SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, have been discovered to impact reinforcement learning, enabling people to learn from their surroundings and behaviors. These medications function by concentrating on serotonin, the body’s “feel-good” neurotransmitter that transmits signals between brain nerve cells. Patients who experience “blunting,” a typical SSRI side effect, claim they feel emotionally flat and cannot respond with the same level of delight as they typically would.
The researchers said their research, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, demonstrates how serotonin influences reinforcement learning. Emotional blunting is a common adverse effect of SSRI antidepressants, according to senior study author Professor Barbara Sahakian of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychiatry.
“In a sense, this may be part of how they function; they lessen some of the emotional sufferings that sufferers of depression experience, but, regrettably, it also appears that they alleviate some of the enjoyment. We can now tell from our work that this is because they lose sensitivity to incentives, which are crucial for providing feedback. 32 of the 66 participants who agreed to participate in the study received escitalopram, while the remaining individuals received a placebo.
After the 21 days, each participant answered a lengthy series of self-report questions and underwent tests of their cognitive abilities, including learning, inhibition, executive function, reinforcing behavior, and decision-making.
The escitalopram group performed two tasks less sensitive to reinforcement than the placebo group did, according to the results. “It can be challenging to distinguish between the effects of the ailment and those of the drug when a person is depressed because they may find it challenging to feel pleasant feelings like happiness. Antidepressants can aid in recovery by lowering unpleasant emotions.
Antidepressants, he continued, are a successful type of treatment for patients whose depression negatively affects their quality of life and in cases where other approaches, such as talking therapies, have failed.
Professor Pariante advised practitioners to always talk to their patients about the potential hazards and advantages of using antidepressants because, as we all know, each person will respond differently to them.
According to NHS data released in July, 8.3 million patients in England received antidepressants in 2021–2022, a 6% increase from 7.9 million the year before. Antidepressants are typically safe, according to a 2019 study published in JAMA Psychiatry that reviewed around 1,000 previous studies.
“Clinicians should periodically assess their use to make sure they remain necessary. Based on this study, “we would not advise anyone to stop taking their antidepressants, and we strongly advise anyone with concerns about their medication to see their GP.”
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