Elavil (Amitriptyline)

Elavil is the brand name for amitriptyline, a form of tricyclic antidepressant. The drug is used to treat mental health conditions such as acute anxiety disorder and severe depression. Though not widely available today, with SSRIs the preferred form of antidepressant prescription, it can still be found and prescribed in certain locations.

What is Elavil (Amitriptyline)?

Amitriptyline, more commonly known by the brand name Elavil, is a prescription antidepressant medication. Elavil belongs to the group of tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and as such is sometimes used to treat chronic pain conditions including nerve damage, back pain, fibromyalgia, and arthritis. 

Elavil works by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain that control the release of serotonin and norepinephrine, improving mood and reducing pain. In recent years, TCAs like Elavil have been phased out in favor of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

In 2000, Elavil was discontinued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to the severe side effects people experienced while using the medication, though this reason was retracted in 2017.[1] Although the brand has been discontinued, the generics are still available and prescribed today.

Elavil dosage

Elavil comes in several dosages: 10 mg, 25 mg, 50 mg, 75 mg, 100 mg and 150 mg. The medication is taken orally, either with several smaller doses throughout the day or one larger dose. If it is only to be taken once a day, it is preferable to take Elavil at nighttime because it tends to make people feel drowsy.[2]

Side effects of Elavil

As with most forms of prescription medication, Elavil has side effects that can affect people differently. Some of these side effects are mild in nature and may disappear over time. Others can be more severe and may require medical attention.

Common side effects of Elavil

  • Drowsiness 
  • Weight gain 

  • Dizziness 

  • Weight fluctuation 

  • Blurred vision 

  • Constipation 

  • Headaches

  • Dry mouth 

  • Lightheadedness 

  • Difficulty urinating

While these side effects may be a mild inconvenience to most, it is important to notify your doctor if they persist or worsen.[3]

Severe Elavil side effects

It is uncommon to experience severe side effects when taking Elavil. However, if you experience any of the below symptoms it is important to contact your doctor immediately.[4]

  • Changes in your vision 

  • Seizures 

  • Being unable to urinate 

  • Bruising or bleeding 

  • Severe stomach pain

  • Muscle spasms 

  • Difficulty having sex 

  • Developing a mask-like face 

  • Hallucinations 

  • Tremors 

  • Fainting

  • Difficulty speaking 

  • Numbness in the arms or legs

It is important to not stop taking Elavil without the consent of your doctor, even if you have one or more of the above symptoms. Suddenly stopping antidepressant treatment can lead to withdrawal symptoms that are often exacerbated symptoms that were initially being treated such as depression, anxiety, nausea, and muscle pain.[4] 

Elavil and neuroleptic malignant syndrome

In rare cases, Elavil has been known to cause a condition called neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), a condition that causes muscle stiffness, altered mental state, and fever. Other symptoms of NMS include:

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Muscle stiffness

  • Excessive sweating

  • Severe confusion

Elavil overdose

When Elavil is abused in high doses or alongside other substances such as opioid painkillers it greatly increases the chances of overdose. An overdose of amitriptyline can be fatal.

Overdose symptoms may include irregular heart rhythm, feeling like you might pass out, seizures, or coma. If you have taken an amitriptyline overdose then seek medical attention immediately.

Elavil withdrawal

When someone has taken Elavil in high doses or for a long period of time, then there is a high likelihood that they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking the drug. 

Common withdrawal symptoms from Elavil include:

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Body, joint and muscle pains

  • Crying

  • Nausea

  • Anxiety and panic attacks

  • Depression

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Sweating

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Anger

  • Hypersensitivity to light and/or sound

  • Insomnia

  • Memory problems

  • Depersonalization

Having withdrawal symptoms when ceasing Elavil use may be an indication of dependence and addiction to the substance. 

Elavil interactions with other substances

Some substances have negative side effects when taken alongside Elavil. These substances often exacerbate the original symptoms being treated by Elavil, namely anxiety and depression. 

  • Alcohol and Elavil: Alcohol heightens the sedative effects of Elavil and can cause the drug to be ineffective.

  • MAOIs and Elavil: People should not be prescribed or use Elavil if they have been taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). MAOIs and Elival consumed together can cause convulsions, fever, and in extreme cases death.[5]

Elavil addiction

Antidepressants like Elavil are generally considered by most medical experts to be non-addictive. Despite this, there is strong evidence to suggest that Elavil can be dependence and addiction-forming

Elavil affects the brain's production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that causes feelings of happiness and euphoria. People may abuse Elavil in high doses to feel relaxed or sedated as well as feeling euphoric. Over time, the brain develops a tolerance to the effects of Elavil meaning more is required to feel its effects. This can lead to people developing a physical dependence on the drug, which can lead to addiction. 

Elavil addiction is rare but can still be devastating. If you or someone you know has an Elavil use disorder, then you seek treatment immediately.

Elavil FAQs

These are the questions we get asked most regarding Elavil and amitriptyline:

Is Elavil used to treat other conditions?

While Elavil is predominantly used as an antidepressant medication, studies have proven that the drug also has other applications, most notably in the preventative treatment of migraines. Read here to learn more about Elavil as a migraine treatment.