Prozac: What It Is, How It Works, and An Alternative Treatment

Prozac: What It Is, How It Works, and An Alternative Treatment
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Prozac is one of the most popular drugs ever created by the pharmaceutical industry. Like Kleenex and Band-Aid, the brand name ‘Prozac’ has come to signify a whole category of products. Films like Prozac Nation have become a cultural phenomenon that captures the particular mood and psychology of an era.

But what is Prozac, and why did it become so popular in the 1990s? Is it still the most popular and effective anti-depression and anxiety medication? What are the natural alternatives to the drug? These are some of the many questions that we will explore in this article.

What is Prozac?

Prozac is a type of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, popularly known as an SSRI. These drugs are used to treat anxiety and depressive disorders. Prozac is prescribed specifically for the treatment of a major depressive disorder, bulimia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and panic disorder.

When Prozac first hit the market in the 1980s, depression was rarely diagnosed in those who were not experiencing life-threatening symptoms. Most general practitioners didn’t prescribe anti-depression medications or talk with their patients about psychiatric health.

But within ten years of the drug’s development (and with the help of an ad campaign from the drug’s producer, Eli Lilly), Prozac became one of the most well known and heavily prescribed drugs in the entire world.

Prozac remains a very popular anti-depressant today, even though competitors like Zoloft and Lexapro have begun to encroach on the market.

Fluoxetine: The Active Ingredient

Fluoxetine is the active ingredient in Prozac. It was first developed by Eli Lilly in the early 1970s, but it wasn’t made available to patients until 1986. For many years, Lilly maintained their patent on the drug, meaning that there was no generic Prozac.

In 2001, Eli Lilly’s patent was up, and Fluoxetine is now available in generic form.

Prozac Usage: How Does Prozac Work?

Despite Prozac’s huge popularity and long track record as an effective depression remedy, we actually don’t know all that much about how the drug works.

Prozac is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which means that it inhibits the chemicals in the brain that limit serotonin, thereby boosting the amount of serotonin in the brain. It is thought that serotonin is one of the major building blocks to happiness and healthy brain function.

While this may sound simple enough, it’s an incomplete picture of the drug. That’s because scientists have shown that serotonin levels cannot, on their own, make someone depressed or happy. What’s more, Prozac usually takes several weeks to kick in, which makes no sense if the only mechanism is boosting serotonin, which should happen overnight.

There are some fascinating new theories about how Prozac may work, but they are still just theories.

Recommended Dosage For Prozac

Most adults will begin their treatment with a 20mg dose of Prozac and then move up from there if needed. Doses should never exceed 80mg a day. Most patients take Prozac in the morning upon waking.

Prozac can take several weeks before showing results. Patients should wait at least three or four weeks before determining the efficacy of their dosage. There is a Prozac Weekly option available for certain patients, which is a pill that’s only taken once a week.

Always consult with your doctor when starting a new medication like Prozac, or when changing your dosage. Failure to do so could result in serious complications.

Are There Any Prozac Equivalents?

As noted previously, Fluoxetine, the active ingredient in Prozac, became available in generic form in 2001. But Fluoxetine is not the only drug that has similar effects to Prozac.

Since Prozac took the drug market by storm in the 1990s, there’s been a scramble to create new, safer, and more effective drugs to treat the symptoms of depressive disorders and anxiety disorders. Some of these medications are also SSRIs, while others work in completely different ways. Here, we will compare a few of the major Prozac competitors.

As always, consult with your doctor about what medications are appropriate for you before beginning any new prescription drugs.

Prozac vs Zoloft

Let’s start with the similarities between Prozac and Zoloft.

Both of these drugs are prescription, name-brand SSRIs that are prescribed mainly for the treatment of depression, obsessive-compulsive, and anxiety symptoms. It is thought that they both work by balancing the levels of serotonin in the brain, though there is no scientific conclusion on this.

Both drugs can boost energy and appetite and can help patients sleep better. Both drugs have a withdrawal period.

While Prozac became very popular beginning in the late 1980s, Zoloft came into the market later. But Zoloft and its generic alternatives have since overshadowed Prozac and is now the most prescribed psychiatric medication in the United States.

One difference between Prozac and Zoloft is that the latter is not approved for use in cases of bulimia. On the other hand, Prozac is not approved for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or social anxiety disorder, but Zoloft is available to treat all three of these disorders.

Another difference is the dosage. Zoloft is available in different dosages than Prozac, and there is a liquid extract option available for Zoloft, but not Prozac.

Prozac vs Lexapro

Prozac and Lexapro have many similarities. They are both SSRIs that are commonly prescribed to treat depression. They both work, as far as we know, by boosting serotonin levels in the brain. Both drugs are available in a generic form and cost roughly the same amount of money (and both are usually covered by major insurance providers). Both drugs have a withdrawal period. There are a few differences between Prozac and Lexapro.

For one, Lexapro is only approved in the treatment of depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Prozac is approved in the treatment of multiple other psychiatric disorders.

Another difference between the two drugs is the half-life, which is the amount of time that the drug stays active in the body. Prozac has a longer half-life than Lexapro. It is also available in larger doses.

Prozac Side Effects

Prozac is generally a safe drug for most people to take, but it does come with a long list of potential side effects. Some of these effects are common, while others are exceedingly rare.

Common Side Effects

  • Abnormal Dreams
  • Chronic Trouble Sleeping
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry Mouth
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Feeling Like Throwing Up
  • Feeling Anxious
  • Feeling Weak
  • Flu-Like Symptoms
  • Headache
  • Inability To Have An Erection
  • Indigestion
  • Involuntary Quivering
  • Loss Of Appetite
  • Nervous
  • Problem With Ejaculation
  • Rashes
  • Sinus Irritation And Congestion
  • Throat Irritation
  • Widening Of Blood Vessels
  • Excessive Yawning

Severe Side Effects

  • Abnormal Heart Rhythm
  • Altered Interest In Having Sexual Intercourse
  • Chest Pain
  • Chills
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Cough
  • Excessive Thirst
  • Fast Heartbeat
  • Feeling Agitated
  • Fever
  • Frequent Urination
  • Gas
  • Hair Loss
  • Heart Throbbing Or Pounding
  • Hives
  • Hyperactive Behavior
  • Itching
  • Joint Pain
  • Problems With Eyesight
  • Ringing In The Ears
  • Sexual Problems
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Taste Problems
  • Weight Loss

Prozac Can Cause Severe Drowsiness

It is not common, but Prozac can cause severe drowsiness in some users. This can make it difficult or dangerous to operate machinery or a motor vehicle. It can also be detrimental to the mental health state that the drug is meant to treat.

Prozac Can Cause Fast Or Irregular Heartbeat

Prozac can cause a change in the user’s heartbeat. If someone is experiencing this symptom they should check with their doctor or another medical professional as soon as possible.

The Effects Of Mixing Prozac And Alcohol

Alcohol is considered a depressant. Although many people use alcohol regularly, it is a strong drug which can affect one’s mental state significantly. This is especially true for people who are already experiencing depression, and those who use Prozac or other SSRIs.

Alcohol can disrupt the functioning of Prozac, and add to the fatigue that some people already feel while using the medication. Common effects of mixing alcohol with Prozac are:

  • dizziness
  • sudden fatigue and weakness
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • suicidal thoughts

These symptoms can occur even after one drink, so people who are on Prozac are urged not to consume any alcohol.

Buying Prozac Online

There is an enormous illegal drug market that exists on disreputable and ‘dark web’ sites. Ordering prescription drugs from non-accredited pharmacies online is not only illegal, but it is also very dangerous.

There is no way to verify the dosage of illegal drugs that are ordered online. In some cases, people may receive a totally different drug under a false label. This can lead to a very dangerous situation and even accidental death.

There are some accredited pharmacies (like Walgreens, CVS, Duane Reade, etc.) that offer online prescription drug ordering and shipment. These pharmacies will be able to deliver safe, legal prescriptions right to your door. To make sure that the pharmacy you’re using is accredited, check your local state listing of accredited pharmacies.

Prozac Abuse And Addiction

Prozac is not often thought of as an ‘addictive’ drug because it does not induce serious cravings in its users, and taking high amounts of the drug does not usually produce a desirable ‘high’. However, the body and mind can get used to taking Prozac and become dependent on it to feel ‘normal’.

Many people, therefore, experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug, especially when they stop cold turkey.

Prozac Withdrawal Effects

Because Prozac is such a powerful drug, and because it stays in the body for a long period of time, even after you stop taking it, it can have a prolonged and serious withdrawal period. It is very important that users consult with their doctor before changing their dosage or quitting use of Prozac.

Some of the symptoms of Prozac withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Dizziness and trouble balancing
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea
  • Nightmares
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble sleeping

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms while using, or stopping the use of, Prozac, then contact a healthcare professional right away.

Prozac Nation: A Cult Film For Depression And Prozac Use

Prozac Nation is a 2001 American drama film based on a memoir of the same name. The memoir was written Elizabeth Wurtzel and published in 1994. Both the book and the film capture the real-life struggles of a young woman experiencing depression.

The film version of Prozac Nation stars Christina Ricci as ‘Lizzie’ Wurtzel, a promising young Harvard student who is struggling through social life in her first year of college. Wurtzel acts out her depression in a number of self-destructive ways, including sex, alcohol, and other drug abuse. In her depressive state, she alienates her friends and all of her academic and creative opportunities.

The film takes a turn when Wurtzel begins psychiatric treatment. She begins to stabilize and also starts taking the antidepressant medication, Prozac.

Both the memoir and the film versions of Prozac Nation were panned by critics. The film currently holds a 28% positive review rate on Rotten Tomatoes. However, Prozac Nation still maintains a strong cult following. Those who love the film say that it’s a rare, true depiction of what life is actually like when living through the depression.

Despite its mixed success, the name “Prozac Nation” seems to have some staying power, and has seeped into the popular culture as a way of describing the incredible rise of antidepressant use in the United States.

Alternatives To Prozac


Although Prozac has been embraced by millions of people in the United States as a simple and effective depression and anxiety treatment, there are many who would like to find alternatives.

Some worry about Prozac’s many side effects, while others don’t like the artificial sort of happiness they feel while on the drug. For these reasons and others, many are turning to other prescription and non-prescription drugs, herbs, and practices to fight their depression.

Always consult with your doctor before changing your dosage of Prozac, or starting a new depression treatment.

Alternatives to Prozac

Some people may take antidepressants like Prozac to treat their chronic pain. In these cases, there may be opioid prescription pain-killers that can replace Prozac. However, due to the highly addictive nature of opioid drugs, it is not usually recommended that people use them in the long term.

Non-opioid Alternatives to Prozac

For those using Prozac to treat depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders, there are many non-opioid alternatives. Zoloft and Lexapro (mentioned above) and their generic alternatives are other SSRIs that function much like Prozac but may work better for some people.

Other options include natural herbal remedies, such as curcumin or saffron, which have been shown to treat depression as well as Prozac in some cases. Others tout St. John’s Wort as a natural depression remedy.

For many, the best ways to treat depression do not involve any medications at all. There is much evidence to support a healthy diet, regular exercise, and/or talk therapy as the most effective depression treatments. Meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness practices have also helped many people find relief from depression and anxiety disorders.

The Natural Medication: CBD


For those who are treating their chronic pain with Prozac, there may be a more natural alternative that is not an opioid. It is called CBD.

CBD is short for Cannabidiol, a compound that is derived from the cannabis sativa plant. There are two main kinds of CBD: that which is refined from hemp, a non-psychoactive variety of cannabis, and that which is refined from marijuana.

CBD derived from marijuana often has THC in it as well, a compound that can give you a strong ‘high’ and is illegal in certain contexts.

Both forms of CBD have been touted as strong medicines to fight against issues like chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and seizures. While more scientific research is needed, early evidence supports CBD as a strong treatment for chronic pain.

CBD has the added benefit of being a non-opioid drug that is not considered addictive.

How CBD Helps

CBD is a complicated substance that has only recently gotten the scientific research that it deserves. That means that we don’t fully understand how all of its positive effects work.

We do know that the drug actives a certain serotonin receptor (called hydroxytryptamine), which has an anti-anxiety effect. We also know that it binds to TRPV1 receptors, which are known to mediate pain perception and inflammation in the body.

One thing that should be made clear is that CBD on its own does not get you high. Although marijuana does contain CBD and may have similar antipain effects, CBD on its own is a totally different kind of drug.

Why Choose CBD Over Prozac?

Some people prefer to get their medical treatments from totally ‘natural’ sources. Although CBD is usually refined before consumption, it is derived from a single plant, unlike some other lab created medications. It has proven to help many people without the serious side-effects of SSRIs.

But it doesn’t always have to be an either/or choice when it comes to Prozac and CBD. Many users suggest taking CBD in small amounts (always in consultation with your doctor) before stopping your Prozac medication. If it proves effective, you can slowly wean off of the Prozac and move to a completely CBD centered treatment.

There are serious risks associated with quitting Prozac cold turkey, even if you begin taking another drug like CBD. It can cause a severe depressive episode and suicidal thoughts. Always consult with your doctor about the medications you are taking and the dosages you are using.

Where To Get CBD

CBD is not legal in every state, and many states have specific laws related to the substance. Make sure to consult local laws before buying CBD.

CBD can be ordered online, found at local health food shops, and may also be available at apothecaries, pharmacies, and other shops. There are many different forms of CBD oil, so make sure to do your research to find out which type is best for you.