Do SSRI Medications Change Your Personality?

In our latest question and answer, the pharmacist discusses whether or not antidepressants are associated with personality changes.

Jan 14, 2018

xpathskeptic asked

Does the SSRI Celexa (citalopram) affect emotions in a way that could be detrimental to a relationship? My girlfriend is taking it and I think she doesn't feel the same way for me anymore. She never starts conversations, pulls away if I try to act like her boyfriend, etc. It wasn't always like this and I know she takes the medication. She doesn't seem to want me gone but she doesn't really want me near her or touching her. So, I'm curious if this medication may play a role in that.

Answer

Celexa (citalopram) is an antidepressant classified as an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor). They work, in simple terms, by increasing the amount of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in the brain. Serotonin is thought to have a large role in various depressive disorders and possibly, on personality attributes.

There has been recent data to suggest that individuals on SSRI medications can undergo certain personality changes but it would be nearly impossible to definitively say that that the medication is solely responsible for a perceived change in attitude or personality. Data is still preliminary unfortunately and there is a lot we don't know about the subject.

Do SSRI's Change Personality?

A 2009 study tested whether or not patients who received SSRI drugs (like citalopram) had greater changes in neuroticism and extraversion than patients receiving placebo. The study found that those who took paroxetine (another SSRI drug), reported a greater personality change than patients not taking paroxetine. Perhaps most surprisingly, the changes in personality were significant even after controlling for depression improvement, possibly meaning that SSRI medications can affect personality independent of their antidepressive effects.

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The authors concluded that paroxetine (and potentially other SSRI medications) can have a specific pharmacological effect on personality, distinct from their antidepressive effects. 

A variety of other studies have found similar results, that changes in personalty can occur during SSRI therapy and that these changes are distinct from the antidepressive effects of these medications. Still, there are plenty of studies that find conflicting and less conclusive results.

It should be noted that in the studies that did note personality changes, the changes were typically decreased neuroticism and increased extroversion, meaning that anxiety/depression went down while increased sociable personalty traits increased.

Lastly, outside of studies evaluating possible changes in personality, clinical trail data for citalopram show thats it can have unexpected personality effects in a small number of individuals such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Apathy
  • Depersonalization
  • Emotional lability

These side effects were uncommon, with an incidence rate of about 0.1-1%.

Summary

SSRI medications, such as citalopram, have known neurochemical effects on the brain. Just how much this affects depression and personality remains unclear. It is relatively certain that there can be significant changes in individuals, but whether or not the SSRI directly affects personality or personality changes are due to being less depressed warrants further study.

Contents

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