If you have been dealing with chronic acne breakouts and have met with your dermatologist for help, the dermatologist possibly recommended Accutane, medically known as isotretinoin as a potent acne treatment. But maybe you are reluctant to take this advice because you are worried about the so-called Accutane depression syndrome – based on common speculation that Accutane can cause depression and suicidal thoughts.
While you are certainly justified to feel concerned about the potential contraindications or side effects of the Accutane, it is important to learn more about Accutane’s impact on your body and health in general. This knowledge will help you better understand how this powerful medication works and feel less panicky about Accutane depression.
What Is Accutane?
It is important to know the basics about this controversial medication.
Isotretinoin, more commonly known as Accutane, is an oral medication that is prescribed for the treatment of severe acne and pimples. In addition to its use for severe cases of acne, Accutane is also used in some cases to treat stubborn (but not necessarily acute) acne that has refused to be cleared up by other acne medications.
Accutane is commonly sold under brand names like Zenatane and Absorica, but it is also available in generic form as isotretinoin. Ordinarily, Accutane medications are prescription only, given the very potent nature of the medication.
Does Accutane Depression Exist?
The relatively common fear of Accutane depression is puzzling for the simple reason that there are very few, if any, proven cases to validate the yet unsubstantiated notion that Accutane and depression are linked. In spite of many credible attempts to study the correlation between Accutane use and depression, there has not yet been any clinically established proof that Accutane depression is real.
Although some peripheral studies have found purported higher risk of depression linked to Accutane, such findings have been largely based on Anecdotal evidence and even then, twice as many studies indicate that no such risk were found for the majority of people – except for those who already have a history of depression and severe anxiety.
The key point to note is that certain individuals on Accutane medication may be diagnosed with depression and other anxiety disorders, but such conditions have not been linked directly to Accutane use. In other words, people using Accutane for acne, like anyone else, can suffer unrelated health issues pertaining to depression – but this does not implicate Accutane use as the cause of depression.
Depression can happen to any individual, regardless of whether they are taking Accutane or not. This means that experiencing depression while taking Accutane is not necessarily the same thing as experiencing ‘Accutane depression’, unless the depression is explicitly shown to have occurred because of Accutane use.
Risk Factors for Accutane Depression
While Accutane depression in the real sense typically does not occur in people with no prior history of depression and serious anxiety disorders, individuals with other risk factors, such as family history of acute depression, bipolar disorder, chronic substance abuse, or very stressful life events may be more at risk of depression when taking large doses of Accutane.
It is worthwhile to remember, nonetheless, that the mere fact that you are using Accutane to treat acne does not mean you will become depressed. You should only be concerned about potential Accutane depression and seek the advice of your doctor if you have the risk factors indicated above.
In the worst cases where you have the risk factors and still proceed to use Accutane for acne treatment, it is likely that any symptoms of depression experienced during the period of Accutane use will go away as soon as you discontinue the Accutane medication.
Why Does the Idea of Accutane Depression Persist If Unproven?
While there is yet no proven link between Accutane use and onset of depression in most people, concern about Accutane depression persists largely because of some alternative schools of thought that insist on drawing parallels between Accutane and depression.
The first perspective focuses on the derivation of Accutane from Vitamin A – a powerful vitamin that is responsible for numerous functions in the human central nervous system. Theorists in this school of thought suggest that Accutane possibly disrupts serotonin production and utilization by the body. This is noteworthy because serotonin is closely linked to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and aggression.
The second perspective focuses on how Accutane arguably triggers changes in the area of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that constantly creates neurons through a process termed neurogenesis. Experiments conducted using mice shows that the formation of neutrons in the hippocampus is reduced while taking Accutane. This school of thought speculates that the decrease in neurogenesis may be a biological explanation for depression during Accutane use.
Instructively, a third perspective suggests that the frustrating condition of acne itself is potentially more likely to cause depression – particularly in severe cases – than Accutane use does. In this case, it may erroneously be assumed that Accutane is responsible for the onset of depression.
Benefits of Accutane Use for Acne Treatment
Although Accutane comes with side effects just like any other drug, it is extremely effective for treating even the most severe acne – including inflammatory and cystic acne – even for cases that seem resistant to other acne medications. Therefore, it is important to balance the benefits of accutane for acne treatment against its risks.
Since severe acne can be depressing in itself, and people with severe acne are more likely to be depressed because of it, interventions that eliminate acne or substantially reduce it may improve your self-image and self-confidence.
How to Avoid Accutane Depression During Acne Treatment
If you decide to ignore concerns about Accutane depression and proceed Accutane treatment for acne, you do not have to be unnecessarily panicky about it. Just make sure to be observant and look out for the following depression symptoms while you’re on Accutane medication:
- Unusual changes in mood and behavior
- Unusual feelings of sadness, irritability, anger or aggressiveness
- Suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of harming yourself
Sometimes people who are closest to you, such as family members and close friends, will observe changes in your behavior and personality before you become aware of them yourself. It may be necessary to seek their opinions in this regard, so that they can help you look out for major changes in your behavior that could signal a potential problem with Accutane depression. If you feel that something has done wrong since you started taking Accutane, you must consult your doctor immediately.
Ultimately, it is crucial to bear in mind that Accutane depression is not a big risk for the vast majority of individuals who use Accutane for acne treatment. If you have severe acne, you may find that it is in your best interest to consider using Accutane – as long as you do not have a history of depression and other anxiety disorders that predispose you to the side effects of Accutane.