When Do Doctors Prescribe Antidepressants for Anorexia?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on September 06, 2022
2 min read

There is no medication that specifically treats anorexia. But doctors do sometimes prescribe certain antidepressants or other types of medicines to help some of the symptoms sometimes associated with anorexia, such as depression or anxiety.

When you have anorexia, you’re so afraid of gaining weight that you starve yourself. Then you get symptoms that can make you sick or even threaten your life. One of the most common signs of anorexia is depression.

Treatment plans for anorexia are specific to each person, but usually include counseling and meal plans. 

SSRIs such as fluoxetine (Prozac) have not been shown to treat weight loss or prevent relapses in anorexia.  Nevertheless, they are sometimes used to treat symptoms of depression or anxiety in people with anorexia.

The SSRI fluoxetine is FDA-approved to treat bulimia. There also is some evidence that other SSRIs may also treat symptoms of bulimia.

There aren’t any known long-term side effects from taking antidepressants. Problems, if they occur, often go away after the first week or two. The most common side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weight gain

There are also some sexual side effects, such as trouble with orgasm or ejaculation, which often don’t go away while you’re taking the medicine.

Some antidepressants carry a warning about possible suicidal thoughts in children and teenagers. If a young person you know is taking one, you need to watch them closely for this type of thinking. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 is available 24 hours a day.

Also, people shouldn’t use drugs or drink alcohol when they take antidepressants. These can make depression worse and increase negative effects. They may even make the person feel sedated. In case of an overdose, call 911 immediately or the poison control center at 800-222-1222.

Before you start taking an antidepressant, tell your doctor the following:

  • Any thoughts you have about ending your life
  • Previous and current medications, and any side effects
  • Any psychiatric or medical problems
  • If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or plan to become pregnant
  • If you drink alcohol or use drugs
  • If you’re seeing a counselor

If you’re taking an antidepressant for anorexia and want to stop, talk to your doctor first. If you quit it suddenly, it could make your symptoms come back. It can also lead to withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Headache
  • Prickling or tingling sensations on your skin