Tricyclic antidepressants are used to manage depression. Learn what medications are considered a tricyclic antidepressant and what the side effects of those medications are.

Tricyclic antidepressants are medications that are used to manage symptoms of depression.

There are several different classes of antidepressant medications, including monoamine oxidase inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Tricyclic antidepressants are an older class of drugs, with the first agent approved in 1959. They are not used as commonly as they were several decades ago since their use is associated with many side effects and newer antidepressants are more effective and well-tolerated.

What Medications are Tricyclic Antidepressants?

The class of tricyclic antidepressants consists of several medications, all with similar properties. Tricyclic antidepressants are thought to work by increasing the amount of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine. They do this by inhibiting neurons from taking up those chemicals as easily, so they are more available to certain cells.

Tricyclic antidepressants currently available in the United States include:


Amitriptyline (generic only)


Imipramine (available as a generic product and as brand name Tofranil)


Doxepin (generic only)


Amoxapine (generic only)


Desipramine (available as a generic product and as brand name Norpramin)


Nortriptyline (available as a generic product and as brand name Pamelor)


Protriptyline (available as a generic product and as brand name Vivactil)


Trimipramine (available as a generic product and as brand name Surmontil)

What are Tricyclic Antidepressants Used For?

Tricyclic antidepressants are used to combat depression. Common symptoms of depression include fatigue, feeling sad or empty, having trouble sleeping or concentrating and feelings of worthlessness. Additionally, when depressed, some people may experience a loss of appetite or interest in activities they once enjoyed. Depression can also lead to suicidal thoughts, which should be addressed by a medical professional.

Feelings of depression or anxiety can lead to suicidal thinking. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

What are the Side Effects of Tricyclic Antidepressants?

Tricyclic antidepressants are associated with many side effects. Although they work on some brain receptors to help with symptoms of depression, they also have effects on many other receptors in the body, which is what causes the unwanted effects. Although every tricyclic antidepressant has its own properties, most of them have similar side effects to one another.

Some common side effects of tricyclic antidepressants include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Sleepiness
  • Blurry vision
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain
  • Sexual difficulty
  • Difficulty urinating

Other antidepressants are usually prescribed before tricyclic antidepressants since newer medications are generally easier to tolerate and don’t have as many side effects. For some people, tricyclic antidepressants may be the most effective medications for the treatment of depression.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Christina Caplinger, RPh
Christina Caplinger is a licensed pharmacist in both Colorado and Idaho and is also a board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist. Read more

Hillhouse, T.M. & Porter, J.H. “A Brief History of the Development of An[…]amines to Glutamate.” February 2015. Accessed August 31, 2019.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Depression — Medicines to Help You.” January 19, 2018. Accessed August 31, 2019.

DailyMed. “Amoxapine (tablet).” February 6, 2015. Accessed August 31, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.