Love on other drugs?
January 26, 2011 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to feel love on antidepressants?

I have been taking antidepressants to treat an anxiety disorder for about half my life (Effexor XR, 75mg/day) and am feeling increasingly concerned about the impact it is having on my romantic life and curious to hear others experiences.

Just recently, I have ended my fifth serious relationship (12 months +) primarily due to the fact that I have not been able to cultivate or reciprocate adequate feelings of love towards my partners to sustain interest. (I am a straight male, nearing 30, fwiw).

I'm in the thick of the fallout right now trying to find a light at the end of the tunnel and get some anecdotal perspectives on the possibility this might be chemically related or something more deep-rooted to work on in therapy.

This isn't a medical question - I've tried numerous times to come off the meds to no avail, as the anxiety is simply crippling, which also makes me reluctant to try switching meds, as it also took ages to find the right fit. I have been in therapy for the last 15 years and making progress, and also practice mindfulness meditation to reduce my anxiety in general.

My only question here, is to other mefis who might be taking antidepressants of any variety, have you ever felt 'love' while on medication? Call it what you will - limerence, infatuation, true love, etc. Whatever you personally define as that feeling which leads to a strong bond or to mature love.

If anyone has any other relevant experience on the subject, I would very much be interested to hear as well.

Throwaway email :

Thank you for your time and for considering opening up on a delicate subject.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I do! I'm on antidepressants, and I am gobsmackingly in love with my boyfriend. Even when I'm not happy, I'm happy to be with him.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:26 PM on January 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have loved/been in love with my husband for more than 10 years, and I've been on and off multiple antidepressants during that time.

How do you know that you're not "[cultivating or reciprocating] adequate feelings of love"? I hate to trot out an AMF cliche, but are you specifically discussing this issue with your therapist?
posted by purlgurly at 2:30 PM on January 26, 2011

Yes. When I got married, I was taking 300 mg/day of Effexor XR and I was the blissiest-blissed-out in-love-with-her-husband schmoopy bride ever. Effexor XR does not block the ability of humans to feel love.

Now, it may not be a medication that works well for you, in which case you need to talk with your psychiatrist about it, but it's not some kind of universal anti-aphrodisiac or even the opposite of Ecstasy.

Taking 75 mg/day right now, still lovey-dovey with the husband of 11 years, adoring my godchildren, saying "Awwww" when I see little kids being cute...
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:34 PM on January 26, 2011

I took Prozac for a few years quite a while ago and it definitely did make me aloof and somewhat unresponsive emotionally. I think it was a combination of both the chemicals and my own issues that prevented me from feeling as much as I could have been for my then-husband. But he had his own problems and the drug, in retrospect, allowed me to put up with bullshit I shouldn't have tolerated.

Keep up the therapy and consider looking for patterns in your relationships. Are you getting involved with a certain type of person repeatedly? Is it the meds or do you consistently choose people who don't really rock your world?

Good luck!
posted by mareli at 2:38 PM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes. Most definitely YES.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:38 PM on January 26, 2011

Hell yeah, it is. I'm on Effexor XR (also 75 mg, although once daily) and have also been on others over the years, particularly (during a previous relationship) Celexa.

If "the anxiety is simply crippling," chances are that you've got a lot of other feelings swirling around. Being in love has difficulties even for the most well-adjusted folks. Even if the music doesn't swell when you see your loved one, even if your partner hogs the covers and forgets to take out the trash, there are many sides to love: the touching, the caring, the respect, the intellectual play, the friendship and solidity. All or one of these might be in play at any moment. Sometimes antidepressants dull these factors or make some seem more important than others. That doesn't change the fact that I know I love my partner.

It takes a loooooong time, and a lot of therapy/talking/working things out with yourself, to figure out the roots of what triggers your depression. Feeling distant from people you want to care about, feeling like you can't trust others and ESPECIALLY feeling like you can't trust yourself are big parts of depression. Unfortunately, the same come into play with love, too. I hope you take this to your therapist and discuss some possible med changes -- maybe upping the dose? adding another for a cocktail? -- as well as some of the underlying factors behind the way you feel about relationships, period.

Good luck. It takes a long, long time, but it's so worth it.
posted by Madamina at 2:40 PM on January 26, 2011

I'm came in to say what mareli said. Been on 40mg of Prozac off and on for six years and it definitely gives me a "flattening of emotions" effect ... which is both why it's effective and problematic. My doc and I are exploring alternatives but I do know what you're talking about.

I would also agree that you should take some time to explore your relationship patterns and of course, discuss what you're feeling with your doctor.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 2:49 PM on January 26, 2011

I have been on the other end of this situation, and this is something I wonder about all the time.

In addition to what others have said about meds and talking to your therapist, I would also strongly recommend that you talk to your partner about this.

It is really, really hard to be in a situation where you're in love with someone, they're not in love with you, the relationship is otherwise great, and they won't talk about it. It is almost impossible to make yourself so completely vulnerable to someone, to feel so strongly about them, and then to not have it reciprocated. It's the ultimate rejection and really difficult not to make personal. It would be especially comforting to hear something like, "I think my meds are screwing with my ability to feel emotions." Actual back and forth dialogue is also good, rather than holding a sort of press conference on the matter.
posted by Sara C. at 2:50 PM on January 26, 2011

Yes, you can feel love on antidepressants. In fact, you can feel pretty much the full gamut of human emotion on antidepressants. There are a lot of misconceptions about what antidepressants do and don't do that come about when people try to explain them metaphorically in terms of emotion. Antidepressants don't really tamp down feelings, don't stimulate some supposed reward center or narrow the band of emotional experience. These are all metaphors we use to explain the way we feel that have no consistent physical correlation in terms of what's going on in the brain.

Our brains just don't operate such that there is any direct or logical correlation between the abstract constructs we use to describe our feelings, like love, fear, sadness, or attachment, and the physical functioning of the brain that produces them. Each of these higher-order feelings is the product of an incomprehensibly complex set of interactions hormones and neurotransmitters, each of which is involved in a dizzying array of oft-times paradoxical seeming body and brain functions. Elevating levels of the one chemical can cause both excitation and sedation, or neither, depending on how much, where in the brain, and when.

The antidepressant you're on selectively inhibits the reuptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine in certain locations of your brain. Any other way of understanding it is figurative and pretty much pointless to use as a basis for extrapolation. It doesn't do anything that brain can't on doesn't do on its own. You are the same person with the same thoughts and pretty much the same feelings as you are off of it. The brain will adapt and reregulate itself to the effects of the antidepressant, and the hope is that when it does so, you no longer experience counterproductive levels of anxiety.

One common side effect of antidepressants that might have something to do with what you're experiencing is a reduction in sex drive. It's not hard to imagine how that could contribute to something your mind mediates as an inability to feel "love." If you think this may be part of it, you can talk to your doctor about a newly approved antidepressant, vilazodone, that is reportedly less likely to cause sexual side effects.
posted by patnasty at 3:00 PM on January 26, 2011

It might actually be the nature of the relationships you've had, not the medication. Relationships and antidepressants are similar that way - sometimes they don't work, sometimes they work a little bit, sometimes they mostly work but with too many weird side effects to be effective, and then sometimes they're fantastic.

But yeah. It is absolutely possible to experience love on antidepressants.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:01 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anti-depressants have not stopped my ability to love and be in love, but they have definitely removed the desperate intensity of it.

They have also removed the desperate intensity of a lot of other things so I consider it a good trade-off, but these days I'm just fond of my partner and enjoy my time with them.

You might want to take a close look at what "adequate feelings of love" means to you. How it would feel and how it would manifest itself. It may be that you have to readjust your expectations.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:09 PM on January 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I felt strong feelings of love towards my husband throughout the year I was on antidepressants. Of course, that was sustaining a pre-existing relationship, not developing a new one. For what it's worth, I continued to get the occasional crush on other men during that time, which is normal for me.

Since I came off them, however, my urges to drag him off to the bedroom have gone through the roof, so I guess they were supressing my sex drive, if not my romantic feelings.
posted by lollusc at 3:09 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, absolutely. Some antidepressants make me feel numb, some make me puke, and some actually make me feel pretty normal, for me. Everything from mad crushes on people to finding tiny puppies adorable to longing for old boyfriends - in fact, going on medications helped me get back to that.

This is the sort of thing I would mention to my psychiatrist.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 3:16 PM on January 26, 2011

Anecdotal but true: Oh yes! I take 2 different anti-dep/anti-anx and if anything they've only improved my ability to be in relationships. My anxiety and bouts with depression made it very hard to be with someone. I started my rxs right before I got married and I've never looked back. (Also have done lots of therapy and stopped using recreational drugs and alcohol, so it's not just the meds that help me.)

It really depends on getting the right dosage and combination, and only you and your Dr. can figure that out.
posted by wowbobwow at 3:23 PM on January 26, 2011

You state that you are thirty and have been in therapy for fifteen years, meaning that you started therapy aged approximately fifteen. If your problems required fifteen or more years of therapy it is reasonable to assume that therapists or other medical professionals have noticed a requirement, or indeed the possible benefit of prescribing anti-depressants during the time you have been in therapy. You also state that you have have had five serious relationships in this time, yet that they have failed owing to your own inability to cultivate or reciprocate feelings for the significant other. Your most recent relationship you describe as both serious and lasting twelve months or more. Women do not enter into serious year long relationships with emotionally flat men.

On the basis of the facts alone, I do not believe that your problem is a lack of ability to form or indeed cultivate relations, nor indeed is the lack of an ability to form emotional connections a side effect of anti-depressant medication. Indeed, quite the opposite is true. Without meaning to offend, and fully cognisant of the fact that my entire introduction to your dilemma comes from a single AskMe question, I put it to you that your problem is not a by-product of your medication, but perhaps a result of some deeper issue which you may address through your therapy.
posted by dougrayrankin at 4:02 PM on January 26, 2011

What is Love? Sympathetic pheromones, similar long-term goals, and something vaguely romantic added too.

The SSRI drugs are just an extra filter.
posted by ovvl at 4:12 PM on January 26, 2011

Have been on and off of antidepressants for my entire dating life, including a few serious relationships. It has NOT hampered my ability to be in love - including some real whiz-bang, roller-coaster, oh-my-god-I'm-gonna-barf new love.

There is also the extremely real possibility that you just haven't met a woman with whom you CAN cultivate a connection. The ability to really "click" with other people is on a bell curve... some people can connect with anyone at all, most people can connect with SOME people, and some people have a hard time forming a strong romantic bond with almost ANYONE. You may very well be one of the outliers who needs to hook more fish than most to find a keeper.
posted by julthumbscrew at 4:14 PM on January 26, 2011

I have to strongly disagree with a few of the previous posters who disagree with the notion that antidepressants can't have a describable, consistent affect on ones mind. That very notion seems ridiculous as I have experience exactly what you (and millions of others on antidepressants) have noted: flat affect.
posted by speedgraphic at 4:53 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, hells ya. Antidepressants have never stopped my romantic thoughts, although they have at time put a damper on my ability to orgasm.

What you're describing is a psychological, commitment-phobic sort of reaction, not a chemical problem. Therapy, therapy, therapy.

In fact, I think it's interesting that you don't mention much about the psychological/emotional aspects of your relationships; perhaps significant that you even assume it might be chemically fixable.

What was your home life like as a child? Your parents' relationship? These are the sorts of formative patterns that made you into you (with lots of decoration along the way, to be sure).

Good luck.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:00 PM on January 26, 2011

I was a bit of a zombie while taking paxil and I cut my dose in half, with my Doc's knowledge of course. Now I feel good, don't have ED (!) anymore and have very strong emotions.
posted by snsranch at 5:03 PM on January 26, 2011

I have to strongly disagree with a few of the previous posters who disagree with the notion that antidepressants can't have a describable, consistent affect on ones mind.

That wasn't the question the OP was asking, as I understood it. He wasn't asking "Is it possible that my own issues might have something to do with my own experience of flattened affect on these particular drugs?" Because, yeah, that's possible--everyone reacts to drugs differently, including psychopharmaceutical drugs.

My understanding of the question he was asking is "Hey, MeFites, do you, while on antidepressants, experience flattened affect?" (to which the answer is "No" for me), and "Do you, while on antidepressants, experience an inability to feel 'limerence, infatuation, true love, etc. Whatever you personally define as that feeling which leads to a strong bond or to mature love.'?" (to which the answer is "No" for me).

It may be that the OP experiences flattened affect with his current antidepressant regime. It may be that that flattened affect has an effect on his ability to get excited about romantic partners. But what I understood the reality check he was looking for to be was around whether or not this is a universal experience and he shouldn't expect anything different because it's the same for everyone. It is not the same for everyone. It is not a universal experience. It's something he should discuss with his psychiatrist and/or therapist.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:06 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've tried numerous times to come off the meds to no avail, as the anxiety is simply crippling

When you attempted to come off Effexor, did you taper the dose very gradually over a period of months? Effexor is notorious for its nasty discontinuation syndrome, and anxiety is one of the major symptoms.

which also makes me reluctant to try switching meds, as it also took ages to find the right fit

You might want to consider trying Cymbalta. It's mechanistically very similar to Effexor, and would therefore be less of a risk than trying another random member of the antidepressant class. You can always go back to Effexor if you feel your mood slipping. In fact, the ideal transition would probably involve starting on a low dose of Cymbalta in addition to your normal dose of Effexor, and gradually increasing the former while decreasing the latter over a period of weeks or months. That would give you plenty of time to catch any change in mood, and reverse course if necessary.
posted by dephlogisticated at 5:39 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have taken a lot of different antidepressants over the years, and I'm currently on wellbutrin (along with some other meds; I'm bipolar).

I don't feel love as strongly as I did before I was well-medicated. I don't have a problem with this, because I see it as a trade-off for not wanting to kill myself every day, and being able to generally function well and hold a job. It's worth the price. And when I wasn't medicated, and felt emotions more strongly, (especially infatuation), it often got me into trouble - making rash decisions (quitting jobs, moving across the country, leaving a marriage) due to the crazy love (infatuation) chemicals going through my head, which greatly interfered with my ability to reason. So for me, the dampening has been a net plus.

Sometimes I worry a little about what I might be missing, or that something is wrong, or that I'm cheating my partner by not being more into him or something. But then I think more carefully and realize that I do love him very much, in many ways, but it's more of a mature, slow steady burn kind of thing. Very stable, very strong. We have been together for four years and things are still going very well and we are very happy with one another. Before this relationship, I couldn't last more than a year with anyone without things falling apart, and in hindsight a lot of that was probably due to my high level of emotional volatility.

Only you can decide if your medication regimen is worth it. Maybe if you consider things from a slightly different angle you might realize that you love the one you're with in a deeper way than surface infatuation, and you can keep things going. Or maybe none of them have been the right person for you regardless.
posted by marble at 5:40 PM on January 26, 2011

Just recently, I have ended my fifth serious relationship (12 months +) primarily due to the fact that I have not been able to cultivate or reciprocate adequate feelings of love towards my partners to sustain interest.

If you're comparing your reactions to the time before you were medicated then yeah, you might be finding it difficult to find that level of intensity. The question is, were those healthy levels of intensity?

I know in my case it wasn't. I was depressed and desperate and on multiple occasions found myself with a near-manic level of intensity about someone. This might have been unique to me, but looking back on it I can tell I was wanting so intensely because I'd identified this relationship as what was going to save me. I didn't think in those terms at the time, but in hindsight I can tell I was pinning everything on these relationship possibilities because I wasn't seeing any hope anywhere else.

When I started taking SSRIs I stopped feeling that manic level of passion and I did miss it somewhat. But I miss it the way I miss the level of passion I felt as a teen - simultaneous with thinking "holy crap I'm glad I don't have all that other shit in my life that came with it."

That's not to be glib about the difficulty of the transition - it WAS challenging to relate to people in a more even-handed fashion. And you may well need to modulate your dosage - a lot of people have to experiment to find what's right for them. But consider whether you're really feeling blunted of if you're just reacting to what it feels like to be "normal" rather than depressive.
posted by phearlez at 5:42 PM on January 26, 2011

Anti-depressants have not stopped my ability to love and be in love, but they have definitely removed the desperate intensity of it.

They have also removed the desperate intensity of a lot of other things so I consider it a good trade-off, but these days I'm just fond of my partner and enjoy my time with them.

You might want to take a close look at what "adequate feelings of love" means to you. How it would feel and how it would manifest itself. It may be that you have to readjust your expectations.

Speaking as a dude nearing 30, you may need to readjust your expectations for reasons that have nothing to do with Effexor.

I'm not as obsessively lovey-dovey in relationships as I used to be. Looking at my girlfriend doesn't put me in a state of total slack-jawed brain-melting bliss the way it did when I was 14. I still love her; it's just not the sort of love that grabs you by the hair and shakes you until you pass out. For me, none of this has anything to do with medication. It's just a matter of getting older and calmer.

You might consider the possibility that this is what's going on with you: that you're experiencing normal grown-up love just fine, but dismissing it because it's not the oh-God-I'll-just-die-if-I-can't-see-you-this-instant rush that you're expecting.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:45 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Er, that was me agreeing and elaborating on the quoted comment, not quibbling with it. Yes and, not no.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:46 PM on January 26, 2011

I am on Effexor XR (150 mg), Seroquel and Wellbutrin at the moment (although the doc and I are in the midst of trying new stuff). I went on drugs after my husband and I got married and it hasn't made a difference in my feelings for him.
posted by deborah at 5:49 PM on January 26, 2011

Anti-depressants have not stopped my ability to love and be in love, but they have definitely removed the desperate intensity of it.

Agree. Emphasis on desperate. They don't decrease intensity or change emotions, they just dampen the effects. What might have felt like a physical punch in the guts, might now just feel like heartache.

What they DO do is give you control over emotions. Instead of becoming infatuated and obsessive, love builds more maturely. It allows you to have disagreements without them turning into emotional "fuck you what did I do wrong don't leave stop touching my face I hate the way you breathe will you marry me" roller coasters.

If you don't have any feelings for these people, maybe you just don't have any feelings for these people?
posted by gjc at 6:19 PM on January 26, 2011

Personally, I had a problem feeling love while on Effexor. Not just romantic love either -- I intellectually knew I loved the people in my life but could not experience the heart leaping joy I was used to, in any kind of love. It seems clear from the many answers here that some people -- not all -- have a strongly muted emotional response while on Effexor or other anti-depressants. For me, this was not psychological but chemical. When I went off Effexor my emotional intensity, including my experience of love, returned to normal (and again, I *knew* I loved people, and cared for them, but could not feel the ping in my heart while on Effexor.) Obviously this is not true for everyone. I have many friends whose only blocked feeling on anti-depressants is depression. Maybe some people just react differently. But it does seem there is a wide chemical variability.
By the way, I could only get off Effexor very, very, very gradually, or else I was thrown into severe withdrawal. The only way I could taper without unpleasant side effects was (with my doctor's approval, of course) to literally take one less bead a day from the capsule.
posted by Tylwyth Teg at 6:59 PM on January 26, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
I just wanted to thank everyone for sharing their feedback and experiences. I know that meds and therapy can be a hot button issue on the green, but its really encouraging to hear a wide variety of personal reports, most of which have very encouraging and has given me some renewed motivation to unpack some of these things in therapy. Thank you so much.

(Also, in response to dephlogistated, when I came off, I tapered over the course of 6 months. For the last weeks, I was on literally crumbs of the drug.)
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:15 PM on January 26, 2011

I'm on an SSRI right now, and am going through a series of serious relationships, none have which have resulted in me feeling intensely in any direction. I'm considering trying to taper off as this is a problem or possibility that has been worrying me as well.
posted by whalebreath at 9:35 PM on January 26, 2011

I met my current fiancé in June 2009, about a year before I started taking Lexapro. I'd say that my love for him has only increased since then. Seriously, he's sitting next to me in bed and I love him so much I just want to SQUEEZE HIM.

I do have to agree with some of the other commenters: my sex drive has diminished a bit. If I were 16 or 17 again, I'd take this as a sign that I was losing interest in him. However, I am an adult and I realize that sex /= love. I am still very, very attracted to him. I see him all goddamn day long (we work together) and the fact that I can't grope him whenever I want to displeases me greatly.

How long have you been on this regimine? Have you talked about this specific problem with your psychiatrist?
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:54 PM on January 26, 2011

My ex-girlfriend asked a similar question about me. I've stayed on Effexor since then and although I've had a few significant relationships with wonderful women, I haven't fallen in love. I'm not sure why.
posted by spork at 10:09 PM on January 26, 2011

Yup. I was on Lexapro as I feel deeply, deeply in love with my (current of 2+ years) girlfriend.
posted by The Dutchman at 12:00 AM on January 27, 2011

I'm on Effexor too; dropped in to note the thing about the discontinuation syndrome-- withdrawls from Effexor are a bitch (I took mine like 6 hours late today and I feel anxious already); if you end up going off it because of this make sure your doc can put you on something else while you taper it off to manage the discontinuation syndrome or you just taper it off super slow or the like.
posted by NoraReed at 7:37 PM on January 27, 2011

I don't know if this post is still going at all, but I've experienced exactly the same thing as the OP. (I was taking Venlafaxine/Effexor for approx. 7 years).

I would REALLY recommend checking out this forum/thread I found


specifically about relationships/marriages that had fallen apart after people started taking antidepressants - but what I noticed specifically about all the stories in the forum, was it seemed quite a big majority of the people on there had been taking Effexor...!!! I don't know what it is about that drug, but it seems to be a love killer. The only time I have ever felt real moving deep breathtaking love was when I met someone when I was off it. As soon as I started taking it, something disappeared, then when I came off it again (as I found that site, and thought it could be the reason), the love returned smacking me again in the face.....! Of course, there can be all kinds of reasons for love dying or changing, or someone could just not be the right person in the first place, but I do think drugs can effect feelings, and maybe Effexor is worse for some reason.
posted by haroldina at 5:29 PM on October 27, 2011

P.s. I found (as someone on that site i recommended also found) - that when I was on the drug, I felt like the person i was with was sort of annoying me by wanting my attention and time, i felt claustrophobic and panicky/trapped by them being so into me. Whereas while not on the stuff I felt moved and amazing with the same show of love from them... It was like the Effexor made me feel too impatient and restless like I wanted to discover something new and superficial all the time, and new people and kind of show off, like I was on cocaine or something, instead of being grounded by real emotions.
posted by haroldina at 5:34 PM on October 27, 2011

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