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SSRIs and SNRIs: What are they and how do they compare?

Knoxville, TN

image of snri and ssri medication
SNRIs and SSRIs Graphic

Medicine. Generally, it’s something that everyone has heard of. But when it comes to the specifics of medicine, there are many question marks, especially for teenagers. A common type of medication taken by teenagers are antidepressants such as prozac, lexapro, and zoloft. According to a study based in the U.S that took place from 2015 to 2019, the percentage of teenagers taking antidepressants has steadily increased. Some of the most commonly used antidepressants are split into two categories: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). The two classes have similar names, similar functions, and some slight differences which will all be explored in this article.

graph of percentage of teens using Antidepressants
Percentage of teenagers in the United States taking antidepressants from 2015 to 2019, by gender* (Statista, 2023).

Both SNRIs and SSRIs are used to prevent the reuptake of certain neurotransmitters, which are the chemicals released to communicate with other cells. Reuptake is where neurotransmitters are reabsorbed back into the nerve cell that they were initially released from. The difference between these SNRIs and SSRIs is that SNRIs prevent the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine, whereas SSRIs only prevent the reuptake of serotonin. Norepinephrine and serotonin are substances used to send messages across nerves. Both are helpful in improving mood and energy levels, hence their importance in the treatment of depression and anxiety.

Some common SRNIs include duloxetine (cymbalta), desvenlafaxine, venlafaxine (effexor). Common SSRIs are escitalopram (lexapro), fluoxetine (prozac), and sertraline (zoloft). SRNIs typically treat anxiety and bipolar depression. SSRIs commonly treat anxiety, bulimia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The two categories of medication have similar side effects, such as blurred vision, dizziness, headaches, and constipation.

Both SNRIs and SSRIs can cause serotonin syndrome, which occurs by extreme levels of serotonin, or when SNRIs and SSRIs are taken with other serotonin-releasing medications. Some of the side effects of serotonin syndrome are confusion, sweating, and increased heart rate. Another syndrome that SNRIs and SSRIs have been associated with is discontinuation syndrome when their use is stopped suddenly. Some of the side effects of discontinuation syndrome are nausea and difficulty sleeping.

SNRIs and SSRIs are very similar, but it is helpful to have a basic understanding of their differences. In general, they are important to be aware of because they are used by so many people. Anxiety and depression are unfortunately very common so it’s beneficial to be knowledgeable about the ways that people can be treated.

Works Cited

Bullock, Christopher, and Carolyn A. Bernstein. “Discontinuation syndrome and antidepressants.” Harvard Health, 11 April 2019, Accessed 20 August 2023.

Elflein, John. “Antidepressant use teenagers by gender 2019 U.S.” Statista, 17 July 2020, Accessed 20 August 2023.

Gillette, Hope. “Antidepressants for Teens: What Works?” Mindpath Health, 28 April 2023, Accessed 20 August 2023.

Pope, Carmen. “SSRI's vs SNRI's - What's the difference between them?”, 13 July 2023, Accessed 20 August 2023.

Purse, Marcia. “Norepinephrine's Role in Treating Mood Problems.” Verywell Mind, 3 December 2020, Accessed 20 August 2023.

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