Study Links SSRIs to Violent Crime in Youth

Justin Karter
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Individuals between the ages of 15 and 24 are more likely to commit a violent crime if they are taking an SSRI antidepressant than if they are not, according to new research out of Sweden.  The study published in PLoS Medicine on Tuesday, suggests “warnings about the increased risk of violent behavior among young people taking SSRIs might be needed.”

In the US about “one in ten people over 12 years old take antidepressants,” drugs intended for the treatment of depression but that are also prescribed for many other mental health conditions.  Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are the newest form of antidepressant drugs and have been available since the late 1980s.

Experts believe that antidepressants “treat depression by increasing serotonin levels in the brain,” and that SSRIs such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and paroxetine (Paxil or Seroxat) accomplish this by blocking the reuptake of serotonin after it delivers a message between nerve cells.  Though, as Whitaker (2010) and other researchers have noted,  it is not evident that low serotonin levels are the cause of depression.

In 2007, the FDA issued a warning requiring antidepressant manufacturers update their black box warnings to include the risks of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in youth, but there is also “limited and inconclusive evidence linking SSRI use with violent behavior.”

A team of researchers, led by Yasmina Molero, used data on SSRI prescriptions in Sweden from 2006 to 2009 and compared it with violent crime conviction records from the Swedish national crime register.  The study design allowed the team to compare individuals to themselves.  By comparing individuals behavior while they were on and off the SSRIs, the study avoided many potentially confounding factors.

Using the “within-individual” statistical models, Molero and her team found “a significant but modest overall association (an association unlikely to have occurred by chance) between SSRIs and convictions for violent crime.”

“After adjustment for age, the association between SSRIs and convictions for violent crimes remained significant for individuals aged 15 to 24 years but became non-significant among older individuals.”

These findings are limited by the inability of the study to account for all other risk factors and can’t “prove that taking SSRIs actually causes an increase in violent crime among young people.” They do, however, “show an association between SSRIs and violent crime that varies by age group.”

“If our findings related to young people are validated in other designs, samples, and settings,” the researchers conclude, “warnings about an increased risk of violent behaviours while being treated with SSRIs may be needed.”

 

For coverage of the study by Reuters click here →

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Molero Y, Lichtenstein P, Zetterqvist J, Gumpert CH, Fazel S (2015) Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Violent Crime: A Cohort Study. PLoS Med12(9): e1001875. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001875 (Full Text)

10 COMMENTS

  1. Btw, their apologetic ideas of why it could be are so typical. It can’t be that the drug is causing it, it must be something else. Maybe the higher doses don’t cause so much aggression because they disable you for good? How about that explanation?

  2. Pfft don’t you know all psychiatric drugs are safe and effective? It wasn’t the drugs that caused violent behaviours, the drugs revealed an underlying violent disorder. Or maybe the kids were treatment resistant and it was that resistance to treatment that resulted in violent behaviours, not the drugs.

  3. “Fazel stressed that the findings raised several questions and should be investigated further before any changes were recommended on prescribing SSRIs. He said it was possible that young people taking lower doses of antidepressants were not being “fully treated” for their mental disorder, leaving them more likely to engage in impulsive behavior”.

  4. I remember all the aggressive feelings I suddenly got as a teen when they put me on psych drugs. It was explosive. I’ve become an incredibly self controlled adult, overly so. Now that I am off the drugs, I am healing myself and teaching myself to embrace my odd or angry feelings. I express them productively, always have. It was a horrible struggle as a teen when I first got it. I can look back now and see it was the rage I should have had directly at my biological father who had begun abusing me. Multiplied by many fold though.

    Now, drug free, I am clear about who is making me angry and it is a healthy reaction to the violence I experienced. If other people are reacting like I did, we are going into a proper defense rage against dangers in our lives. With the drugs disabling my senses, I couldn’t figure out who it was or where it needed to go. Now it is a beautiful and wonderful power. The anger protects me from manipulators getting into my head and it is my power to fuel my fight to freedom. I’ve used it to fuel my effort to get away from my job in medical, get away from the abusers, and keep myself going in a downpour of problems.

    I feel like a wonderful warrior. The power is healing and it is a real fruit of life. It is a great love for myself. And this was violently drugged into suffering for me for all the years I was drugged.

    • That is a beautiful post! I can absolutely relate to having to learn that my rage is essential to my survival! And you truly show how destructive idea that you are “disordered” for having your feelings can be. It destroys people’s idea of themselves and keeps them from learning how to direct their righteous indignation for the purpose it is intended.

      • Agreed Sciencelady, Steve.

        Anger is often directed at patients. I think that a lot of psychiatry and general medicine is oppressive to the practitioners themselves and we again become the scapegoat.
        Their anger is justified, however it is displaced.
        It is one reason for making up the DSM, it is simply a book of frustrations of not being able to help in real time.
        When my son took Psychology and philosophy I was worried he might end up in psychiatry, but he was wise enough not to fall into that pit and now is able to live a life of freedom, freedom to form his own thoughts and earns a meagre sum for hands on help. His hands on help is not talk, but rather things like skateboarding with kids.
        He is NOT bothered by their frustrations or anger, because he is aware that it is NOT a pathology.
        It’s great to see people like Dr Breggin make a life for himself, away from the cult of psychiatry.

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