Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Major depressive disorder (MDD, or clinical depression) is a common mood disorder. In fact, it’s one of the most common forms of mental illness, with an estimated 21 million adults in the US, or 8.4 percent of the entire adult population, experiencing a depressive episode in 2020.
Certain drugs, including over the counter medications and prescription drugs used to treat many common diseases and medical conditions, can either cause or contribute to depression.
This means that If you’ve recently started using a new medication and feel down, tired or simply less interested in your hobbies and activities than normal, it’s possible that the medication could be to blame.
Below, we’ve discussed how you may feel if you’re depressed and listed medications and drugs that can cause or worsen depression.
We’ve also explained your options for treating depression, from antidepressants to therapy, new habits and more.
Depression can have a serious impact on the way you think, feel and behave. While it’s normal to occasionally feel down, major depression involves severe symptoms that affect your life on a daily or near-daily basis for a period of two weeks or longer.
Common symptoms of depression include:
Severe pessimistic or hopeless feelings
A persistent sad, empty or anxious mood
Reduced interest in or pleasure from your hobbies
Feeling like you’re worthless, guilty or unable to improve your life
Difficulty concentrating on tasks or remembering information
Finding it challenging to think clearly or make decisions
Thoughts involving death, or suicidal thoughts and/or behavior
Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up
Slowed movements and/or speech
Irritability and a “shorter fuse” with other people
Pains, cramps and other physical symptoms without a clear cause
Changes in your appetite, eating habits and/or weight
Our guide to the signs of clinical depression discusses these symptoms and the effects they can have on your daily life in more detail.
Many common medications can affect your moods and thoughts, often by affecting your levels of certain hormones or brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
In some cases, using certain types of medication may increase your risk of developing clinical depression. Some medications can even contribute to severe depression and/or an increased risk of suicide.
According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, as many as 37.2 percent of US adults report using medications that are linked to depression.
Below, we’ve listed 10 classes of medication below that can cause or contribute to depression, with detailed information on how each type of medication works, what it’s used to treat and the effects it may have on your moods and behavior.
Benzodiazepines are prescription medications that are used to treat anxiety disorders, seizure disorders, agitation and insomnia. They work by binding to receptors throughout your nervous system and slowing down activity.
Widely-used benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium®), alprazolam (Xanax®), clonazepam (Klonopin®) and others.
Although many benzodiazepines are safe when used as directed for short periods, there is an association between benzodiazepine use and depressive symptoms. In some cases, this can even potentially involve suicidal ideation.
If you’re prescribed a benzodiazepine, it’s important to take it exactly as directed and tell your healthcare provider about any side effects you experience.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe a beta-blocker if you have tachycardia (overly fast heart rate), hypertension (high blood pressure), congestive heart failure, a heart arrhythmia, coronary artery disease, or if you’re recovering from a heart attack.
Beta-blockers have long been associated with depression, although study results on the link between their use and a person’s depression risk are mixed.
For example, a study involving elderly people with hypertension found that use of a beta-blocker was associated with a higher average depression score.
However, a large review and meta-analysis published in the journal Hypertension recently found no significant association between use of beta-blockers and depression (it did, however, identify a link between beta-blockers and fatigue, insomnia and sleep disorders).
Overall, the science is mixed. Some beta-blockers are also associated with erectile dysfunction, changes in sexual performance and other symptoms similar to those of depression.
Stimulants are medications that increase activity in your central nervous system. They’re used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, obesity, narcolepsy, nasal/sinus congestion and hypotension (low blood pressure) caused by anesthesia.
Common stimulants include caffeine and prescription medications such as dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine®), dextroamphetamine/amphetamine (Adderall®) and methylphenidate (Ritalin® or Concerta®).
Depression is a known side effect of some prescription stimulant medications. When misused or stopped suddenly, stimulants can cause withdrawal symptoms that include depression, sleep difficulties and fatigue.
Other adverse effects of stimulants include paranoia, anxiety, psychosis and physical problems such as headaches, weight loss and jitteriness.
Statins are prescription medications for lowering cholesterol levels. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a statin if you have risk factors for coronary artery disease.
Common statins include rosuvastatin (Crestor®), atorvastatin (Lipitor®), fluvastatin (Lescol®), simvastatin (Zocor®) and others.
Some research suggests that statins can cause depressed mood, anxiety, sleep problems and suicide attempts. However, a large-scale review that involved data from more than 70 studies found that statins do not appear to lead to depression symptoms in the general population.
Anticonvulsants, or anti-seizure medications, are used to treat epilepsy. They’re also frequently prescribed as treatments for mental disorders, including bipolar disorder. Some anticonvulsant medications are used to treat migraines and neuropathic pain.
Some anticonvulsant medications are associated with depression, although results from studies are inconsistent overall. In 2008, research published by the FDA stated that people who used anticonvulsant drugs had an elevated risk of suicidal ideation or behavior.
Because of these findings, anticonvulsant medications are sold with labeling informing users of these safety risks.
Some medications used to treat the nervous system disorder Parkinson’s disease may cause or contribute to depression.
Common medications for Parkinson’s disease include levodopa and combination medications that contain levodopa, such as carbidopa/levodopa (Sinemet®).
Research shows a significant increase in depression among people with Parkinson’s disease who use levodopa. (It should be noted that the study examined only a small percentage of patients.)
Some medications used as adjunctive therapy for Parkinson’s, including amantadine (Gocovri®) may also contribute to depression symptoms.
Other common medications for managing Parkinson’s disease symptoms include pramipexole (Mirapex®) and ropinirole (Requip®).
These medications generally aren’t associated with depression. In fact, research suggests that they may have antidepressant properties.
Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medications. They’re synthetic forms of natural hormones produced in the adrenal glands. Corticosteroids are used to treat several conditions, including autoimmune diseases, neurological disorders and skin issues.
Widely-used corticosteroid medications include hydrocortisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone, betamethasone, prednisone and many others. These medications are available in many forms, including tablets, capsules, eye drops, injections and topical creams and gels.
Many corticosteroids can cause psychological side effects, including euphoria and, when used over the long term, depression. Some corticosteroids may also cause psychotic symptoms to develop, although this generally only occurs with high-dose, long-term use.
If you’re prescribed a corticosteroid, your healthcare provider will likely recommend using it for the shortest possible duration to minimize your risk of depression and other side effects.
Some hormonal medications, including birth control pills, are associated with an increased risk of developing depression. However, researchers aren’t sure if the link is causal (meaning birth control pills cause depression) or if it’s related to a factor other than contraceptive use.
Common birth control pills include drospirenone-ethinyl estradiol (sold as Yaz®, Yasmin® and under other brand names), norgestimate-ethinyl estradiol (Ortho Tri-Cyclen®), norethisterone acetate-ethinyl estradiol (Estrostep®) and many others.
In a study published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2016, researchers found an increased risk of being diagnosed with depression among women who used hormonal contraceptives, with the highest rates of depression observed among adolescent women.
However, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2021 concluded that use of birth control pills and other types of hormonal contraceptives was not associated with any increased risk of depression in adult women.
In addition to birth control pills, other hormonal medications are also associated with a high risk of developing depression.
For example, research suggests that antiandrogen medications (drugs that reduce testosterone and other androgen levels) used in prostate cancer treatment increase the risk of depression in men.
Anticholinergic medications work by blocking the effects of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine — a naturally-occurring chemical that’s involved in brain and muscle function.
Medications of this type are used to treat respiratory health issues such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, mental disorders, allergies and urge incontinence (a sudden need to urinate).
Some scientific research suggests that long-term use of anticholinergic medications may play a role in reduced cognitive function late in life.
Healthcare providers are instructed to use caution when prescribing anticholinergic medications to people with depression or schizophrenia. However, while old studies have suggested a link between their use and depression, more recent research doesn’t show a clear association.
Make sure to inform your healthcare provider if you notice any changes in your moods, feelings or thoughts if you’re prescribed any type of anticholinergic medication.
Proton pump inhibitors are medications that reduce the amount of acid produced by the glands inside your stomach lining. They’re used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and ulcers that develop in the stomach and small intestine.
Widely used proton pump inhibitors include omeprazole (Prilosec®), lansoprazole (Prevacid®), esomeprazole (Nexium®), rabeprazole (AcipHex®), pantoprazole (Protonix®) and others.
Research suggests that use of proton pump inhibitors is linked to depression, with people who use PPIs in high dosage more likely to develop depressive symptoms.
Other research has found a potential link between proton pump inhibitor use and neurological issues, such as dementia.
If you’re prescribed a proton pump inhibitor, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider before adjusting your dosage, stopping treatment or making any other changes to your use of medication.
Want to learn more? We answer "can antibiotics cause depression?" in our blog.
Even when it involves severe, persistent symptoms, depression is treatable. If you think you’re depressed, it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional to learn more about your options.
You can get help for depression by talking to your primary care provider by contacting a licensed psychiatrist in your area or from home using our online psychiatry service.
Depression is usually treated with medications called antidepressants, therapy and changes to your habits and lifestyle. If a medication is involved in your symptoms, your healthcare provider may adjust your dosage or switch you to a medication that’s less likely to cause depression.
If you’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression, your healthcare provider will likely prescribe an antidepressant.
Antidepressants work by increasing the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain that regulate your moods, thoughts and feelings. Common types of antidepressants include:
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
Antidepressants are usually effective at reducing the severity of physical and mood symptoms caused by depression, but their effects aren’t immediate. It may take two to four weeks before you notice any effects from your medication.
Most people use antidepressants for six to 12 months. Stopping treatment for depression too early can increase your risk of experiencing a relapse.
If you’re prescribed an antidepressant, make sure to take it exactly as directed by your mental health provider. Inform your mental health provider if you experience any side effects or would like to stop using your medication.
Our full list of antidepressants provides more information about the most effective medications for treating depression.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, often helps to treat depression. This type of treatment involves working with a mental health professional to identify and change the specific thoughts, feelings and behaviors that may be contributing to your depression symptoms.
A variety of forms of psychotherapy are used to treat depression, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), problem-solving therapy and interpersonal therapy (IPT).
Your mental health provider may recommend therapy on its own or in combination with the use of antidepressants.
Sometimes, making changes to your habits and daily life can make recovering from depression an easier process.
Simple things such as staying physically active, spending time with friends and family, avoiding social isolation and setting realistic goals for your recovery can often have a big impact on your progress.
Our list of 11 ways to help depression shares simple but effective techniques you can try in combination with medication and therapy to assist in your recovery.
If you’ve recently started to notice the signs of depression and think that a medication you use could be responsible, you might be right.
Even if you think a medication may be causing you to feel depressed, it’s important not to stop using it abruptly. Instead, you should seek expert help to learn more about your options.
You can get help for depression by talking to your primary care provider, visiting a psychiatrist locally or using our online mental health services. It’s especially important to seek help if your symptoms are severe, or if you have suicidal thoughts.
If your provider thinks your symptoms are caused by your medication, they might recommend adjusting your dosage or changing to something else. They may also suggest antidepressants or therapy to help you deal with your symptoms more effectively.
Depression is a serious mental illness, but it is treatable. With the right combination of mindset, medication and ongoing care, you can regain control over your life and leave depression where it belongs — in the rearview mirror.
Want to learn more? We answer "can antibiotics cause depression?" in our blog.