The Link Between Prescription Medication and Depression

January 17, 2019

The Link Between Prescription Medication and Depression

Prescription medications are used to treat all types of conditions from high blood pressure to pain. Although sometimes prescription medications can be lifesaving, there is also a downside. Both prescription and over the counter medication also have side effects. One side effect that is being studied is the risk of depression.

The Link Between Prescription Medication and Depression

Certain types of prescription medications are linked to depression. The risk of depression also increases with each additional drug you’re prescribed. What might be surprising is that many of the medications associated with an increased risk of depression are not prescribed to treat mood or anxiety. Instead, it is common for medications used to treat conditions such as high blood pressure or inflammatory disease that may cause depression as a side effect.

What the Research States

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association involved 26,000 adults over nine years from 2005 to 2014. Participants were all over the age of 18 with the average age being 46. A little more than 50 percent of the participants were women.

Study participants completed a questionnaire called the PHQ-9 that screened for depression. They also provided a list of all the medications they were taking. The results indicated that the use of prescription medication that had the potential to cause depression was very common.

The study concluded that about 38 percent of participants took prescription medication that had depression as a potential side effect. The rate of depression reported from participants taking one medication was 6.9 percent. That number jumped to 15 percent for those taking three or more medications linked to depression as a side effect. For those not taking any such medications, their prevalence of depression was lower at 4.7 percent.

What is also concerning is that there appears to be an increase in the use of prescription medications that have depression as a possible side effect. In the years 2005 and 2006, the study indicated that 35 percent of participants took medications that might cause depression. In 2013 and 2014 that number climbed to 38.4 percent. (1)

Types of Medication That Can Increase Depression Risk

The study also concluded that over 200 prescription medications may have the potential to cause depression as an adverse side effect. Some of the medications include the following:

Beta Blockers: Beta blockers are given to treat hypertension. They may also be prescribed to treat irregular heartbeats and angina. Beta blockers are one of the many prescription medications that have depression as a possible adverse side effect. In one study published in the journal Hypertension, blood pressure medication, including beta blockers, was studied to determine its effect on mood disorders. Research indicated that patients on a beta blocker had a 50 percent greater chance of being admitted to the hospital for a mood disorder such as depression than those that did not take the prescription medication. (2)

Birth Control Pills: Birth control pills are used to prevent pregnancy by millions of women in the United States. Birth control pills, patches, and injections may contain a combination of synthetic hormones. One study involved women ranging in age from 15 to 34. The women did not have a prior diagnosis of depression. Data was collected for eight years. The study indicated that the use of hormonal birth control was associated with an increased risk of depression, especially among adolescents. (3)

Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids are often prescribed to treat conditions that cause inflammation, such as asthma, gout, and rheumatoid arthritis. Side effects from steroids are common. One theory is that they alter the serotonin level in the brain, which may affect mood. In research published in Rheumatology International, taking corticosteroids was associated with an increased risk of neuropsychiatric disorders including depression. (4)

Proton Pump Inhibitor: Proton pump inhibitors are used to treat ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease. One of the possible adverse side effects of the medication is depression. One study involved 344 adults age 75 or older. The participant’s mood was assessed using a geriatric depression scale (GDS) consisting of 30 questions. Individuals that took proton pump inhibitors had a higher GDS score than those that did not. (5)

The types of medications listed above are only a few of the many drugs that have depression as a potential side effect. Many other classifications of medications, such as painkillers, antiseizure medications, and even certain antidepressants, have a risk of worsening depression including suicidal thoughts. Over the counter medications are not necessarily better. Ibuprofen, especially if it is taken in high doses, is also linked with an increased risk of depression.

The possible link to depression is another reason to avoid unnecessary prescription drugs when possible. Both prescription and over the counter drugs have negative side effects and are foreign to the body. In some cases, certain medications may be needed, but it’s best to try solving the underlying health issue with natural treatments whenever possible.

Hormones and Depression

In addition to prescription medication, there are other possible causes of depression. A decline in hormones or an imbalance is a common cause of depression.

Hormones, such as progesterone and estrogen, play a role in your mood. For example, the hormones affect neurotransmitters in the brain including gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). GABA helps to calm the brain. Progesterone promotes the production of GABA. As a woman ages, progesterone declines, which in turn causes a decrease in GABA. The result may be an increase in depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Hormone levels also decline in men as they age. After about age 30, testosterone gradually drops in men. By the time a man is 60, he has about 20 percent of the testosterone he had in his 20s. The decrease may lead to decreased muscle tone, loss of libido, and mood changes, including depression.

Hypothyroidism is also a common cause of depression in both men and women. If you are not producing enough thyroid hormone, it can affect your energy level, metabolism, and mood.

Is Hormone Decline Causing Your Depression?

Fortunately, hormonal imbalances can be corrected by using bioidentical hormones that match what your body used to produce naturally. If you are experiencing other symptoms of hormonal decline and imbalance, besides depression, hormonal imbalance may be the cause. Please take our symptom checker quiz to find out.


  1. Prevalence of Prescription Medications with Depression as a Potential Adverse Effect Among Adults in the United States
  2. Common High Blood Pressure Meds Affect Mood Disorders
  3. Association of Hormonal Contraception with Depression
  4. Corticosteroid-Induced Neuropsychiatric Disorders: Review and Contrast with Neuropsychiatric Lupus
  5. Use of Proton-Pump Inhibitors is Associated with Depression: A Population-Based Study

Related Content
Preventing and Fighting Depression
Two Common Causes of Depression in Men
Is Hypothyroidism the Cause of Your Depression?

Written By: Steven F. Hotze, M.D.

Steven F. Hotze, M.D., is the founder and CEO of the Hotze Health & Wellness Center, Hotze Vitamins and Physicians Preference Pharmacy International, LLC.


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