By Edmund Murphy

Last updated: 19 March 2024 & medically reviewed by Dr. Celeste Small

Zoloft is one of the most popular antidepressants in the United States. It is the brand name for sertraline, a drug that alleviates the symptoms of various mental health disorders.

Key takeaways:

  • Ceasing Zoloft use abruptly can cause SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome, leading to rebound anxiety and depression
  • SSRI antidepressants like Zoloft help those who produce lower than normal levels of serotonin, which can lead to conditions such as major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Most doctors will advise patients using drugs such as Zoloft to taper off of the substance by reducing the dosage or switching to less potent SSRIs

Understanding Zoloft

Zoloft falls under the group of antidepressants classed as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor(s) (SSRIs) which are used to treat multiple mental health disorders by rebalancing the levels of serotonin in the brain. People with low levels of serotonin often suffer from mental disorders as it is the neurotransmitter that regulates emotion. Some common disorders treated by Zoloft include:

It is also sometimes used as a treatment for eating disorders such as food addiction and for those suffering from insomnia. SSRIs like Zoloft work by blocking neurons and preventing them from absorbing serotonin. With more serotonin available in the brain to aid in connecting neurons, people who suffer from mental disorders will often find they have a more balanced mood, more positive emotions, increased energy, and better sleep patterns.  

Zoloft is often prescribed as a pill or tablet but can also be found in liquid form, and is often prescribed for use once per day. While Zoloft has a proven record of treating mental health and other disorders, it also holds the potential for abuse. 

Side effects sertraline

Zoloft may cause side effects that can be uncomfortable or hazardous to health, though they are not long-term or life-threatening. In rare cases, Zoloft side effects can cause more severe problems, especially in children and young adults. Following reports of suicidal ideation in children taking Zoloft, the FDA has issued a black box warning that states patients should be monitored for worsening or the emergence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, especially within the first few months of starting medication. 

Common side effects from Zoloft include:

  • Headache/Dizziness

  • Fatigue

  • Indigestion/Loss of appetite

  • Loss of appetite and libido

  • Nausea/vomiting

  • Anxiety

  • Stomach pain

  • Sweating

  • Tremors

these side effects may also be indicators of antidepressant abuse or dependence.

Can you overdose on Zoloft?

A Zoloft overdose can occur when too much of the medication is taken in one go, especially when consumed with alcohol or other drugs. Though a Zoloft overdose is rarely fatal if taken on its own, the side effects can be extremely uncomfortable and occasionally can cause more severe damage to the internal organs.

Signs of Zoloft overdose: 

  • Agitation

  • Dizziness

  • Fever

  • Increased heart rate

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Shaking and tremors

  • Tiredness

  • Delirium

  • Hallucinations

  • Serotonin syndrome

Serotonin syndrome is a rare condition that can occur when someone abuses SSRIs. The syndrome causes excesses of serotonin to build in the brain which may lead to flu-like symptoms (high body temperature, shivering, fever, muscle tightness), confusion, and life-threatening seizures.

Zoloft addiction

Like all forms of medication and other drugs that affect chemical levels in the brain, abusing Zoloft can lead to a dependence on the drug forming. When substances are abused, the brain builds a tolerance to chemicals produced by taking the drug, in this case, serotonin. This tolerance usually builds from taking too high a dose over a long period of time. The person abusing the substance may not feel normal without taking it and will therefore have a physical dependence on it.  

The negative consequences that occur from physical dependence on substances are how medical experts determine if someone has an addiction. There are typically 11 criteria used to measure addiction as outlined in the DSM-5. [1] One of these criteria is feeling cravings for the substance, which doesn’t occur with people who abuse Zoloft. This has caused some in the medical community to suggest that Zoloft isn’t an addictive substance. The drug does however have severe withdrawal symptoms, another indicator of addiction.

Zoloft withdrawal: SSRI discontinuation syndrome

Like other forms of SSRI medication, Zoloft has the potential to induce withdrawal symptoms and SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome in those who stop taking it. When someone stops taking SSRI medications after a period of use, the serotonin levels in the brain can decline rapidly. Zoloft has a half-life of around 26 hours, meaning serotonin levels in the brain can decrease within 48 hours. [2] SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome can last between one and two weeks and usually causes rebound symptoms such as depression and anxiety. The severity of withdrawal symptoms will depend on the length of time someone has been taking Zoloft. Other SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome symptoms include:

  • Irritability

  • Insomnia/Fatigue

  • Being distracted

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea/vomiting

  • Nightmares

  • Suicidal Ideation

  • Tingling sensations in the skin

  • Vertigo/Headaches

Most doctors will advise patients using drugs such as Zoloft to taper off of the substance by reducing the dosage or switching to less potent SSRIs.

Related: Lexapro vs Zoloft

Treatment for Zoloft abuse

For the best chances for successful sobriety, those addicted to antidepressants like Zoloft should attend an inpatient or outpatient rehab facility. These treatment centers will offer a detox program followed by a full course of rehabilitation practices including therapy and medical treatment to manage cravings and withdrawal.

If you or someone you know is suffering from Zoloft addiction, contact a treatment center today to see what help is available.