Zoloft strengthening ear worms?
July 7, 2020 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I started taking generic Zoloft a few months ago to try and get a grip on my depression and anxiety. Recently it’s seemed like musical ear worms, which I was prone to before, have gotten stronger.

Has anyone else experienced something like this, and is it something that will fade as I’ve been on my medication longer? I’ve had moments where catchy music gets stuck in my head to the point of annoyance before I was on any psych medications. It eventually passed, but it took a couple of weeks. However, at the moment and especially at night, I’ve noticed that I don’t seem to have the anxiety spirals that caused me to seek out treatment, but I have experienced music ear worms that are “pushy” - they override my internal brain voice and sidetrack it so that the music is up front. I had been in the habit of “storytelling” to myself to get drowsy, and it’s hard to keep the thread now. I’ve tried and will keep trying meditation, but I am not experienced with it and have only had limited success. The phenomenon is less noticeable during the day.

I’m currently taking 100mg of sertraline, after stepping up to that slowly over the course of a few months. Prior to that I was taking a lowish dose of citalopram, which may have helped things a bit but I never felt like it was doing anything much.

I also have a therapist and a meds nurse. I mentioned this to the meds nurse and she said she hasn’t heard of this. I did find this Reddit thread mentioning it, although some of the people responding don’t seem to have quite the same thing. But the initial comment seems pretty close, although I knew what an ear worm was prior to this.

I am a little unsure about how much it bugs me. They aren’t intrusive thoughts in the bad way, but it’s just a little noisy in my brain right now and I’m not sure how I feel about it.
posted by PussKillian to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not exactly the same but recently went back on Paxil and I have whole entire narrative sentences popping into my head fully formed at 5am. Not recalled from something I've read or seen but brand new. I was starting to feel kind of nuts so I'm glad to see your post, and I wanted to commiserate, but can't answer on whether it will fade. Here's hoping. So far I'm trying some different noise/sound apps, and sometimes I also put BBC World Service News on overnight so when I'm restless I can focus on relaxing British voices instead of ruminating or having sentences pop up.
posted by ftm at 11:01 AM on July 7, 2020

Yes, I get this on 100 or 150mg of Sertraline. To deal with this, I listen to audiobooks at night to fall asleep but I still wake up to The Daily Earworm. Then I drink coffee and get busy and it goes away.

PS: I recently added 25mg of Valdoxan and now that I think about it, the earworms have abated?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:11 AM on July 7, 2020

That is odd - I don't have much to add other than I've been on the exact same dosage of sertraline for, oh, 5 years now? and never experienced that issue. I also did a very slow ramp up like you did. Sorry to hear that is happening. My wife and I are constantly singing made-up songs about our dogs - now I'm wondering if that increased more after I started taking Zoloft?
posted by dngrangl at 11:20 AM on July 7, 2020

Zoloft did not make my earworms worse, but I did notice increased tinnitus while on it, which got so annoying that I decreased my dosage gradually and quit. Now I only have tinnitus once in a while. Occasionally, now that I think about it, while I was on it, an earworm would form from a new song or one I didn't know well, and persist, more strongly and insistently than normal, for about a day or so. I am not sure if that was related to Zoloft, but I haven't had that happen since I stopped taking it, either.

My dose was never higher than 50 mg, for reference.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 12:16 PM on July 7, 2020

I had similar brain weirdness on sertraline, but it came along with a whole package of brain weirdness that was bad enough to make me go off the sertraline cold-turkey. (I would've stuck with it to see if it went away if I could have - it was just that bad.)
posted by Jeanne at 1:26 PM on July 7, 2020

My earworms and tinnitus have both come and gone semi-randomly as I changed antidepressants. I never really got used to tinnitus and it still bothers me now, but eventually I grew to actually enjoy the earworms.

For me the main problem with earworms was the powerless feeling it causes, because a "normal" person should be able to control what their brain does. That urge to fix it causes your brain to try and engage with them, which draws your attention to them and makes them worse. For me two things helped: a very loud white noise machine at night, and the realization that even though I can't control the fact that my brain repeats sounds, I CAN control what the sounds are. So if my brain catches on a stupid commercial jingle or something, I mentally sing something different for a bit until that replaces it.

If I'm legitimately anxious and absolutely need to fall asleep for whatever reason, the white noise machine and singing in my head may not be enough. So, I invested in a pair of soft sleep headphones and have my phone play an hour of music I find calming when I try and go to sleep.
posted by JZig at 1:38 PM on July 7, 2020

I've been on 100mg of Sertraline for 10 years. My brain is VERY sticky to earworms although it's not usually a problem.

Being on TikTok recently has been getting a lot of earworms getting stuck in my head! Maybe it's the Sertraline! You're blowing my mind!
posted by Drowsy Philosopher at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2020

You might find something interesting and relevant in this episode of Radiolab, “Earworms,” featuring neurologist Oliver Sacks among others.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:19 PM on July 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have always been a bit prone to earworms, but I do notice it much more now that I take sertraline (25mg).
posted by briank at 6:02 PM on July 7, 2020

As an additional anecdote I find too interesting not to share: I have never been on anti-depressants (though I’d likely benefit) but when I was pregnant my mood was better than it’s even been in my adult life (hormones?) AND I had a noticeable issue with earworms. Just makes me wonder about a feel-good brain chemicals/mood/earworm connection...
posted by lovableiago at 8:35 PM on July 7, 2020

I don't have that effect with my Sertraline (150mg) but I do have a technique! A dueling song to get rid of the earworm. It's a somewhat bland song from my childhood that I know all the lyrics to. I finally invoke it, sing the chorus a couple of times and usually it gets rid of the worm.
posted by teststrip at 12:11 AM on July 8, 2020

There was an article that made the rounds, I guess more than a few years back, about a new drug under development to get rid of earworms (apparently they can reach a level of inducing psychosis). It mostly made the rounds in a jokey way, but yeah, seems like there's a whole chemical pathway in the brain for earworms. It's probably listed in the side effects.
Also, you know that hard wad of paper taped to the side of Rx bottles? The ones with ALL the drug information in the tiniest print ever? Those things are fascinating. Read yours. Not only might it list earworms, but also other symptoms that you may not have really noticed, as well as whether or not you can ignore it or should follow up on it immediately. I make it a point to read them for any drug I'm taking. I caught a really important side effect once that my doctor missed and had to switch meds.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:18 AM on July 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Earworms are a subset of OCD, and SSRIs can influence OCD. I don't mind earworms much; if they get annoying, I try to vary the music I listen to. interesting question, thanks.
posted by theora55 at 6:32 PM on July 8, 2020

As a small update, my meds nurse had looked things up as well and it does seem likely to be a side effect. They aren't as strong as they were for me now, but they do still seem "stickier" than they used to be. I may have undiagnosed ADHD (will explore that in the future), and based on some recommendations for that, I'm using white noise/storm sounds more to provide something soothing for my brain to latch onto that doesn't have lyrics.
posted by PussKillian at 11:41 AM on August 11, 2020

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