Drug and Alcohol

What Is Lexapro and How Does It Work: A Look at Lexapro Addiction

Lexapro is an antidepressant. It’s helpful for many, it’s also possible to get addicted to Lexapro. Learn more about Lexapro addiction in our blog.

What is Lexapro and How Does it Work: A Look at Lexapro Addiction

Table of Contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

January 5, 2023

The Edge Treatment Center

Lexapro and Cipralex are brand names for an antidepressant, also known by their chemical name escitalopram oxalate. Although it is a widely used medicine for the treatment of depression, over usage of this drug causes many people to get addicted to it.

Now, let’s look at what Lexapro is, how it works, and the methods to treat Lexapro addiction in detail.

What Is Lexapro?

Lexapro works as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). SSRIs help to maintain the serotonin level in the brain, which allows an individual to have a better mood and emotional balance. Physicians generally prescribe Lexapro to treat people recovering from clinical depression and anxiety, as the drug is available at an economical price.

How Does Lexapro Work?

Lexapro works on reuptake sites of the brain that regulate serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is associated with bodily functions like hunger, body temperature, sleep, learning capability, memory, sexual behavior, happiness, etc.

When the body is functioning well, after a neurotransmitter transfers its message, the brain recycles it. The process of recycling is called reuptake. If serotonin deficiency occurs due to any physical or mental condition, all bodily functions related to it start to deteriorate. Hence, anxiety and depression set in.

Lexapro slows down the reuptake process. Doing that helps the brain have more serotonin left in its system. Then the elevated amounts of serotonin can help to manage depression or anxiety disorders.

What Are the Side Effects of Lexapro?

Generally, Lexapro's side effects are easy to manage. One can lower the dosage to see a noticeable difference. But there are some serious side effects for which one must consult their physician immediately.

Let’s look at some of the manageable side effects:

  • Dry mouth

  • Fatigue

  • Excessive sweat

  • Headache

  • Nausea

Here are some of the severe side effects that need a doctor's immediate attention:

Menstrual Disruption

If one observes spotting between menstrual cycles, heavy bleeding, or bleeding at improper times of the cycle, they should consult their physician immediately.

Constant Headache

If one's headache is not subsiding, one has muscle cramps and feels very weak; it can be a sign of sodium depletion and an effect of Lexapro overuse. Therefore, one should not ignore this situation.

Weight Change

If there is a noticeable weight gain or weight loss, it can be a sign of serious side effect of Lexapro.

Body Temperature

Having a high temperature, shivers and convulsions in the body can be a symptom of serotonin syndrome. Therefore, one should take prompt action in this situation.


If one observes blood in their vomit, or blood secreting from the gums, or if one is coughing and urinating blood, do contact a physician immediately.

Other than causing side effects, Lexapro intake can also cause addiction.

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Can the Use of Lexapro Lead to Addiction?

There are instances of withdrawal symptoms related to using Lexapro for a prolonged time at the end of treatment phases. However, Lexapro is not considered an illicit substance. It is considered a medicine for the treatment of depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

However, if a patient recovering from a mental health disorder takes Lexapro in an unregulated manner exceeding the prescribed time of dosage; it can result in Lexapro addiction.

Why Do People Get Addicted to Lexapro?

Lexapro even leads to substance abuse in people who had no history of addiction. Apart from people with clinical depression and patients recovering from alcoholism, Lexapro is also used to treat various other mental health disorders.

Here is a list of mental disorders that Lexapro can treat:

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

  • Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

  • Bipolar Disorder

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

  • Panic Disorder

While treating mental health disorders with Lexapro, people can unknowingly overdose on Lexapro and get addicted to it.

What Are Lexapro Withdrawal Effects?

The treatment procedure for depression or anxiety needs the use of Lexapro as a medication for prolonged periods. When the need for the medicine subsides, the patients are suggested to stop taking the drug. During such times, the patient may face withdrawal symptoms.

Furthermore, during rehabilitation and treatment from Lexapro abuse, patients have to go through a detoxification phase, which causes severe withdrawal symptoms. It can affect both the physical and mental aspects of the individual.

Let’s look at the physical symptoms of Lexapro withdrawal:

  • "Brain zaps" that feel like electric jolts passing through the body or brain

  • Headaches

  • Fever

  • Changes in appetite

  • Changes in weight

  • Fatigue

  • Dry mouth

  • Dizziness

  • Confusion in senses

  • Excessive sweating

Here are the mental symptoms of Lexapro withdrawal:

Mood Swings

An uncontrollable switch between usual and aggressive or depressive behavior is a common symptom of Lexapro addiction.

Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are common occurrences when one suddenly stops the use of a stimulant. In the case of Lexapro addiction, it starts with a decline in serotonin levels.

Inability to Concentrate

Neuron malfunction and the presence of other symptoms disrupt one’s ability to concentrate in crucial situations.

Suicidal Thoughts

Suicidal thoughts can occur during the withdrawal phase. One should not ignore such thoughts considering them as part of depression, and should immediately seek help.

Symptoms of Lexapro Addiction

Here are a few symptoms of Lexapro addiction:

  • Changes in heart rate

  • Agitation

  • Tachycardia

  • Tremors

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What Are the Five Phases of Lexapro Addiction Treatment?

A successful Lexapro abuse treatment center will take a patient through five phases of treatment to complete recovery.

The phases are:

Detoxification or Withdrawal

A patient starts recovery from Lexapro addiction from this phase. A physician will administer the necessary medications and monitor for potential complications arising due to withdrawal effects.

Partial Hospitalization (PHP)

Partial Hospitalization (PHP) allows a patient to stay at home or a sober living home and participates in group sessions several times a day.

Patients are involved with a wellness program in a structured environment, where they will have a group and one-on-one sessions of Lexapro abuse counseling with licensed therapists. It provides a suitable environment for an individual to talk about their issues while recovering at a steady pace.

Intensive Outpatient (IOP)

Intensive Outpatient (IOP) is programmed to make an individual capable of dealing with Lexapro addiction problems and be ready for independent living.

This stage is focused on long-term recovery and relapse prevention. Individuals gain practical knowledge on necessary life skills, positive human relationships, and independent living. Patients are free to attend to their various life obligations like school or work at this phase.

Outpatient (OP)

In this stage a patient is almost fully recovered and is worthy of living independently. A patient might have to spend minimal time staying in touch with the treatment professionals in this phase.


After an individual is easing up with a total absence of Lexapro in the system, it is time for the second phase. This phase makes recovery even smoother. It allows an individual to focus on the management of one’s drug cravings by prohibiting potential triggers and other distractions.

What Are the Treatment Methods for Lexapro Addiction?

Professional treatment centers tend to use evidence-based treatment methods and the latest medicines for all kinds of addiction treatment and rehab.

Now, let’s look at some effective methods for the treatment of Lexapro addiction:

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Addiction is considered and treated as a chronic disease. So, the use of medication to help an individual cope with symptoms better can be the first choice a treatment center can make. Medication-assisted treatment is an emerging form of treatment for drug & alcohol addiction.

For example, treatment professionals will provide medication in a safe and controlled environment aiming to replace harmful remnants of Lexapro addiction with the healing effects of the medicine. MAT medications have various forms. It varies from oral films to injections. Two of the most common MAT medications are Buprenorphine and Naltrexone.

MAT can help to achieve three things:

  • Reduction of drug cravings

  • Better management of withdrawal symptoms

  • Protection from drug overdose, tainted drugs, and assault

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Drug addiction can have multiple dimensions. An individual can have underlying mental health disorders that may urge one towards drug abuse or vice versa. This combination is known as a dual diagnosis.

In many cases, people choose addictive substances to cope with the symptoms of their mental disorder. And the opposite also happens, where mental disorders stem from substance abuse.

Dual diagnosis treatment aims at this specific junction. However, it is not always clearly visible or diagnosable. But expert clinicians can recognize individual situations. Then, based on their diagnosis, they form a treatment plan addressing both issues.

For a patient, learning about dual diagnosis will be a crucial part of Lexapro abuse prevention. It will help them to better strategize against addiction triggers.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Treatment for Lexapro addiction can need dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) to build new positive behavior patterns.

DBT involves opening up and understanding one's emotions, which leads to substance abuse. After a clear understanding, there comes a stage of acceptance. Then, the patient is empowered to use the knowledge to create self-regulating skills that will slowly but surely lead to long-term recovery.

In other words, DBT helps people see their emotions from a distance and take reasonable decisions. It is also known as the middle ground between feelings and logic.

Experiential Therapy

True recovery depends on an individual's ability to truly enjoy life. Experiential therapy uses real-life activities to introduce adventure, fun, and laughter into substance-dependent lives.

Experiential therapy takes on the huge task of bringing on “change moments” into people's lives while they are getting treated. In those moments, people can experience a shift in their mindset and discover a new path in life.

Experiential activities include outdoor games, theme parks, harbor cruises, hikes, rock climbing, and other adventure and creative events.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

Like mental health disorders, trauma can also be an underlying factor influencing an individual’s actions. Therefore, to treat addiction, professionals choose to address the core factor, in this case, trauma. Many drug rehabs make use of a trauma-informed philosophy.

There are numerous ways to treat trauma. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is one of the most effective ones. EMDR uses light, sound, and touch to help people recover from their past traumatic events.

The treatment focuses on three specific targets:

  • The memory of the traumatic event/events

  • Current stress factors

  • The development of coping mechanisms

EMDR sessions make an individual remember past traumatic events while nurturing positive beliefs and building intrinsic security. Bilateral stimulation by the lights, sounds and touches helps an individual to relax and gain perspective on traumatic issues without fear.

A successful rehab for Lexapro abuse can combine all these modalities while a patient passes through the five phases of treatment. The two most important steps towards an independent and happy life is acknowledging the addiction and opting for its proper treatment. Proper care and rehab can give an individual a fresh start in life and a complete recovery from Lexapro addiction.

Feel Like You’re Losing Control? Contact The Edge Treatment Center Today

You're not hopeless; you're not trapped. With the right professionals, you can successfully recover from Lexapro addiction. The Edge Treatment Center uses a holistic approach aimed at treating anyone who is suffering from mental health disorders, addiction, or both. Our dynamic and inclusive community of care can be the best starting place for a healthier, happier life free from substance abuse.

Talk to an expert today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the medicines to avoid while taking Lexapro?

Amphetamines, fentanyl, lithium, buspirone, rizatriptan, tramadol, sumatriptan, etc., should not be taken with Lexapro.

How long should one continue Lexapro?

The general recommendation is to take Lexapro for 6 to 9 months. It is not advisable to stop using antidepressants the moment symptoms disappear as that can cause withdrawal and worsen the situation.

Can Lexapro abuse affect one’s personality?

Risk factors of Lexapro include slight changes in personality. It may reflect an individual's extraversion and neuroticism.

Is Lexapro bad for one’s heart?

Comparatively, Lexapro carries a lesser risk of cardiac death than other serotonin reuptake inhibitors. However, researchers are stressing a lower dosage of Lexapro to ensure safety.

Do antidepressants like Lexapro cause more harm than good?

A research by the NIH shows that antidepressants, in general, are unsafe, and are not highly effective in treating anxiety or depression. Additionally, with a person's age, a drug's harmful effects may affect an individual to a greater extent.

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