Antidepressants and Your Ability to Love

Antidepressants and Your Ability to Love

Everyone seems to recognize that if you take certain antidepressants–especially the SSRIs–that your interest and ability in having sex with your spouse is decreased, and sometimes it becomes non-existent.  That’s one of the few side-effects of those medications.  I know people who are willing to deal with their depression with thee medications in spite of the side-effects.  They say they weren’t interested in sex when they were depressed, so what’s the difference now.

But a researcher at Rutgers University, Helen Fisher, has been researching the topic of love for quite some time.  She found in her research that the SSRIs not only blunt a person’s interest in sex, they also blunted a person’s ability to love.  I don’t think any of the clinical trials considered this side effect.

SSRIs work by inhibiting selected serotonin reuptake which increases the amount of serotonin in the brain’s neurotransmitters.  They call them “designer drugs” for there are very selective regarding which neurotransmitter is blocked.  Drug companies have always been aware that regardless of how carefully these medications are designed, other neurotransmitter substances will be affected.  And typically what happens is that as serotonin is increased, dopamine is being decreased, as are testosterone and estrogen.

Dopamine is connected with hormones such as oxytocin, that create feelings of calm, security, trust, and emotional connection.  Fisher has found that the decrease in these hormones creates a decreased ability to feel attachment and the emotion of love.  She likes W. H. Auden’s definition of love as “an intolerable neural itch.”

Fisher has also conducted research on this in other cultures and found the same results.  Not only do the SSRIs decrease the interest in sex, which according to her also reduces the feelings of attraction and romantic love at the beginning of a relationship, they also reduce the comfort cocktail in the brain that leads to feelings of oneness with a spouse.  The warm, dependable side of love is also affected.

Maybe it’s time we consider other treatments for depression that have been shown to be effective, such as exercise and cognitive restructuring.

Question:  If you’ve been on an SSRI, did you notice any difference in your emotion of love?  What were some differences.

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11 Responses to Antidepressants and Your Ability to Love

  1. Trish says:

    Wow, very timely topic, Dr. Stoop! I was just talking to my psychiatrist yesterday about weaning off of Prozac. I am currently on 30 mg per day but my mood has improved so much as my life circumstances have changed that he is wanting to try to remove the medication.

    When I first started treatment with severe postpartum depression years ago, I took Celexa. After about 3 years on this, I was so mellow and disconnected that a house fire probably wouldn’t have excited me or gotten me moving. After that I took Wellbutrin for about 3 years, which was good at first but eventually left me too wired all the time.

    Despite being in therapy, I never really made any progress until after I received the Asperger’s diagnosis in 2011. That’s when things really started to change because we had a starting point to work from and I finally had some hope that I could do something about the things that were so difficult in my life. Ironically, having this label now has also removed the feeling of shame that there was something fundamentally wrong with me which I had lived with for most of my life.

    So now I am looking forward to reducing the meds and seeing how things go. Have you seen many people successfully go off of Prozac or other similar meds once their outlook and/or skills improve via therapy?

  2. Desiree says:

    I have been on antidepressants since I was 21. Anything you can name, I have taken it. Once I decided that I hated taking pills and quit everything. 6 weeks later, I attempted suicide.

    I have struggled with obesity all of those years. I am married for the last 8 years, but I don’t know if I love him. I certainly do not care about sex, but then he doesn’t seem to either. I am not sure what is causing what. I would love to stop taking them, but don’t know how or what way to do so.

    Numbness is my way of life,

    • drstoop says:

      Wow, Desiree. Ever listen to New Life Live radio? Check out the stations on and see it it’s in your area. They do a great weekend workshop that could change your life. Has others in a similar situation. Or call 1-800-639-5433 and they will tell you about it. Called “Healing is a Choice.” Thanks for your comment.

  3. Debbie says:

    I think this assessment could be right on. It is the first time I have considered the association. Looking back on my own history of SSRI meds, the bonding experiences probably were negatively impacted.

  4. Dick B. says:

    I comment here after reading your portion on the Book of Acts. You and I know each other. And you made it possible for me to address the four churches in Orange County on the Christian beginnings of A.A. at the Conference called “Shepherding the Shepherds.” That was many years back when John Baker was getting ready to launch Celebrate Recovery. As you know, I believe that old school A.A. was very much biblically oriented in belief and study. And its participants who really tried, achieved miraculous results through reliance on God. Today, as God fades from the recovery scene and is replaced by the nonsense gods called “higher powers,” it is refreshing that you have chosen to use the colloquial language to tell the important story of First Century Christianity as laid out in the Book of Acts. Early A.A.’s Akron Group Number One was called a Christian Fellowship largely because it principles and practices were patterned on those of the First Century Christians as those details were disclosed in Acts. Thank you. In His Service, Dick B., Kihei, Maui, Hawaii

  5. Alice H. says:

    My experience with SSRIs has been mixed. I was placed on Pristiq for anhedonia. I wouldn’t have said I was “depressed,” I just didn’t care about ANYthing, not even whether I lived or died. The Pristiq helped with the anhedonia, but I wasn’t “myself,” so Wellbutrin was added. My libido has been at a “0” ever since I had my children (the oldest is almost 17). While I love my husband and am deeply committed to making our marriage as contented as possible for both of us and our home a safe haven for him, I feel no emotions toward him. (Is this still anhedonia?) I’ve never thought of this as a side effect of the SSRIs! As a Christian therapist, I’m going to give this more thought. Thanks for posting this research!!

  6. Thomas says:

    Antidepressants: I was on Paxcill for several months and the heavy cloud over my sprit still did not lift. I stopped going to church because of the fighting over the church split that we had. My biological family had completely disenfranchized Me, My Wife and our children over other issues that had been festering for years. It was the encouragement and the prayers at Wedensday morning Bible study that saved me from thoughts that ” I do not care if I wake up in the morning” I told my doctor that I stoped taking the Paxcil. He told me to stay in close touch with him. I resolved that with the Lords help I am going to get thru this and Thank God I did. I never relaized the powerful and how horiable and hidious depression was until I dealt with it myself.

  7. ChrisB. says:

    My heart is broken because I now see why my wife shows so little interest in loving me.

  8. melita says:

    Hello all, i fell in love with my boyfriend but i had to take citalopram for anxiety and phobias, then in a month i wasnt sure if i love him and i was suspicious towards him. I never met greater man, he still waits for me but i feel numb and dont have any plans for my future, i just dont care, i took this pill 3 months. i would advise people to look for other ways to deal with their problems, stay away from the antidepressants.

  9. Anon says:

    I have been with my boyfriend for over 3 years now and I have known him since I was 5 (I am 19 now). He was my first crush and I have always liked him. He was in a car accident and he almost died. I stayed by his side in the hospital because I realized I love him and he was the one for me. He asked me out after about 4 months in the hospital. The beginning wasn’t so great as he is a flirt and was talking to a few girls for like the first year and a half. (He doesn’t even remember some of it/ he has severe PTSD.) His mom also brainwashed him into breaking us up because she wanted him to move away with her after he graduated and he didn’t want to. We were both heartbroken. I have never felt a greater pain. Needless to say it was a bit of a struggle in the beginning. I have sever social anxiety, bipolar disorder, a phobia of death and me and people dying, OCD, and am hopelessly insecure and damaged. He is wonderful to me now and was before (other than the flirting which wasn’t good for my self esteem). He knows me better than anyone and we have a connection like no other I have ever seen. I can tell him anything and everything and am so comfortable around him I may as well be as comfortable as I am by myself (I have never been comfortable due to my insecurities even around my parents). He my bestfriend and I truely know in my bones that he is my soul mate. So why on earth do I question my love for him?!?! Why do I not know if I love him?!?? Why am I sometimes not attracted to him?!? It’s not all the time. It kills me because I don’t want to lose him and I know that I love him. Sometimes I just don’t know how I love him ( as a friend or boyfriend). Is this normal with my disorders. I so desperately want to love him. All the people in my life treat me terribly and he is the only person who makes me feel important and he saves me. He gives me a reason to live. I want to spend my life with him, but I can’t feel it sometimes. I have nightmares about it. Could I resent him for the problems caused by his PTSD (he doesn’t initiate anything. He doesn’t think of me or to do sweet things or say sweet things to me. He says when he is with me he feels happy and love, but when I am gone he just doesn’t feel anything towards anyone or anything. He said he goes into auto-pilot. I know these are PTSD symptoms, but I am needy and need love and affection. He has a hard time with that.) Sometimes when we are intimate I have to stop because I don’t feel anything (The connection of that is important to me.) I don’t tell him this is why because it would CRUSH him. Could this be my disorder? I take 150 MG Lamictal. Sorry I know this is a lot but my heart is breaking and I’m terrified.

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