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What is Citalopram?

Citalopram is an antidepressant prescription medication that belongs to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) category. Available since 1998, the drug works by increasing the availability of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with mood regulation, appetite, memory, sleep and motivation, in the brain. Doctors may also prescribe citalopram to treat obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, and social phobia. Some of these uses, like OCD, are considered off-label.  

How Citalopram Affects the Mind

Citalopram blocks the reabsorption of serotonin, making it more available in the brain. This can enhance the transmission of signals between neurons. As this occurs, depression symptoms are alleviated, resulting in a better mood.

The drug can have other cognitive or mental health effects as well, including some that are considered adverse side effects. These include:

  • agitation, nervousness, restlessness, or irritability
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • mania or hyperactivity
  • memory issues
  • trouble concentrating
  • suicidal thoughts, tendencies or actions

 

Citalopram may also produce withdrawal symptoms. These can occur if you suddenly stop taking the drug. Symptoms may include sleeping problems, dizziness, anxiety, tremors, sweats and irritability. 

When prescribed for bipolar disorder, citalopram and other SSRIs are also known to induce a mixed state, also known as a mixed-manic or mixed-affective state. In a mixed state, a person experiences emotions related to both depression and mania. 

How Citalopram Affects the Body

While citalopram primarily affects the mind, the drug also affects the body through a number of physical side effects. These can range from minor to severe.

Some of the more commonly experienced side effects include:

  • digestive disturbances (nausea, diarrhea, vomiting)
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • dry mouth
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • sexual issues (decreased desire, trouble reaching orgasm, erectile dysfunction, impotence)
  • tremor
  • weight or appetite changes
  • eyesight problems

 

Not everyone who takes citalopram will experience the same side effects. In fact, it’s possible not to have any at all, or to see side effects fade with time. 

How Long Does Citalopram Stay in Your System? 

Citalopram has a half-life of about 35 hours. The half-life is the time it takes for 50 percent of the drug to clear the body. So provided you take just one dose, about 50 percent of the drug will have cleared in just over a day. It takes about a week for your body to eliminate the drug entirely. This is a fairly short half-life, but a comparably long time for the drug to leave your system. Although this means a slower onset of withdrawal symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean symptoms will be more mild. Withdrawal typically appear in 3 to 5 days and may include: 

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • lightheadedness
  • sleep problems
  • headache
  • agitation
  • mood swings
  • sensitivity to taste and sound  

The duration of withdrawal symptoms varies by person, ranging from less than a week to a month or longer. 

Risks of Taking Citalopram

Along with the potential side effects listed above, there are other risks of taking citalopram, such as allergic reactions. In rare cases, these side effects are deadly. They may include heart rhythm changes, increased suicide risk or seizures.

If you take citalopram, it’s important to speak with your doctor immediately if you experience any signs of an allergic reaction or suicidal thoughts. 

Citalopram carries additional risk for people with certain other conditions, including:

  • bipolar disorder
  • bleeding or clotting disorders
  • electrolyte imbalances
  • epilepsy or a history of seizures
  • heart disease or failure
  • heart rhythm disorders
  • recent heart attack 
  • kidney or liver disease
  • glaucoma 

As with any antidepressant, citalopram may become habit-forming. If you have a history of drug abuse or addiction, it’s important to keep your doctor fully informed of your medical history.


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What to Avoid While Taking Citalopram

While taking citalopram, you should avoid certain medications. Common anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, can cause excessive bleeding or bruising. The same goes for various blood thinners, such as warfarin.

Alcohol can also increase some citalopram side effects. Additionally, grapefruit, grapefruit-containing foods, and grapefruit juice can cause side effects as well.

Taking citalopram with another SSRI or certain herbal supplements, particularly St. John’s Wort, could increase your odds of getting Serotonin Syndrome, a potentially deadly condition. Anyone prescribed a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) should wait a minimum of two weeks after the last dose before taking citalopram, too.

Getting Help for Depression

If you are struggling with depression, seek professional help as soon as possible. A doctor can help you identify treatment options that work best for you, including medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, inpatient treatment, or other alternatives.

Professional help is particularly important if you suffer from depression in addition to a substance use disorder, which can intensify your symptoms. At Sprout, we are certified to treat co-occurring disorders, such as depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, alongside substance abuse. 

Written By: Tracie Heffernan