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New Study Highlights Side Effects of Commonly Prescribed Antidepressants

A new study from the Universities of Cambridge and Copenhagen has highlighted the side effects of taking commonly prescribed antidepressants, with emotional blunting being the most common.[0] The team of researchers looked at 66 healthy volunteers, 32 of whom were given a daily dose of escitalopram, an SSRI known to be one of the best-tolerated, while the other 34 were given a placebo.[1]

The volunteers took the drug or placebo for at least 21 days and completed a comprehensive set of self-report questionnaires and were given a series of tests to assess cognitive functions including learning, inhibition, executive function, reinforcement behaviour, and decision-making.[1] The scientists found that those taking the escitalopram were less likely to use positive and negative feedback to help them learn a task compared to the placebo group.[2] This suggests that the medication impacted their sensitivity to rewards and their ability to act in response.[3]

Co-first author Christelle Langley commented: “Our findings provide important evidence for the role of serotonin in reinforcement learning. We are following this work up with a study examining neuroimaging data to understand how escitalopram affects the brain during reward learning.”[4]

The researchers also reported that the participants taking escitalopram had more trouble reaching orgasm during sex, which is a widely reported side effect of SSRIs.[5] SSRIs target serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ chemical that carries messages between nerve cells in the brain.[6] Some of the most commonly prescribed Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are Celexa (Citalopram), Lexapro (Escitalopram), Paxil/Pexeva (Parox[7]

No noteworthy distinctions between the groups were discovered in terms of ‘cold’ cognitive abilities, like attention and memory.[8] Most tests of ‘hot’ cognition – cognitive functions that involve our emotions – showed no changes.[8] It has been reported that SSRIs can lead to a phenomenon known as “blunting” where individuals feel emotionally numb and no longer take pleasure in activities that they used to enjoy.[9] It was predicted that 8.3 million people in England would be prescribed antidepressant medications in 2022.[9]

To measure the effects of SSRIs over a longer period of time, the team used a probabilistic reversal test, where a participant was shown two stimuli (A and B).[10]

0. “What you need to know about ’emotional blunting’ and antidepressants” Metro UK, 23 Jan. 2023,

1. “Emotional blunting: Cause of common antidepressant side effect may have been discovered” BBC Science Focus Magazine, 23 Jan. 2023,

2. “Common Antidepressants Can Cause Emotional Blunting: What to Know” Healthline, 22 Jan. 2023,

3. “Popular Antidepressant May Cause ‘Emotional Blunting,’ New Study Finds” Yahoo Life, 23 Jan. 2023,

4. “Common antidepressants may blunt both pain and enjoyment” Popular Science, 23 Jan. 2023,

5. “Popular antidepressants numb pleasure as well as pain: study” New York Post, 23 Jan. 2023,

6. “Antidepressants can numb enjoyment as well as pain, scientists say” Daily Mail, 23 Jan. 2023,

7. “Common Antidepressants Cause Emotional “Blunting” – Scientists Finally Figured Out Why” SciTechDaily, 23 Jan. 2023,

8. “This Is What Nobody Tells You Before You Start Taking Antidepressants – And It Affects Almost 60% Of People” Revyuh, 22 Jan. 2023,

9. “Why Anti-Depressants Cause Emotional Blunting” BioTechniques, 24 Jan. 2023,

10. “Patients Taking Antidepressants Become Emotionally Numb, Researchers Investigate Why” The Epoch Times, 23 Jan. 2023,

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