This medication belongs to a class called tricyclic antidepressants. Amitriptyline works by balancing some of the brain’s natural chemicals such as serotonin. Amitriptyline can also be used “off-label” to treat conditions such as post-herpetic neuralgia (conditions which occur after having shingles), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain eating disorders. It has also been used to prevent migraine symptoms.
Amitriptyline works by inhibiting reuptake of serotonin or norepinephrine in the brain. It tends to increase serotonin significantly while affecting norepinephrine moderately. Amitriptyline is not commonly used as a first-line treatment for depression today but was considered one of the best options to treat depression throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Common side effects of amitriptyline include drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, weight gain and trouble urinating. Tell your doctor immediately if you experience rare side effects such as bruising/bleeding, persistent heartburn, shaking, mask-like facial expressions, muscle spasms, severe stomach or abdominal pain, decreased sexual ability or desire, or enlarged/painful breasts. In very rare cases amitriptyline can cause neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), a very serious condition. Get immediate medical attention if you experience fever, muscle stiffness, severe confusion, sweating or fast/irregular heartbeat.
Although other pain-reducing medications such as opioids are widely misused, antidepressants also have misuse risks.
Because this medication is the most sedating of cyclic antidepressants, amitriptyline has a high potential for substance misuse. Anecdotally, some patients have described taking Elavil for its euphoric effects. The medication dosage should be strictly followed to avoid a fatal overdose.
Someone who is dependent on Elavil, whether they are addicted or not, will experience certain side effects if they suddenly stop taking the medication. These types of side effects, also known as withdrawal symptoms, are dependent on several factors such as time span over which Elavil was taken, dosage, how quickly one tapered and individual factors like physiology, lifestyle and environment.
Withdrawal symptoms can include anger, anxiety, appetite changes, body aches, crying spells, depersonalization, depression, diarrhea, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, hypersensitivity, insomnia, irritability, itching, joint pain, memory problems, muscle pain, nausea, panic attacks, poor concentration, restlessness, sleep changes, suicidal thoughts, sweating, vomiting and weight changes.
If someone in your life is experiencing Elavil addiction, it is important that they not only get help immediately but that they find encouragement and support from their friends and family. Substance misuse can take a toll on people, and it is important they feel love and support from their peers to get through their addiction.
Remember, recovery is always a possibility if someone is experiencing addiction to a certain medication, and amitriptyline is no different.
So how do you recognize if someone is experiencing addiction to amitriptyline?
If someone is showing signs of amitriptyline addiction, they may exhibit an extreme preoccupation with the medication. They may become obsessed with obtaining and taking it. Those going through addiction may lose interest in activities they were previously engaged in, including school, work, relationships or hobbies.
Amitriptyline addiction should be taken very seriously, as fatal overdoses can occur (and have) when the medication is misused. If someone takes too much amitriptyline, call 911, your local Poison Control Center or seek medical attention right away.
It is important to support your friend or loved one who may be experiencing addiction or withdrawal, as this can be a difficult time.
Some of the long-term effects of Elavil are related to its effects on the nervous system. The medication can cause nervousness, insomnia and anxiety in some patients because it stimulates the nervous system. Elavil can also block the effects of the chemical acetylcholine, which is used by the nerves to control muscles. This effect can cause constipation, urinary retention and increased eye pressure.
Other long-term effects of Elavil include the medication’s ability to affect the body’s hormonal balance. This effect can result in swelling and tenderness of the breast tissue as well as testicular swelling for men. In some rare cases, amitriptyline can cause permanent liver and heart damage.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.