Seroquel Addiction and Abuse
Seroquel Addiction and Abuse
Seroquel, an atypical antipsychotic medication, has been approved by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of schizophrenia and certain types of bipolar and depressive disorders. Yet, despite warnings, there’s evidence of widespread off-label use of the drug. Several studies even indicate that Seroquel is the most commonly abused atypical antipsychotic. Abuse can lead to addiction that requires treatment and therapy in a rehab facility.
Is Seroquel Addictive?
Although Seroquel (quetiapine) is not a controlled substance, it does have a potential for misuse or abuse. It has the highest potential for abuse when it’s taken without a prescription or taken in a way other than that suggested by a health professional. Studies state that Seroquel is the most abused atypical antipsychotic.1
It’s believed that people abuse and misuse Seroquel because of how it reduces anxiety and ease sleep deprivation, not because of its euphoric effects. Despite warnings by their doctors, some people take the drug in higher amounts, more often, and for a longer period of time than their doctors recommend.
Abuse in People with Histories of Drug Use
According to several case reports, Seroquel abuse is most common in people with some history of multi-substance abuse. Some case reports are about inmates in jails or prisons, who may take Seroquel because obtaining controlled substances like opioids and benzodiazepines in restrictive environments is not an option.2
Potential for Addiction
The Korean Society of Applied Pharmacology tried to determine the drug’s potential for causing physical and psychological dependence. Their findings show that quetiapine affects the neurological systems related to abuse liability. They also found that it has the potential to lead to psychological dependence.
Seroquel can make life more bearable for people who have severe mental illnesses. People without mental illnesses may find that the drug helps them experience feelings of pleasure and relaxation. The more they abuse the drug, the more prone they are to developing tolerance. To experience the same high, they’ll need progressively higher doses. Not every person who abuses Seroquel will become addicted. But abuse is the first step toward addiction.
Easy to Abuse
The drug has a potential for misuse, as it comes in a format that’s easy to abuse. People can take the pill orally or crush it and snort the powder. When snorted or used intravenously, the drug creates a large dopamine surge, which can lead to addiction.
What Type of Drug is Seroquel?
Seroquel is the brand name for the generic drug quetiapine, which was approved in 1997 by the Food and Drug Administration. It’s a second-generation and atypical antipsychotic used in the treatment of:
Schizophrenia: Doctors often prescribe Seroquel for adult and pediatric schizophrenia.
Bipolar disorder: Seroquel is an approved drug for the treatment of acute depressive episodes in bipolar disorder. It is also used in combination with lithium to enhance treatment for bipolar depressive episodes. Doctors often prescribe it for the long-term management of bipolar disorder and its symptoms.
Major depressive disorder: Seroquel is not the primary drug in the treatment for major depressive disorder, but it can be added to increase the effects of the primary medication.
Seroquel is part of a newer generation of antipsychotic drugs known as atypical antipsychotics (AAs). They are designed to help patients suffering from a psychiatric condition known as psychosis. The first generation of antipsychotic drugs was known to cause Parkinson’s-like side effects. The second-generation antipsychotics come with fewer adverse effects. The most common side effects of the new drugs include weight gain, metabolic problems, and sexual symptoms, among others.
Prescribed to Treat Withdrawal from Other Drugs
Doctors also prescribe AAs for the treatment of withdrawal symptoms from abused substances such as:
Antipsychotics may either reduce or increase the level of neurotransmitters in the brain. The affected neurotransmitters include dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. The drugs primarily affect the levels of dopamine in the brain, as an overactive dopamine system may be one cause of the delusions and hallucinations people experience during psychosis.
This class of drugs helps patients suffering from mental/mood conditions by restoring the balance of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Some of the positive effects include:
Enhancing positive thought
Raising levels of activity in everyday life
Improving sleep, appetite, and energy levels
Preventing severe mood swings or reducing their number
Is Seroquel a Controlled Substance?
Seroquel is not a controlled substance, as it’s believed not to cause addiction. But studies from recent years report widespread off-label use of the drug.
Little knowledge exists about the reasons for off-label prescribing of Seroquel. Experts argue that Seroquel is a more attractive treatment option than other antipsychotics. It has low dystonia and extrapyramidal side effects.
Some people abuse it due to its sedative effects, either alone or in combination with other substances. Other people take the drug to boost the effects of illicit substances or to prevent their negative effects.
Is Seroquel Safe?
According to the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System, Seroquel was the primary or secondary suspect in 20,000 cases of adverse events in 2017. That number included 1,754 deaths in which the drug was a primary suspect and 2,309 deaths in which the drug was a secondary suspect. In 93% of the cases, the cause for the incident was an off-label prescribing of the medication.
In recent years, an increasing number of doctors have been prescribing the drug off-label for the treatment of insomnia. Many of these doctors have minimal training in psychiatry and limited understanding of the adverse effects. According to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, 25% of Americans have acute insomnia each year.3 Even though many medical experts have warned of the pill’s side effects, Seroquel continues to be prescribed to many Americans. The majority of these people are not even aware that the drug is primarily aimed at aiding mental/mood conditions.
Many drugs can affect the side effects of Seroquel and make them more severe. Some drugs that interact with Seroquel and can cause problems include:
Illegal substances, or "street drugs"
Cold, cough, and allergy drugs
Drugs that treat mental illness, such as antidepressants
Drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS
Some types of antibiotics
Fungal disease medications
Steroids that are taken orally
Drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease
What are the Street Names for Seroquel?
The most common street names for Seroquel include:
Q-ball (when combined with cocaine)
How do People Use Seroquel?
Seroquel can be used in various ways. Most commonly, it’s taken orally as a pill or a tablet on its own. Some people crush the pill or tablet and snort its contents.
Those who don’t want to snort the pill dissolve it in a water-based liquid and inject the content into their veins. Abusing Seroquel intravenously carries the highest risk for overdose. It also increases the risk of transmission of HIV and hepatitis.
Seroquel might also be abused in combination with other substances such as cocaine. Mixing prescription medications with illicit drugs has been a common practice. Some people take the mix to enhance the intoxication effects from the illicit substances and lower their adverse effects. For example, Seroquel is, dangerously, mixed with cocaine to mitigate the dysphoria effects related to cocaine withdrawal.
Injecting the drug into the veins increases the risk of developing pulmonary complications. Moreover, Seroquel can amplify the cardiovascular and arrhythmogenic properties of cocaine.
Effects of Seroquel
The first-generation antipsychotics have a larger number of side effects. But the atypical psychotics also come with a few side effects. A person taking Seroquel will experience these effects for about six hours. Common short-term side effects of Seroquel can include:
Numbness in arms or legs
Missed menstrual periods
Moreover, mixing Seroquel with alcohol comes with another set of side effects. Drinking alcohol while taking the antipsychotic can worsen the side effects of the drug and lead to:
Changes in appetite
Changes in liver function
The most common long-term effects of Seroquel include:
Increased risk of diabetes
Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Can You Overdose on Seroquel?
The Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) found that 39.5% of total prescriptions in 2017 were written for Seroquel. The increase in Seroquel prescriptions has led to a rise in overdoses and problems with dependence. According to the US Drug Abuse Warning Network, there has been a 90% increase in the number of Seroquel-related emergency department visits between 2005 and 2011.4 It was found that the recreational use of the drug poses health risks for users, especially women and polydrug users.
Although the drug has positive effects for people with mental illness, recreational use is dangerous. Injecting Seroquel has many risks associated with it, including increased risk for HIV and hepatitis transmission.
Seroquel blocks histamine, muscarinic, and alpha receptors. An overdose might lead to CNS depression, tachycardia, orthostatic hypotension, or delirium.5
The most common symptoms of a Seroquel overdose include:
- Rapid heartbeat
Apart from overdosing, other life-threatening side effects include delirium, seizures, and cardiac dysrhythmias.
How Do I Stop Using Seroquel?
People who have been taking Seroquel for a prolonged period and in high doses will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop. The most common side effects might include:
The best method for getting clean is entering a substance abuse rehab center and undergoing detox, where a team of medical professionals can care for the person in recovery and attend to their needs.
What are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Seroquel?
Regular use of Seroquel for a long period of time can lead to a discontinuation syndrome. Antipsychotic discontinuation syndrome is the set of symptoms that may happen when a person:
- Suddenly stops taking an antipsychotic, or
- Drastically lowers the dose
According to the International Journal of Mental Health Counseling, nearly 40% of people who stop taking antipsychotics may experience discontinuation syndrome.6 The symptoms generally appear within the first few days after stopping. They tend to be the most severe one week after stopping and fade away after that.
Discontinuation symptoms have been reported to happen very often and can include:
Nausea and vomiting
The withdrawal symptoms of Seroquel vary significantly from person to person. They depend on the doses taken, the period of time, and the method of use.
For example, a person who has been taking low doses of the drug might experience minimal withdrawal symptoms that might last a week or two. If the person has been taking higher doses for a longer time, the symptoms might be more severe.
Additional factors could be at play, including the person’s underlying mental health issues.
The best treatment involves tapering the dose slowly under the supervision of a medical professional. Gradual withdrawal over a period of one to two weeks is recommended.
Treatment for Seroquel Addiction
Co-occurring Disorder Treatment
In some people, addiction is the result of an underlying mental health issue. In others, addiction develops first, and mental health symptoms appear later. Sometimes, mental health symptoms may be worsened by drug use.
Although there is no one cause for addiction, a mental health issue may increase the likelihood of developing an addiction and vice versa.
People who are suffering from an addiction and a mental health problem should seek treatment for a co-occurring disorder. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, this type of treatment can:
- Lower the relapse rate
- Reduce the number of suicide attempts
- Lead to long-term sobriety
Many rehab centers offer an integrated approach to co-occurring disorder treatment. Patients receive all the medical, therapeutic, and holistic care they need to heal mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Staff members at these treatment centers have specialized training and qualifications for dual diagnosis treatment. They possess the knowledge and experience to help patients achieve long-term health.
A person suffering from an addiction will experience a range of withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug. This is known as the detox period, and it may last a few days or a couple of weeks. These withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, harmful, and even life-threatening, and medical detox at a rehab center is recommended. People who enter a medical detox facility can withdraw from drugs safely in a comfortable and secure environment.
Inpatient care lasts anywhere from 21 days to several months. It’s a suitable treatment option for people who are battling with a severe case of addiction. They will be monitored 24/7 by a team of medical professionals who understand addiction and its underlying issues. Patients will live on-site and attend a wide range of activities, including:
- 12-step meetings
- One-on-one therapy sessions
- Group therapy sessions
There’s a broad array of inpatient centers to choose from, ranging from those that use the 12-step method to those that offer a more holistic approach. However, all types of centers have the same focus, and that is to help the patient learn healthier habits, attitudes, and behaviors.
Outpatient care is intended for people who are suffering from a milder form of addiction. It’s also more suitable for patients who have a safe place to live in, and who have other people to attend to their needs. If the person requires minimal care and has daily responsibilities they can’t miss, then outpatient care is the best option.
A person receiving outpatient treatment lives off-site but comes to the rehab center for on-site meetings. Similar to inpatient care, the patient participates in 12-step meetings and one-on-one therapy sessions. Depending on the rehab center, they might also attend holistic classes such as meditation and yoga.
Before leaving inpatient/outpatient treatment, patients are encouraged to work with a therapist to develop an aftercare plan. The purpose of an aftercare plan is to help patients maintain their sobriety, find purpose in life, and create healthy relationships with themselves, friends, and family.
Although each person receives a customized plan, some common components of a typical aftercare treatment plan include:
Participation in a 12-step or alternative support group
Relapse prevention programming
Seroquel belongs to the class of drugs known as atypical antipsychotics. The drugs were initially invented as a safer alternative to first-generation antipsychotics. However, recent studies and reports suggest an alarming increase in their off-label use. Seroquel has been named as the most commonly abused atypical antipsychotic.
Seroquel abuse is related to its potent sedative effect rather than its euphoric effects. When it’s used for recreational/self-medication purposes without medical supervision, it can result in adverse side effects, including potential substance abuse and dependence.
People who are taking the drug must follow their doctor’s recommendations precisely. If a Seroquel addiction develops, the safest way to long-term abstinence is medical detox and comprehensive inpatient/outpatient care. Ongoing recovery efforts, including aftercare, are also critical for a successful and long-term recovery.
This information should not replace a visit to a doctor or treatment center. If you are concerned that you or your loved one might be suffering from Seroquel addiction, ask for professional help today.
- Sarah L. Anderson and Joseph P. Vande Griends, “Quetiapine for insomnia: A review of the literature,” American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, Vol. 71, March 2014