overdose include:
Loss of coordination
If you start to experience any of these symptoms it is vital that you contact medical assistance immediately.
Lexapro withdrawal symptoms and serotonin syndrome
Lexapro and other antidepressant medications don't have withdrawal symptoms like other substances such as opioids or stimulants. However, cessation of Lexapro can result in a form of withdrawal known as discontinuation syndrome, a condition that causes the symptoms being treated by SSRIs (namely depression symptoms) to reemerge with greater impact. This is why it is important to have a discontinuation plan in place to gradually reduce the dose of Lexapro before stopping. Speak to your doctor for information about the best way to reduce your SSRI dose.
Another potentially severe condition that can arise from Lexapro abuse is serotonin syndrome, which often occurs when someone takes two or more substances that increase serotonin levels, leading to a harmful amount of serotonin in the body.
Signs and symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:
Rapid heart rate
Changes in blood pressure
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about Lexapro.
Does Lexapro cause weight gain?
Yes, as with most forms of antidepressants Lexapro has been linked to both weight gain and loss. A 2018 study compared weight changes in patients on various antidepressants and found the average weight gain with Lexapro occurred in 3.7%. Other antidepressants had lower averages of 1.1% while amitriptyline had an average weight gain of 25.9%.
Another study from 2017 found that certain risk factors increase the likelihood of gaining weight while on SSRIs. These factors include:
Eating a diet high in processed meat, refined carbs, and dairy
Low mobility lifestyle
While SSRIs like Lexapro can cause weight to fluctuate, monoamine oxidase inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants are more likely to cause weight gain.
How much does Lexapro cost?
As with most popular antidepressants, there are several factors that affect the cost of Lexapro. These include:
The price at your local pharmacy
Whether you use Lexapro or another brand name or the generic
If you have insurance
the average cost of Lexapro 20 mg oral tablets is around $105 for 30 tablets. This price is calculated for cash-paying customers and does not include insurance.
Is Lexapro safe to use with alcohol?
Drinking alcohol while taking a course of Lexapro can prevent the effectiveness of the drug at treating the symptoms of major depression and other conditions. It can also exacerbate the side effects such as increased drowsiness, dizziness, and dry mouth.
It can also increase the risk of overdose and serotonin syndrome. It is possible to drink alcohol responsibly while taking Lexapro, however, the FDA does not advise it.
What is a safe dose of Lexapro?
The recommended and most commonly prescribed dose of Lexapro for adults and children over 12 suffering from depressive or anxiety disorders is 10 mg. This may be increased to 20 mg in some cases but will not exceed it.