Depression disorders can have a debilitating impact on a person’s quality of life. While it may seem like a person’s general outlook fuels depression symptoms, chemical imbalances in the brain exert considerable influence over a person’s mental and emotional state. Antidepressant medications used to treat depression work to restore the brain’s chemical balance back to normal.
Each medication may differ in terms of which brain chemicals it targets and how it affects chemical secretions. As no two people have the exact same brain chemistry, it’s not uncommon for a person to have to try two or more different medications before actually seeing any benefits.
Depression and the Brain
Whether triggered by a traumatic event or brought on by a genetic predisposition, depression results from an ongoing chemical imbalance in the brain. As part of its normal everyday functions, the brain regulates a person’s moods and emotions on a continual basis. Brain chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters communicate messages between neurons throughout the brain’s various regions.
Three neurotransmitters in particular – serotonin, epinephrine and dopamine – play central roles in regulating moods and emotions. Medications used to treat depression act on these three chemicals in the brain. Low levels of any one of these three neurotransmitter chemicals can cause a person to develop a depression disorder.
As brain neurotransmitter levels fluctuate, so does a person’s emotional status. Likewise, the way a person responds to life situations determines which neurotransmitter secretions remain active or inactive. Medications used to treat depression help maintain normal neurotransmitter levels in the brain from day-to-day.
Medications used to treat depression may target one or more of the brain’s three neurotransmitter chemicals. Low levels of one neurotransmitter may bring on different depression symptoms than another neurotransmitter. As such, the types of symptoms a person exhibits helps to determine which antidepressant will work best in relieving symptoms.
Each of the three neurotransmitters regulates different aspects of a person’s mood and emotions. Serotonin affects a person’s overall mood and perceptions. Epinephrine regulates heart rate and blood pressure levels. Dopamine helps regulate a person’s overall sense of well-being.
Accordingly, medications used to treat depression fall into one of three groups:
- Serotonin reuptake inhibitors
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
- Norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors
Reuptake inhibitors, in general, prevent brain cells from re-absorbing available neurotransmitter amounts. In effect, each of the three classes of antidepressants helps to conserve neurotransmitter levels in the brain.
Other Depression Medication Treatments
Serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors and norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors are fairly new classes of medications used to treat depression. These newer treatments cause fewer side effects when compared to the older medications used to treat depression. That being so, some people see little to no benefit from the newer drug treatments in which case older medications often work better.
Other medications used to treat depression include tricyclics, tetracyclics and monoamine-oxidase inhibitors. While these older medication treatments work in much the same way as the newer treatments, the likelihood of experiencing side effects, such as abnormal heart rhythm, dizziness and headaches is considerably higher.