Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Sertraline Bad For You?

Also Known As: Zoloft



Short answer

Sertraline, or Zoloft, is a widely used SSRI for treating depression and anxiety disorders. While effective for many and backed by extensive research, it can cause side effects such as nausea, insomnia, or dizziness. Long-term use requires monitoring for withdrawal symptoms or increased side effects. Drug interactions also need consideration. Balancing benefits against risks is key, ensuring careful management under a healthcare provider's guidance.



Long answer

Sertraline Overview: Usage and Mechanism of Action

Sertraline, commonly known by the brand name Zoloft, is a prescription medication that falls into the category of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). It is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and prescribed to treat a range of psychological conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The primary usage of sertraline is to manage the symptoms associated with the aforementioned conditions. It works to correct chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain that researchers believe are integral in contributing to mood and behavior problems. Notably, sertraline has been extensively researched and is generally considered an effective first-line treatment for many mental health conditions.

The mechanism of action for sertraline is relatively well-understood. This medication specifically targets the serotonin transporter (SERT). Serotonin, known as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter, plays a crucial role in modulating mood, emotion, sleep, and appetite. By blocking the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin in the brain, sertraline increases the amount of available serotonin, which can help to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

  • Indications: The primary indications for sertraline include major depressive disorder, anxiety spectrum disorders, OCD, PTSD, PMDD, and panic disorder.
  • Dosage: The typical starting dose can range from 25 to 50 mg once daily, depending on the condition treated, and may be adjusted based on patient response and tolerance.
  • Duration of Treatment: Duration can vary, but many patients may need several weeks or even months to notice significant improvement. Long-term use is not uncommon for the management of chronic conditions.

Despite its popularity and widespread usage, sertraline should not be considered a cure; instead, it is used to manage symptoms. The effectiveness of sertraline is often maximized when combined with psychotherapy and other supportive treatments.

Extensive research, including randomized controlled trials, supports the effectiveness of sertraline. For instance, a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that sertraline significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared to a placebo (Kirsch, I., et al., 2008). Meanwhile, research in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry has shown its efficacy in treating panic disorder (Bandelow, B., et al., 2017).

It is important to note that sertraline's exact effect may vary among individuals, and understanding its precise mechanisms continues to be a subject for ongoing research. As with any medication, sertraline should be prescribed and managed by a healthcare professional, tailored to the specific needs and medical history of the individual patient.

Common Side Effects and How to Manage Them

Sertraline, commonly known by its brand name Zoloft, is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) prescribed for depression, anxiety disorders, and some other psychological conditions. As with most medications, sertraline can cause side effects in some individuals. Awareness and proper management of these side effects are crucial for anyone taking the medication.

Gastrointestinal Issues: Nausea, diarrhea, and indigestion are common gastrointestinal side effects associated with sertraline. To manage these symptoms, it is advisable to take sertraline with food. Small, frequent meals and avoiding spicy or high-fat foods may also help alleviate gastrointestinal discomfort.

Central Nervous System Effects: Headache, dizziness, and drowsiness are often reported by patients on sertraline. If drowsiness occurs, consider taking the medication at bedtime to minimize disruption to your daily activities. Headaches may be managed with typical over-the-counter pain relief, though it's essential to consult a healthcare provider before combining medications.

Insomnia: Some individuals may experience insomnia as a side effect. Establishing a regular bedtime routine and avoiding caffeine close to bedtime can help. If insomnia persists, a discussion with your healthcare provider may be warranted to adjust the timing of the dose or explore other solutions.

Sexual Dysfunction: SSRIs, including sertraline, can sometimes lead to sexual side effects such as decreased libido, difficulty achieving orgasm, or erectile dysfunction. Open communication with your partner and a healthcare provider can help find strategies to manage these effects, which can sometimes include dose adjustments or additional medications.

Emotional Blunting: Some patients report feeling emotionally "numb" or less responsive to their surroundings. Counseling or therapy can provide strategies to cope with these feelings, and regular follow-up with a healthcare provider can ensure the appropriate balance between the benefits and side effects of the medication.

Weight Changes: Weight gain is a potential side effect, albeit less common. Maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise regime can help manage any weight changes. Monitoring weight regularly and discussing any significant changes with your healthcare provider is essential.

Dry Mouth: Increased water intake, chewing sugar-free gum, or using saliva substitutes can alleviate dry mouth. It's essential to maintain good oral hygiene, as dry mouth can increase the risk of dental problems.

It's important to note that not all side effects require medical attention. Many will gradually diminish as your body adjusts to the medication. However, any persistent, bothersome, or severe side effects should be discussed with a healthcare provider, who can help determine the best course of action, which may include adjusting the dose or switching to a different therapy. Also, legitimate sources like the Mayo Clinic and The National Library of Medicine provide extensive databases on commonly experienced side effects and management strategies for reference.

Remember, while this list includes several common side effects and corresponding management strategies, it is not exhaustive. Always discuss any concerns or experiences with your healthcare provider. This open channel ensures safety, optimal treatment efficacy, and the proper adjustment of therapy to match individual needs.

Long-Term Implications of Sertraline Use

Sertraline, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), is commonly prescribed for the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental health conditions. When considering the long-term use of sertraline, it is essential to weigh the benefits of sustained symptom management against the potential risks associated with extended drug therapy.

One of the key benefits of prolonged sertraline use is the maintenance of symptom relief for chronic mental health conditions. Research suggests that long-term SSRI therapy can be effective in preventing relapse in conditions such as major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (Kato et al., 2018, American Journal of Psychiatry).

However, extended use of sertraline also comes with certain considerations:

  • Development of Tolerance: Over time, some individuals may experience a diminishing response to sertraline, leading to increased dosage requirements. (Kato et al., 2018).
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Discontinuation syndrome, characterized by symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms, may occur if sertraline is stopped abruptly after long-term use (Fava et al., 2015, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics).
  • Sexual Side Effects: SSRIs, including sertraline, are known to cause sexual dysfunction, which can persist as long as the medication is taken (Serretti & Chiesa, 2009, Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology).
  • Weight Gain: Long-term SSRI use has been associated with weight gain, although the exact incidence and mechanisms are not fully understood (Serretti & Mandelli, 2010, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry).
  • Increased Bleeding Risk: Sertraline can increase the risk of bleeding, especially when combined with other medications that affect coagulation (e.g., NSAIDs, warfarin) (Serebruany et al., 2001, Archives of Internal Medicine).

For individuals considering the long-term use of sertraline, it's critical to have regular check-ins with healthcare providers to monitor for these potential issues. Adjustments to dosage or changes to medication regimens may be necessary for optimal long-term management. It's important to never stop taking sertraline abruptly and to follow a clinician's guidance for tapering down if the decision to discontinue is made.

Studies on the long-term use of sertraline suggest that most patients who tolerate the medication well in the short term continue to tolerate it over an extended period. However, the emergence of side effects or complications should always be reported to a healthcare professional, as ongoing assessment and individualized patient care are crucial in long-term pharmacotherapy (Zajecka et al., 2003, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry).

The continued treatment of the underlying condition versus the risks of long-term pharmacotherapy must always be considered, with both the patient's mental health status and physical health factors taken into account.

Sertraline and Potential for Dependency or Withdrawal

One concern that often accompanies the use of antidepressant medications such as sertraline is whether they have the potential for dependency or cause withdrawal symptoms when stopping them. It's important to distinguish between physical dependence and addiction. Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences, whereas physical dependence refers to the body's adaptation to a drug, leading to withdrawal symptoms when the drug is discontinued.

Dependency Concerns:

  • Sertraline is classified as a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI), and SSRIs are generally considered non-addictive.
  • There is generally no development of tolerance (needing more of the drug to achieve the same effect), which is a typical characteristic of addictive substances.
  • However, physical dependence can develop due to the body's adaptation to the medication's effects on serotonin levels over time.

Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Withdrawal from sertraline, and other SSRIs, is often referred to as "SSRI discontinuation syndrome." It happens in approximately 20% of patients who have taken the medication for six weeks or more and then stop abruptly or taper off too quickly.
  • Symptoms can include dizziness, nausea, fatigue, headache, anxiety, and insomnia.
  • The risk and severity of withdrawal symptoms can depend on several factors, including the duration of treatment, the dosage, and the individual's physiology.

Managing Dependency and Withdrawal:

  • Tapering off the medication slowly under medical supervision is the recommended approach to minimize withdrawal symptoms.
  • The prescribing physician will typically advise on a gradual reduction in dosage, known as a "tapering schedule," to allow the body to adjust.
  • If symptoms of withdrawal occur, they are usually temporary and resolve within a few weeks.
  • Some studies suggest that short-half-life SSRIs, like sertraline, may have a higher incidence of discontinuation syndrome compared to longer-half-life SSRIs.

Expert Opinions:

According to the American Family Physician journal, withdrawal symptoms are usually mild and self-limiting but can be severe in some patients. Experts recommend educating patients about these possible symptoms prior to starting treatment.

Research Data:

A study published in the journal "Psychopharmacology" suggests that although SSRIs like sertraline are not considered addictive, they can cause physiological adaptations leading to discomfort on cessation, which patients often misinterpret as addiction.

Understanding the difference between dependency and addiction, recognizing potential withdrawal symptoms, and following appropriate tapering protocols are crucial steps in managing treatment with sertraline. Whether sertraline is "bad" for an individual depends on the balance of these management strategies against the therapeutic benefits for conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Interaction of Sertraline with Other Medications and Substances

When discussing the safety profile of sertraline, a commonly prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), it is crucial to consider its potential interactions with other medications and substances. Like many other pharmaceuticals, sertraline can react differently when used concomitantly with certain drugs or substances, which can affect its efficacy and safety.

Medications to Avoid with Sertraline:

  • MAO Inhibitors: Concurrent use with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) is contraindicated due to the risk of serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition.
  • Pimozide: Sertraline can increase pimozide levels, leading to cardiac issues like QT prolongation, which can sometimes be fatal.
  • Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet drugs: Sertraline may potentiate the effects of these drugs, increasing the risk of bleeding. This includes medicines like warfarin, aspirin, and clopidogrel.
  • CYP2D6 substrates: As sertraline inhibits CYP2D6, it can increase blood levels of medications metabolized by this enzyme, such as certain antidepressants, antipsychotics, and beta-blockers.

Potential Substance Interactions:

  • Alcohol: Alcohol consumption is not recommended due to increased sedation and impaired cognitive and motor functions that can occur when combined with sertraline.
  • St. John’s Wort: Combining sertraline with this herbal supplement can also increase the risk of serotonin syndrome.
  • NSAIDs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also increase bleeding risks when taken with sertraline.

Dosage Adjustments with Other Drugs:

In certain cases, co-administration of sertraline with other drugs does not necessarily need to be avoided, but dosage adjustments and close monitoring could be necessary. Drugs such as:

  • Cimetidine
  • Diazepam
  • Tolbutamide

may require thorough assessment and dosage tweaking to prevent undesirable interactions.

Pharmacokinetic interactions occur when another substance affects the way sertraline is absorbed, metabolized, or excreted from the body. For example, inducers of the CYP3A4 enzyme can decrease sertraline levels, whereas inhibitors can increase them. It is essential to assess all potential interactions with a healthcare provider before starting sertraline, or when starting any new medication or supplement during sertraline therapy.

To offer a balanced and comprehensive analysis, clinical studies have indicated the varying degrees of interaction risks. For instance, a study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry suggests caution when SSRIs are used in conjunction with antiplatelet agents due to the increased risk of gastrointestinal or intracranial bleeding. Each interaction has its own context and set of variables, making personalized medical advice a necessity.

Ultimately, sertraline's interactions with other medications and substances underscore the importance of transparent communication with healthcare professionals. Proper medication management, including a review of all the substances a patient is taking, can mitigate many of the risks associated with drug interactions.

The Controversy Over Sertraline and Pregnancy/Breastfeeding

One of the significant areas of concern regarding sertraline, a commonly prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), involves its use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This controversy stems from conflicting reports and studies about the potential risks and benefits associated with its use during these critical periods. It is important to disseminate this information thoughtfully, recognizing the nuances and the need for individualized medical advice.

Potential Risks During Pregnancy

Some research suggests that exposure to SSRIs like sertraline during pregnancy may be linked to complications such as:

  • Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN): A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted an association between SSRI use after the 20th week of pregnancy and an increased risk of PPHN in newborns.
  • Birth defects: Evidence regarding birth defects is mixed, with some studies showing a slight increase in the risk of defects such as heart anomalies when SSRIs are taken during the first trimester.
  • Preterm birth: There are indications that taking sertraline might lead to an increased chance of delivering the baby prematurely.

However, other studies have found no significant increased risk for major malformations. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has noted that, when considering these potential risks, the benefits of treating depression often outweigh the risks associated with SSRI exposure.

Considerations While Breastfeeding

Regarding breastfeeding, sertraline is generally considered one of the safer antidepressants:

  • Sertraline is present in breast milk, but typically at low levels that are usually considered safe for the infant.
  • Studies have found low or undetectable levels of sertraline in the serum of infants who were breastfed.
  • Long-term studies on infants exposed to sertraline through breastfeeding are limited, but short-term reports suggest minimal risk of adverse effects.

Breastfeeding itself offers numerous benefits that can impact the mother's decision to continue sertraline. These benefits include promoting mother-infant bonding and providing immunity boosts to the newborn.

Balancing the Risks and Benefits

It's imperative for pregnant or breastfeeding women to discuss SSRI use with their healthcare provider. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, considering:

  • The severity of the mother's depression
  • The risk of depression relapse during the peripartum period
  • Potential SSRI side effects for both mother and child
  • Available alternative treatments and their efficacy

Given that untreated maternal depression also carries risks for both mother and the developing fetus or newborn, healthcare providers often weigh the small potential risks of sertraline against the more substantial risks of untreated depression. These can include poor prenatal care, substance abuse, and even suicide.

Expert Recommendations

Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) categorize sertraline as usually compatible with breastfeeding, encouraging women to consider all factors involved. Psychiatric associations stress the importance of mental health stability for mothers and often support continued sertraline use when benefits for the mother are clear.

Ultimately, because each case is unique, the discussion about whether to use sertraline during pregnancy and breastfeeding is a nuanced one, best held between the patient and her informed healthcare team.

Weighing the Benefits Against the Risks: a Comprehensive Evaluation

Sertraline, commonly known by its brand name Zoloft, is an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) antidepressant prescribed for a variety of psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). When evaluating whether sertraline is 'bad' for you, it is essential to consider both the benefits and risks associated with its use.

Understanding the Benefits

Sertraline works by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, which can help improve mood, relieve anxiety, and increase energy levels. Its benefits include:

  • Reduction in the symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Improved mood and quality of life
  • Decreased instances of panic attacks
  • Enhanced ability to engage in daily activities
  • Reduction in OCD tendencies

Multiple research studies support the effectiveness of sertraline in treating these conditions. For instance, a meta-analysis published in The Lancet concluded that sertraline is an effective treatment for major depressive disorder in adults.

Identifying Potential Risks and Side Effects

However, like any medication, sertraline comes with potential side effects and risks which may include:

  • Nausea, diarrhea, or indigestion
  • Insomnia or drowsiness
  • Increased sweating or dry mouth
  • Dizziness or fatigue
  • Sexual side effects, including decreased libido and difficulty achieving orgasm

Rare but more severe risks involve:

  • Serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition
  • Increased risk of bleeding, especially when taken with NSAIDs, aspirin, or anticoagulants
  • Angle-closure glaucoma
  • Hyponatremia, especially in elderly patients

It's worth noting that the risk of side effects can be influenced by factors such as age, dosage, individual health conditions, and interactions with other medications. For example, research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggests that elderly patients may be more susceptible to the hyponatremic effects of SSRIs.

Considering Long-Term Use

Long-term use of sertraline, as with other SSRIs, may also pose some concerns:

  • Possible increased risk of bone fracture
  • Development of tolerance, potentially leading to dosage escalation
  • Withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation

Yet, chronic conditions such as depression and anxiety often require prolonged treatment. The decision regarding the duration of therapy with sertraline is usually made based on a careful assessment of the individual's therapeutic response and tolerance to the medication.

In conclusion, sertraline has a well-established therapeutic profile backed by clinical evidence supporting its benefits in treating certain psychiatric disorders. However, the presence of side effects and potential risks necessitate a careful individual assessment, typically conducted by healthcare professionals, to decide if sertraline is appropriate. Always consult a healthcare provider for personalized advice and before making any changes to your medication regimen.

Frequently asked questions

Sertraline may cause weight changes in some individuals. Weight gain is a less common side effect and can be managed by maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and monitoring weight consistently. If concerning weight changes occur, discuss with a healthcare provider who may suggest adjustments to your treatment plan.

To minimize withdrawal symptoms, it's crucial to taper off sertraline gradually under medical supervision. Your healthcare provider will provide a tapering schedule tailored to your specific needs to adjust your body gradually, reducing dosage incrementally and monitoring for side effects.

Sertraline can be used safely in elderly patients, but they may be more sensitive to its effects, such as an increased risk of falls due to dizziness or hyponatremia. Dose adjustments and careful monitoring are recommended to minimize risk. Regular follow-up appointments are essential to ensure safety and efficacy.

If you experience sexual side effects, such as decreased libido or difficulty achieving orgasm, talk to your healthcare provider. Options may include adjusting the dosage, adding a medication to counteract the side effect, or switching to an alternative antidepressant. Open communication with your partner is also vital.

Ask a question about Sertraline and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • indigestion
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • insomnia
  • sexual dysfunction
  • emotional blunting
  • weight changes
  • dry mouth

Possible long-term side effects

  • tolerance development
  • withdrawal symptoms
  • persistent sexual side effects
  • weight gain
  • increased bleeding risk

Possible withdrawal symptoms

  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • flu-like symptoms
  • anxiety
  • insomnia


  • symptom relief for depression and anxiety
  • improved quality of life
  • decreased panic attacks
  • reduced ocd tendencies

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 01-23-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 01-23-2024

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