What is Prozac? (Fluoxetine)

Jordan Kadish
January 4, 2023

There are a handful of types of SSRIs commonly prescribed to treat both anxiety and depression. One of the most commonly used SSRIs is Fluoxetine, more popularly referred to as “Prozac.” Since it was first sold in 1988 [1], it has remained among the most commonly used SSRIs. Over 12 million people were prescribed Prozac in 2021 to treat their anxiety and depression [2]. The decision about which SSRI is best for you is best left up to your doctor’s expertise. If you believe Prozac may work for you, consult your doctor.

How does Prozac work?

Prozac works in a similar way to all other SSRI medications. To treat an imbalance of serotonin in the brain, Prozac works to increase these levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that carries messages from your nerve cells to your brain and throughout the rest of your body, affecting how your body works. When the brain produces an average amount of serotonin, it helps regulate and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. However, some individuals have a lower level of serotonin in their brains than is typical. This can cause mental health issues like anxiety and depression. The increase in serotonin positively influences one’s emotions and overall mood. By helping a person cultivate more positive emotions, mental health concerns like anxiety and depression tend to subside when taking Prozac [3]. 

Symptoms of depression include: 

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, negativity, or emptiness
  • Loss of interest or excitement in hobbies or other activities previously enjoyed
  • Thoughts of harming oneself
  • Trouble concentrating, recalling information, sleeping, and/or awakening
  • Change in appetite
  • Reduced energy
  • Headaches, body aches, or other discomforts with no clear physical cause
  • Emotional outbursts, which may include shouting, screaming, or crying
  • Feelings of insecurity, guilt, or shame

Symptoms of anxiety include: 

  • Intense and overwhelming feelings of dread
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent worry, restlessness, or nervousness with no clear cause
  • Nausea, heartburn, and other GI problems
  • Headaches and other body aches
  • Clenching, shaking, or trembling
  • Increased heart rate or feeling like your heart is racing
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, and fainting
  • Sweating (not in response to heat or exercise)
  • Trouble concentrating or redirecting your attention away from worry

What is Prozac used for?

Prozac was the first SSRI approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 1988 [4]. It was seen as a “breakthrough medication” in the treatment of depression. About 30 years before Prozac, the leading group of medications used to treat depression was tricyclics (TCAs), which were often criticized for their harmful side effects [5]. Because of this, TCAs are rarely prescribed, and SSRIs like Prozac have become the first-choice drug for treating anxiety and depression. 

Doctors typically advise that Prozac be taken once daily and sometimes once weekly, with or without food. Typically, patients begin taking this medication at a low dose which may be increased slowly over time, if their healthcare provider determines it is necessary. Dosages range from 20 to mg-80 mg when taken once daily or 90 mg when taken once weekly [6]. Prozac comes in four different forms, which are all taken orally: capsule, delayed-release capsule, tablet, and solution [7]. 

Prozac Side Effects: 

You may experience minor side effects while taking Prozac, especially within the four weeks after your first dose. Typically, people only experience minor side effects, and side effects subside after your body adjusts to the medication. Speak to your doctor if a minor side effect does not subside after four weeks or if the side effect is bothersome. 

Minor Side Effects: 

  • Nausea
  • Headaches 
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue 
  • Sexual dysfunction

Some individuals experience serious side effects when taking Prozac. However, this is not as likely as minor side effects—serious side effects only affect 1% of people taking Prozac as directed by their doctor [6]. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience the following serious side effects: 

  • Changes in menstrual periods, such as heavy bleeding, spotting, or bleeding between periods
  • Overwhelming feelings of euphoria and/or restlessness
  • Bleeding from the gums
  • Bruises that appear without reason
  • Coughing up blood
  • Blood in urine

*Please call 911 if you feel you are in immediate danger. 

Prozac Withdrawal: 

Although Prozac and other SSRIs are generally not addictive, there are ways to misuse Prozac that can create a dependency on the drug. Some try to amplify the effects of the SSRI by combining it with the use of other substances, like alcohol, which counts as misuse and can create dependency. Combining SSRIs and alcohol can create dangerous symptoms, like sedation, high blood pressure, and even overdose [7]. 

Most withdrawal symptoms only occur when one abruptly stops taking an SSRI medication. This is often referred to as “Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome.” Even if your anxiety and depression subside, do not stop taking Prozac unless your doctor advises. Prozac, like other SSRIs, must be tapered gradually over about 6-8 weeks to avoid withdrawal symptoms. 

People who stop taking Prozac abruptly may not experience withdrawal symptoms immediately and, instead, find that they experience them after several weeks. Unlike other SSRI withdrawal symptoms that last a few weeks, the withdrawal symptoms of Prozac can last multiple months [8]. This is because Prozac has a longer half-life than other SSRIs. 

Withdrawal Symptoms: 

  • Mood changes
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue

If you are struggling with Prozac withdrawal, it will likely help you to seek help from a treatment center. This way, professionals can help give you the guidance and support you need and deserve during this time. 

It is essential for you to keep your doctor updated on your use of medications like Prozac. Medical professionals know how to best wean you off the medication in a way that can help reduce withdrawal symptoms as much as possible. 

Eleanor Health is here to help you build your confidence and momentum towards the future you want. We provide treatment services for adults with alcohol, opioid, and other substance use disorders as well as virtual therapy and counseling. We are currently located in Florida, LouisianaMassachusettsNorth CarolinaNew JerseyOhioTexas, and Washington.

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Jordan Kadish

Jordan Kadish graduated Magna Cum Laude from The College of New Jersey with a B.A. in Psychology and a Minor in Gender Studies. Jordan is passionate about all things mental health & wellness and is thrilled to be able to help her community in any way possible.

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