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.